December 7, 2011
Reviewers like "Captain Gadget" of the Huffington Post have dubbed Amazon’s (AMZN) newborn Kindle Fire a "tablet for dummies" when compared to Apple's (AAPL) iPad. After all, you get less battery life, less connectivity, less screen, less hard drive and no camera, to name but a few subtractions. But at $199, it also costs $300 less than the Apple product. And there seem to be plenty of folks out there willing to make the tradeoff. Enough people, at least, for Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley to scale back his estimated iPad sales in the current quarter to 13 million from his previous forecast of 14 million.
That's still in line with the expectations of other analysts, and means that Apple's iPad remains the market leader, well ahead of any challengers. Still, the Kindle Fire poses a serious long-term risk to Apple: Forrester Research calculates that as many as 5 million could be in the hands of new buyers by the end of January, three months after the product's launch. And there are plenty of additional competitors to the iPad waiting in the wings.
For some companies, which manufacturer ends up dominating the tablet market is less important than its rapid expansion overall. Take Qualcomm (QCOM), which has developed a new technology that tablet makers can use to offer higher-quality color screen displays that also consume less power. (While a standard Kindle with e-Ink technology can go for weeks without needing to be recharged, a Kindle Fire, with its color screen, can run out of juice within a day.)
The mirasol displays aren't yet ready for mass production on a commercial scale, but such innovations are what will convert more consumers to the idea of tablets, perhaps making even the extravagant growth forecasts for tablet demand by the likes of the Gartner Group (from about 70,000 this year to 294,093 by 2015) look like underestimates.
Investors may want to take a look: Qualcomm already also offers solid growth and a reasonable valuation of about 22 times trailing 12-month earnings: analysts are calling for its stock price to jump to $66.87 or so, with the highest price target on record being $75, both figures well above its current price of $55.05 a share.
Back at Apple, any concerns about the Fire may be offset by booming iPhone sales. Canaccord Genuity's Walkley has boosted his estimate on how many of its iconic smartphones Apple may be able to sell this quarter to 30.5 million from a previous forecast of 29 million.