Especially in the wake of its strongest wave of iPhone pre-orders in history, it's safe to say Apple's financial performance remains as tied to its iconic smartphone as ever.
However, with the genuine prospect of slowing growth looming in the distance for Apple's core product lines, investors are also shifting their focus to Apple's possible entry into a number of new markets in order to keep its business growing. Among possible new markets, Apple's long-discussed television efforts remain intriguing but frustratingly elusive.
As part of this discussion, one analyst recently cited Apple as a possible acquirer of action camera impresario GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO). However, for a number of reasons, I wouldn't expect Apple to emerge as a much-needed white knight to remedy GoPro's struggling stock price.
Apple buying GoPro: Not as crazy as it might seem
To be fair, a reasonable case exists for Apple to purchase GoPro, but only to a certain extent. For those relatively new to this narrative, the underlying logic in many ways parallels Apple's $3 billion buyout of Beats last year. In both cases, Apple would purchase a largely hardware dependent business with the true intent of tapping into its software and content ecosystem.
Many feel Apple also coveted Beats because of the numerous entertainment industry legends within its management team, like Jimmy Iovine, who some believed could help break the stalemate currently hindering Apple's looming over-the-top TV content service. And in terms of GoPro, advocates of this deal also see a possible tie-in with its budding content network -- aptly named the GoPro Network -- to help boost the appeal of Apple's on-demand TV network when it eventually comes to market, this possible deal doesn't seem necessarily too far fetched. However, the important distinction to keep in mind is that "not too far-fetched" remains critically different from a ringing endorsement of this deal's merit.
Apple & GoPro: 3 key problems
First, while Apple can afford pretty much whatever it wants at this point, buying GoPro might further erode what had been Apple's legendary acquisition discipline. GoPro currently sports a market capitalization of about $4.5 billion and an enterprise value of $3.8 billion, which would once more set a new record for Apple's most pricey buyout to date. Rest assured, such reverence for past tradition would prove secondary to strategic value under Tim Cook's management, and rightfully so. It's also worth noting that GoPro's forward P/E ratio of 17.2x isn't entirely unpalatable, but one worries about the premium Apple might have to pay to take the firm private. However, and more importantly, the strategic usefulness of GoPro to Apple's long-term plans also seems dubious.
Advocates of a tie-up cite GoPro's emerging GoPro content network as uniquely valuable in a world where Netflix and Amazon have demonstrated an increasing usefulness of original content. To that point, Apple's name has surfaced in Hollywood regarding this exact point lately. Clearly holding exclusive rights to the GoPro networks would help differentiate the long-rumored Apple over-the-top content service. However, paying-up to own emerging power in the action-sports vertical seems less useful than developing the in-house skills to create or source compelling content experiences across a host of genres (drama, comedy, kids, documentaries, etc.), which appears to be the emphasis of Netflix and Amazon. In framing an original content strategy around customer maximization (an apt goal), the latter carries substantially more value -- strike two against an Apple/GoPro fix-up.
Lastly, and I think most interestingly, is the question of what continuing to purchase larger and larger companies would do to Apple's brand – arguably its most valuable long-term asset. Beats headphones rightly still sell under their original brand, and it follows that Apple would do the same for GoPro's blossoming hardware suite. However, at least to a certain extent, Beats and Apple are forever associated in consumers' minds; a kind of cross branding to a certain degree. In isolation this likely carries little material impact. However, should Apple continue to purchase high visibility, consumer facing brands, you can make a legitimate case this kind of on-going deal activity could slowly remove some of the luster from Apple's all-important brand. Rather than being Apple – a company that makes great devices to empower individuals – other brands start to bleed into the mindshare of Apple.
As far as the market is concerned, this deal remains highly unlikely. However, thinking about these types of deals and the considerations Apple needs to navigate should also hopefully prove instructive for Apple and tech investors more broadly. While Apple purchasing GoPro makes sense on a somewhat superficial level, I maintain there are more possible risks than substantial benefits for Apple and its investors.