Where is Apple’s ‘next big thing’?

Apple TV Next Big Thing

Bad news for Apple (AAPL): The company needs to launch the “next big thing” in order to reverse investors’ soured sentiment according to Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes, and that next big thing could be Apple’s HDTV. Why is that bad news? Because according to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, the company’s TV set won’t be launching any time soon — if it even launches at all.

In a research note sent to clients on Tuesday evening, Reitzes ponders what might snap investors out of their “recent funk.” Shares of Apple stock plummeted by as much as 25% in November from a high of $705.07, which was hit just before the iPhone 5 launched this past September. While some say “people overbelieved in Apple” and the end is nigh, Reitzes thinks Apple just needs to launch the “next big thing” to remind investors why it is the most successful consumer electronics company in the world.

From the analyst’s note, per Barron’s:

Apple remains in correction territory with shares down 24% since September 21st (S&P 500 down about 3% over the same time frame) – and down 9.5% in the last week (S&P 500 was flat) after a partial recovery. Most of the questions we are fielding are around long-term margin sustainability and a potential for a significant sequential sales slowdown after the December quarter – in both the March and June quarters. In fact, we recently held a bull/bear debate with dozens of investors on Apple in New York City with our colleague Anthony DiClemente to present the challenges Apple faces from Google. The room seemed to echo market sentiment – with about 60% believing that Google was Apple’s biggest competitive threat, followed Samsung at 30% (other choices were Amazon and Microsoft). 55% of the investors thought that concerns around margins were the biggest issue hampering Apple’s stock, followed by 30% believing that Apple was suffering from a lapse in innovation. Also, 60% of the investors in the room had a price target in the $650 range for Apple, with 25% believing Apple’s shares were headed for $450 or lower. Many of the questions that we fielded were around what Apple could possibly do next to help improve sentiment. Apple’s multiple contraction to a forward P-E of 10.6x from almost 16x earlier this year at peak clearly seems to indicate that investors do not believe that there is a “next big thing” and that iPhone growth is flattening out.

Reitzes goes on to say that an Apple HDTV might be just what the doctor ordered and that a set-top box and service combination could do the trick as well. He sees Apple unveiling its big plans for the living room some time in 2013, and he says he believes Apple is “exploring a new service that integrates iOS, iCloud, iTunes and more content that would bring customers a new experience around a TV-like device.”

The analyst continued, “We believe that the Apple version of TV may evolve into a product that is ‘always on’ with the ability to display a variety of messages (texts, Facebook postings, Tweets, email, etc.), weather, pictures, news and other key information as well as even act as a video conferencing device […] any Apple solution seems like it will need to work along side traditional cable and media arrangements. However, we see opportunity in Apple being able to perhaps work out deals with providers to gain access to channel guides and other key information in order to provide a more elegant integration experience.”

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