There have been many noteworthy developments in the technology space recently. Some of these will likely have a material impact on the companies in the sector and the markets they serve.
Apple’s New iPhone
Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 5 made its debut on September 21st. This smartphone has a larger touchscreen (4 inches) and a smaller dock connector than its predecessor. It is lighter, thinner, and features Apple’s A6 processor. The iPhone 5 uses the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, the iOS 6. Users can access a wide variety of media with the device, which features the voice-control system Siri (that debuted with the iPhone 4S last year).
The new smartphone sold roughly 5 million units in its first weekend of availability. Reviews of the iPhone 5 have been largely favorable, with many users praising the hardware improvements, including a higher-resolution screen. Apple appears to have largely met the public’s lofty expectations, given the company’s past successes and increasing innovation in the smartphone market. However, users have criticized the new Maps application for having serious flaws.
A New Revenue Stream for Facebook
Shares of Facebook (FB) benefited last Friday from the announcement that the company introduced a new feature called “Gifts”. True to its name, it allows users to send actual presents to friends using the social networking site. Products range in price from around $5 to a few hundred dollars, and include Starbuck’s (SBUX) coffee and offerings from 1-800-FLOWERS.COM (FLWS). Recipients are notified of the gift, and are allowed to specify their own shipping address. Facebook will benefit by taking a percentage of each transaction. This appears to reflect a strategy to develop the Web site into a socially-based e-commerce platform. E-commerce is more compatible with mobile devices than advertising, which has been Facebook’s core revenue stream.
Following a lackluster initial public offering and a subsequent decline in the share price by over 50%, the stock has perked up in recent weeks. Investors had been worried about slowing top-line growth, and that limited mobile advertisements would hurt performance. However, concerns were somewhat allayed when CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged not to sell shares for at least a year. The introduction of “Gifts”, is also encouraging, in our view. That said, this stock is not for the faint of heart. The equity remains richly valued, and several upcoming lockup expirations (which allow insiders to divest shares) may also present headwinds for the share price.
Intel’s New Chip
Intel (INTC - Free Intel Stock Report) has taken aim at the enterprise tablet market with its new “Atom” processor. The “Atom Z2760” chip is designed to complement Microsoft’s (MSFT - Free Microsoft Stock Report) Windows 8 Operating System, which is scheduled for release later this month. This offering is aimed at private and public sector customers who are looking to use tablets, yet also employ the software and hardware used in a traditional PC. For example, tablets using the Atom processor and Windows 8 operating system will be able to run Microsoft Office software. Targeting the enterprise market appears to be a good move for Intel and Microsoft. Tablets with office-friendly applications should have strong appeal to customers in business and government. Moreover, competition should be less intense (at least for now) than in the consumer market for tablets.
A Bright Spot for Research In Motion
Research In Motion (RIMM) reported a share loss of $0.27 for the fiscal second quarter, exceeding expectations and the prior-year results. The number of total BlackBerry subscribers, revenues, and cash reserves all increased, on a sequential basis. In recent times, demand for the company’s BlackBerry devices has been hurt by an aging product portfolio and delays in new model introductions. As a result, Research In Motion has been losing ground to competitors such as Apple and Samsung Electronics.
Greater cash on hand should allow RIMM more flexibility in marketing the upcoming BlackBerry 10 line, which is due early next year. The stakes remain high, and much depends on the customer acceptance of the BlackBerry 10. Efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiency should help in the company’s quest to regain profitability. Regardless, most investors should probably remain on the sidelines, given the uncertainties involved.
At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.