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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012 9:00pm
Analyst: Q1 Mac sales may see decline, iOS devices strong
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is, in what has become a long-standing tradition, once again predicting the imminent arrival of an Apple-branded television set, which he now believes will go on sale in the fall of next year. He is also forecasting, based on his own "correction" of October sales data from analyst firm NPD, that Mac sales will be down approximately seven percent from the year-ago period. Monster used the same methodology a year ago to correctly predict Mac sales of around 5.2 million units. If his model turns out to be right this time, Apple is on track to sell around 4.8 million Mac units, including both desktop and portable models.

Despite the slightly lower Mac sales for the period, Munster believes the company will do extremely well with its strong holiday lineup, including the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini. In his latest note to investors, he said that supplies of the iPhone 5 have improved significantly since launch, despite Apple rolling the product out much more quickly to other countries than it has in the past.

Munster also believes that Apple will launch four major products in 2013, with two of them being entirely new. In addition to upgraded iPhones and iPad minis, the latter of which Munster believes will be upgraded to a Retina display, he predicts that Apple will finally launch its long-rumored HDTV set, along with a subscription-style radio service. Apple has been reported to be in negotiations with the major music companies to create a Pandora-like radio service that would tie music discovery with the iTunes Store.

He believes the upgraded iPad mini could be made available early in the new year, much like the latest iPad debuted just eight months after the launch of the third-generation iPad. His reasoning is that the one significant complaint about the iPad mini is the lack of the high-quality display, and therefore the company will upgrade the hot-selling iPad mini to Retina quality as quickly as is feasible. An upgraded Apple TV set-top box -- not directly related to the HDTV prediction -- may also appear around the same time, he believes.

Munster forecasts that the next iPhone, full-size iPad and the Apple-branded HDTV set are likely to appear around September, in time for next year's holiday shopping season. He also believes that Apple will upgrade the MacBook Air to Retina-quality displays at some point. He refers to the next iPhone as the "5S" and thinks it will be a "modest upgrade," bumping the specs of the current iPhone 5, as has been traditional with Apple since the introduction of the 3GS.

He also commented on a prediction that iOS 7 would be introduced at the next Worldwide Developers Conference, along with a new version of Mac OS X both of which would be overhauled in light of Sir Jonathan Ive's takeover of software design for the company. Munster predicts a slew of new features, starting with improvements to Maps, additional features in Passbook, further services integration in Siri (such as, for example, Groupon offers) and a new look overall. Rumors have suggested that Ive plans to do away with the "skeuomorphic" look that has been incorporated in some apps on both operating systems.

Regarding the alleged Apple HDTV, Munster believes the set will be between 42 and 55 inches, with the design as one of the main selling features. He believes the TV will incorporate the iOS-like Apple TV front end, but also include Siri and FaceTime. He also thinks Apple will have successfully negotiated with cable companies to allow the TV to come with unbundled channels, though he offers no evidence supporting this prediction. The HDTV, he says, will cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

Due to his prediction of a strong holiday season for Apple, coupled with a slew of new products and updates across 2013, Munster is reiterating is $900 price target for AAPL. Piper Jaffray continues to rank the stock as "overweight" despite recently hitting a six-month low price, though recent days have seen a slight rebound. The market overall has been skittish in recent days, due to uncertain world events, rumored increases in capital-gains taxes, and a still-fragile US economy.