Return of the iPod People

How appropriate that in yet another spring and summer of sequels in the theater -- from X-Men: The Last Stand to Superman Returns to Mission Impossible 3 -- the iPod People are back, too.

Yesterday afternoon, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) reported that it sold more than 8.5 million iPod players during the second quarter, resulting in more than $1.7 billion in sales. That was roughly 39% of Apple's $4.4 billion in Q2 revenue, which was up roughly 34% year over year. Earnings also skyrocketed, up 41% from the same period during 2005.

The Mac business also did OK, with revenue from portable and desktop units up 5% year over year. But that's a far cry from the 29% growth Apple achieved during last year's Q2. Blame Motley Fool Inside Value pick Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) . Management told analysts during yesterday's conference call that consumers may have been waiting on new Intel-based models and that they may do the same in Q3. Accordingly, the Mac maker's Q3 guidance was at least $0.04 per share lower than the Street had expected.

But that hasn't stopped investors. Apple shares are up roughly 4% as I write this morning. I can understand why. The business, after all, is still humming along nicely. And even if it seems growth is beginning to slow, that could change when Windows users decide to give the Mac a try, thanks to the new Boot Camp software. At least, that's what I heard from the talking heads on CNBC this morning.

There's just one problem: Apple isn't showing Boot Camp or Windows in its retail store displays, and it appears to have no plans to do so. A visit to my local store last night, plus calls to several of the major East Coast retail outlets this morning, confirmed this. Where will the so-called growth from switching come from if Apple isn't willing to help users switch?

Over the short term, I've no idea. But over the long term, I think Apple will change its iTune. Remember: Boot Camp is supposed to become a part of the next Mac OS, which is expected to be demonstrated over the summer at Apple's annual developer conference. Once in the OS and safely out of beta, Apple could begin cross-platform displays in earnest.

In the meantime, it's worth remembering that Apple is committing cash to growing an ecosystem of companies that could aid its business, a la Intel Capital. And its valuation isn't all that outrageous, given a quick glance at some relative measures. At its 2006 consensus target price of $92 per stub, Apple would trade for about 44 times estimated full-year earnings. That's well within spitting distance of the 40% annual growth the Mac maker has recently achieved, thanks to the ongoing loyalty and spending power of the iPod people. So things look pretty reasonable, provided they keep up with recent pace.

Like Rocky, Star Wars, Star Trek, Die Hard, and dozens of others, Apple's series of sequels has offered a string of hits. No doubt a disappointment of the Star Trek V variety -- Sybok? Please -- will be in order someday. Just don't expect to see it anytime soon.

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Fool contributorTim Beyerscan't decide which will be better: Superman Returns, or X-Men 3? Hmmmm. . Tim didn't own stock in any of the companies listed in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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