Analysts expect Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) to report revenue of $35.02 billion for the company's third quarter, according to Fortune's preliminary survey. As Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt points out, that's the exact same number Apple reported in the year-ago quarter. Is zero growth Apple's new norm? Or, even worse, is decline Apple's future? Possibly -- but there are still a few potential growth drivers left for Cupertino's tech giant.
1. China Mobile
As the smartphone and tablet market begins to mature and become more competitive, Apple will certainly have trouble growing its two highest-revenue product lines. But there still remains one substantial growth driver for Apple within the smartphone industry: China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) . As China's largest mobile carrier, it dwarfs its competitors with 735 million mobile subscribers, compared to China Unicom's 258 million, and China Telecom's 172 million.
As Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty noted after a recent visit to Hong Kong and Taiwan, CEO Cook and company may strike a deal and launch phones by year end. The opportunity? She says that a China Mobile deal, combined with a cheaper iPhone, could potentially triple Apple's addressable smartphone market in China.
2. New categories
Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt, who has issued a $600 price target for Apple stock, believes the stock is a strong buy. Though he does acknowledge China Mobile as a growth opportunity for Apple, he sees the company's major opportunity is in the expansion of iOS into televisions, automobiles, and other new areas.
Indeed, iOS in automobiles is already scheduled to debut in 2014.
Though it's just a small step, it's definitely a strong move in a direction that could open many opportunities for Apple.
Rumors of an Apple television set have mostly dwindled, but it remains a definite possibility.
What about wearables? At All Things Digital's D11 conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook sounded almost certain that Apple would eventually move into this category:
I think wearables is incredibly interesting, and I think it could be a profound area for technology. ... I think there's lots of things to solve in this space, but it's an area where it's ripe for exploration, it's ripe for us all getting excited about; I think there will be tons of companies playing in this.
And, answering Walt Mossberg's question as to whether or not Apple would be one of them, Cook said, "I don't want to answer that one, but, you know, I see it as something -- as another very key branch of the tree."
Does Apple need saving?
It's tough to gauge to what extent new categories and China Mobile will help boost Apple's bottom line. But, fortunately for investors, Apple doesn't need growth to reward investors. With a generous share repurchase program and a nice dividend yield, any upside would be a nice bonus for investors at today's price for Apple stock.
Can Apple surprise the world again?
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