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Apple's 5G Empire Could Expand Big Time

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is winning big in the 5G smartphone era, as the iPhone 12 has given its massive installed base of users a reason to make the transition to the latest wireless standard. The iPhone maker has been sitting on top of the 5G smartphone sales rankings since the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Strategy Analytics, enjoying a combination of impressive sales volume growth and higher average prices.

Apple, however, seems all set to double down on the 5G smartphone opportunity in 2022 by moving into the budget segment. Let's see why that could be a big deal for the stock.

Image source: Getty Images.

Apple to cast a wider net on the 5G smartphone opportunity

Nikkei reports that Apple will launch a 5G-enabled iPhone SE in 2022, with the device expected to go on sale in the first half of the year. The tech giant is expected to drop the Mini version of the iPhone from its lineup and instead release a 5G version of the entry-level iPhone SE.

Such a move would make a lot of sense because the iPhone 12 Mini hasn't been as successful as the other iPhone 12 models. Counterpoint Research estimates that the iPhone 12 Mini accounted for only 5% of new smartphone sales in the U.S. in the first half of January 2021, as customers preferred the bigger iPhone models.

The 2022 iPhone SE, on the other hand, could turn out to be a hugely successful device if Apple gives it the 5G treatment. That's because it will allow Apple to expand its addressable market and lure budget-oriented customers into its fold, similar to what it has done in the past.

Apple had launched the 2020 iPhone SE in April last year, pricing the device at a competitive $399 for the base version. The device was powered by the same chips found inside the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models, which meant that buyers were getting the latest hardware.

As a result, the iPhone SE delivered strong sales numbers, accounting for 22% of Apple's smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2020, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). It ranked only second to the vanilla iPhone 11, which made up 30% of Apple's smartphone sales during the quarter, with CIRP noting that it was a hit among users with older iPhones looking for an upgrade. Meanwhile, Canalys points out that the device accounted for 28% of Apple's global sales in Q2 2020.

According to Nikkei, the 2022 iPhone SE could be powered by Apple's A15 processor -- the chip that's expected to be deployed in this year's iPhone 13 models. Qualcomm is expected to provide the 5G modem for the entry-level device. Additionally, the device is expected to sport a 4.7-inch LCD display, which should allow Apple to keep costs in check and provide a longer battery life.

So it won't be surprising to see Apple price the 5G-enabled iPhone SE 2022 competitively and stick to the $399 starting price like it has done for the past two iterations of the device. Such a move could help unlock a bigger 5G opportunity for Apple.

The big picture

Apple has gotten off to a terrific start in the 5G era, cornering nearly 41% of the 5G smartphone shipments in Q4 2020 and almost 30% in Q1 2021, according to Strategy Analytics. However, it needs to move down the value chain to maintain its lead in this space.

That's because the arrival of entry-level and mid-range 5G devices from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is expected to reduce the high average selling prices (ASPs) that 5G smartphones are currently enjoying. IDC estimates that the ASP of a 5G smartphone could drop from $600 at the end of 2020 to $404 by 2025.

A 5G offering from Apple priced below that mark would be a smart move, so it is not surprising to see supply chain rumors indicating that it is considering an entry-level 5G device. More importantly, the device will arrive just in time to take advantage of the 5G rollout in emerging markets such as India, where Apple has been enjoying impressive growth lately.

At the same time, Apple will be able to expand its installed iPhone base in the mid-to-high-end smartphone segment for devices priced between $400 and $600. This segment accounted for 11.6% of the smartphone market a year ago and is expected to grow at the fastest pace when compared to other smartphone segments, according to IDC.

All of this indicates that Apple's impressive iPhone revenue growth is here to stay. The product accounted for 54% of Apple's total sales in Q2, recording nearly 66% year-over-year growth in revenue to $47.9 billion. The iPhone outpaced Apple's overall quarterly revenue growth of 54%. The company's move to expand the product's reach could help it maintain that trend for a long time to come, giving investors all the more reason to buy this top 5G stock if they haven't already.

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Harsh Chauhan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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