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When Apple introduced its first putative "tablet PC" in 1993, the Newton flopped. But building on the success of its i-Dynasty, Apple's reintroduction of the tablet concept in 2010 took wing from the get-go. Analysts who as recently as July thought Apple might sell 25 million iPads in 2011 are wearing their erasers to the nub as they frantically pencil in updated guesses:
- "36 million" concedes Caris & Co.
- "40 million," says Fool veteran and frequent CNBC-appearer-onner Rick Munarriz.
- "No, wait, 45 million!" cheers the Wall Street consensus.
Now comes the bravest prediction of all. According to Taiwanese tech reporter DigiTimes, two of the companies that build the iPad's displays -- Samsung and LG Display (NYSE: LPL ) -- say that based on the orders they have in hand, it appears that Steve Jobs intends to assemble and sell 65 million iPads next year.
The news is fueling interest in companies of all stripes that cater to the nascent tablet industry, with Caris highlighting Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) , and SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) as strong contenders to rake in profits in the tablet wars. But of course, the biggest winner -- assuming the 65 million number is reliable -- would be Apple itself.
Apply a hypothetical $645 average sales price (in line with last quarter's iPad prices) to DigiTimes' assertion, and you're left with the astounding conclusion that iPads alone could yield $42 billion in 2011 revenue for Apple. That's 65% of Apple's current annual revenue, or enough money to fuel 65% revenue growth next year -- even if sales of iPods, iPhones, AppleTVs, and- Macs (remember them?) stagnate utterly. Which they won't.
Alternatively, even if you assume that the iPad fad cannibalizes iPod and iPhone revenue somewhat, DigiTimes' prediction seems to guarantee that Apple will blow right past consensus estimates of 27% profits growth next year.
And if they're wrong?
Same story -- different size. Assume Samsung and LG are off by, say 50%. Apple's overbooking its display orders for some reason. Or maybe Apple got a particularly good price, and is just buying in bulk. Even 32.5 million iPads and a lower profit margin should bring Apple's 2011 fiscal year in line with expectations. After that, any growth in iPhone's and Macs is just a pile of icing on the cake.
In short, however many millions show up for the iPad March, it's gonna be a heckuva parade.