Apple iPhone Hype – But how ’bout the long term?

Hype is by definition a short-term phenomenon. And Apple’s iPhone has epitomized it.

Of course hype, short-term results, and pumped up demand for product often blind market participants to long-term business ramifications and actual shareholder value creation. But on the other hand, world-changing innovations which started as hypes and were derided as fads have gone on to make fortunes for owners. So what’s the deal on the heels of the iPhone’s much-awaited debut — is AAPL overbought or underestimated?iphone hype

Well, first a few qualitative thoughts. As much as I may not be able to tell you with certainty where AAPL will be in ten years, I can say this: they are the reigning kings of what I’d call synergistic marketing and demand creation. In other words, whether or not they are actually innovative (that’s up for debate — iPod was not the first MP3 player, for instance), they are better than anyone at convincing customers that there product is the coolest, hippest, and best must-have invention on the face of the planet. And their success has bred only more success and greater cross-selling revenue (Paul Carton has a great discussion of Apple’s halo-effecthere).

Think of it this way — that Apple has been so successful and hip with the iPod has made computer buyers more interested in their other, largely unrelated product, the Mac. This should come as no big surprise — simple psychology informs us that, well, people love winners. This is at the heart of what I believe is Apple’s true competitive advantage. Apple has been and should continue for the foreseeable future to be a winner.

From a quantitative perspective, the added revenue if the company meets sales prediction for the next twelve months should be around $5-7 billion (or about 20% of TTM revenue). That’s assuming sales of 10 million iPhones. My quick and dirty estimate might put incremental net income from iPhone sales at around $0.60/share. So it’s not an insubstantial short-term factor. But in the long-term things become more interesting. Who’s to say the iPhone won’t flop in a couple of years and that the shares that have been so heavily bid up will topple?

Certainly not me, which is just part of the reason I won’t take a position in any shares (I generally don’t short, and almost universally avoid stocks with such rich multiples as AAPL unless exponential growth is a no-brainer). But I can at least speculate on what I think the future of the iPhone or iPhone-like products will be. For what it’s worth (and that’s probably not much coming from me), I’ll attempt to prophesy the future. I’ll keep it brief, but bold:

1) 1-4 years. The iPhone sees significant demand, but competing products (likely from shops like Research in Motion) begin to cut into market share and drive down prices as quality and functionality also increases.

2) 5-10 years. Hand-held, all-in-one personal devices will ultimately become nearly as good, affordable and universal as personal computers. They’ll steal share from the desktop and laptop markets, but those devices will never entirely disappear, though they may change forms. We enter new tech era.

3) 11-15 years. Owners of said devices begin to realize that it is too risky to carry their whole life in tablet form, so devices come equipped with a body-encapsulating bubble and a life-insurance policy.

4) 16-17 years. Given the slight inconvenience of personal bubbles, the iPhone as physical device is replaced by implanted brain chip with telepathic email functionality, trance-inducing sedatives that allow you to watch YouTube videos in your mind.

5) 18-20 years. YouTube, Apple, and Google merge to form You-Google-Appletube, with combined market cap (adjusted for inflation) of $17 trillion and a PE of 245.

6) 21-24 years. All human interaction is replaced by electronic communication.

7) 25-26 years. World peace.