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How CarPlay Widens Apple's Moat

By David Eller - Mar 4, 2014 at 7:00PM

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Apple's CarPlay announcement is more interesting because of the focus on extending the ecosystem. Is the living room next?

Yesterday, with the announcement of CarPlay, Apple ( AAPL -1.17% ) leapfrogged Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) and Google's ( GOOGL -0.68% ) Android by giving iPhone users another reason to upgrade. This may be Apple's newest killer feature to spur the next upgrade cycle. As Apple builds out its ecosystem, it widens the competitive moat around its computing and media franchise, which increases switching costs by locking in customers.

Shipping this year
Apple announced that Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo will offer cars including the system this year. Going forward, expect BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota to follow shortly. The breadth of vendors for such a large-scale announcement is impressive and shows the extent of the foundation.

Where are Pandora and Google Maps?
At the time of the announcement, Pandora ( P ) was unavailable as an application on CarPlay, as was Google Maps, but this may change going forward. This will likely be a topic that is addressed at the ongoing Morgan Stanley conference, where Pandora CEO, Brian McAndrews, will be speaking on March 6th. Even though, considering the most recent announcement, Pandora will apparently be absent from CarPlay, it would be surprising if Apple shipped this system without integrating the most popular applications.

It's about the ecosystem, not just features
The feature gap between Samsung's handsets and the iPhone is narrowing each year. Both devices have fingerprint sensors, high-resolution cameras, huge suites of applications, and big screens. The benefit to Apple in primarily working with a single vendor is the ecosystem. It isn't necessarily about good products.

Each of these functions is an opportunity for Samsung, or another low-cost vendor, to chisel a foothold into Apple's customer base. By offering a seamless transition from handset to auto, Apple can eliminate a weakness, while creating a new revenue stream.

What about the living room?
Hopefully, the set-top box will be the next step. While it seems unlikely that Apple would integrate with Google's Chromecast, the longer it goes unchallenged (in its price point), the more customers Apple will need to win back. Apple is currently discounting Apple TV by $25 (with an iTunes gift certificate), bringing the price to $75. But, if people have to wait too long for a refreshed set-top box from Apple, they might just pony up the extra $35 for Chromecast in the interim.

Meaningful, but not enough to move the stock
Apple's stock is cheap at current levels, supported on the downside by a low P/E of 13 and a dividend yielding 2.3%. While this announcement represents an incremental growth opportunity to really jump start the stock, investors are waiting for a significant new product such as a refreshed Apple TV. This isn't a value trap because Apple has highly profitable and growing businesses. But, for the stock price to move without an earnings catalyst, as it did when Apple was considered a growth company, a more significant product announcement is needed.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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