The NASDAQ-100 Technology Sector index comfortably outpaced the broader stock market's returns in 2020. Apple (AAPL 2.32%) was a big beneficiary of that surge, as the stock gained more than 80% despite a slump in smartphone sales.
Apple's other product lines and its booming services business helped it grow revenue 5.5% year over year in fiscal 2020, despite a 3.2% decline in iPhone revenue. In 2021, Apple could turn on the heat and deliver much better results than last year.
The company is set to take advantage of one of the biggest tech trends -- 5G wireless technology -- in a big way. But Apple also has other tricks up its sleeve. In fact, a slew of favorable technology trends could make Apple one of the top tech plays of 2021. Let's take a look.
The 5G smartphone trend will be Apple's biggest growth driver
Key Apple supplier Murata Manufacturing estimates that at least 500 million 5G smartphones may be shipped this year, up from an estimated 300 million units in 2020.
Apple is likely to corner a nice chunk of this growing market in 2021. TrendForce expects the iPhone to account for 35% of 5G smartphone sales in 2021. It also estimates that Apple's total smartphone shipments could jump to 229 million units from an estimated 199 million units last year, a potential increase of 15%.
This bodes well for Apple, as the iPhone accounted for 50% of its revenue in fiscal 2020, which ended in September last year. Analysts expect Apple's top line to increase 15% in fiscal 2021. The arrival of 5G smartphones will be an important catalyst driving this growth, but there are other tailwinds as well.
Tablet and PC sales will be another catalyst
Apple's Mac and iPad sales increased in fiscal 2020. These two products produced 19% of Apple's total sales. Their combined revenue was up 11.3% year-over-year, and Apple can be expected to sustain this momentum in 2021.
Manufacturers struggled to meet end-market demand in 2020 due to a shortage of components. So, don't be surprised to see an increase in shipments of these devices this year. IDC estimates that desktop and notebook PC shipments could increase 1.4% in 2021. Tablet sales may remain nearly even with last year's levels, as per another estimate.
Apple is the biggest player in the tablet market, with an estimated share of more than 56% at the end of 2020. It is looking to capture more customers in 2021 with a new, more affordable iPad, according to supply chain sources. Apple is expected to price the new tablet at $299, which could help it take more share from lower-priced Android rivals.
Meanwhile, sales of Apple's new MacBooks, powered by the M1 chip, should switch into a higher gear this year. TrendForce estimates that the M1-powered MacBooks could increase their share of the laptop market to 7% by this summer, compared to 0.8% currently.
All of this indicates that hardware products driving around 70% of Apple's sales -- iPhone, iPad, and Mac -- will continue enjoying favorable demand trends in 2021.
The services business has an ace up its sleeve
Apple's services business was in fine form last fiscal year, recording 16% growth over the prior year. It produced nearly 20% of Apple's total revenue.
This year, the services business can benefit from the introduction of Apple One: a smart move made by the iPhone maker to bundle various services under one umbrella. For $15 a month, Apple One subscribers get access to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage. Subscribing to these services separately would cost a subscriber $21 a month. Apple One also gives subscribers the option to add Apple News+ and Apple Fitness+ to the bundle, along with 2 TB of iCloud storage, for a monthly price of $30.
Apple is targeting several fast-growing areas with its bundle offering. For instance, the mobile gaming market is likely to sustain the terrific growth that it clocked last year in 2021 and beyond. Apple One gives users access to more than 100 games, which subscribers can enjoy ad-free and without needing to spend money on in-app purchases.
The personal cloud storage market is poised to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.6% through 2027, according to Allied Market Research. Apple Music, meanwhile, is expected to become the pillar of Apple's services business.
All in all, Apple has bundled rapidly growing verticals into the Apple One subscription plan. That could play a key role in attracting more subscribers, giving the services business a shot in the arm in 2021.
Why you should be buying
Apple is on track to gain from both the hardware and the software sides of its business in 2021. Analysts predict 20%-plus earnings growth this year. Apple may even exceed the market's expectations, thanks to overwhelming demand for the iPhone 12.
In short, Apple looks like a well-rounded tech stock that is set to benefit from diverse trends, ranging from 5G to the cloud to mobile gaming, giving investors a one-stop-shop to buy into the rapid growth of these markets.