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Merrill Lynch calls 2012 'the year of the tablet shakeout'

December 14, 2011: 10:05 AM ET

Bank of America's brokerage division picks winners and losers for the year ahead

Click to enlarge.

The tablet market is "still in its infancy," writes Merrill Lynch's Scott Craig in a note to clients Wednesday, with "years of solid growth ahead."

But that growth is not evenly distributed, and in his report Craig and his colleagues single out seven winners and seven losers.

The winners: (I quote)

  • Amazon (AMZN): We expect strong sales of the Kindle Fire (4-5mn in 4Q) to better position Amazon as media sales transition to digital, resulting in potential stronger media segment growth. We also anticipate that some Kindle Fire users become Prime subscribers, resulting in increased overall purchase frequency on Amazon.
  • Apple (AAPL): With ~60% unit share, ~70%+ revenue share, and even greater share on a profit basis, we expect Apple to remain a dominant force in the tablet market. We continue to think Apple's success with closely integrating hardware with software (iOS) and media content (iTunes, AppStore, and iCloud) is difficult to replicate.
  • Corning (GLW): Corning's Gorilla Glass has become the cover glass of choice for both high and low end tablets. Its total available market increases as new tablets are introduced into the market. We like Corning's dominant market position in Tablet cover glass where the only known competitor (Asahi Glass's Dragontail offering) is a distant second.
  • Qualcomm (QCOM): Qualcomm is likely to emerge as a winner in tablet market by virtue of its broad portfolio of chipsets, connectivity and eventually apps processor. Qualcomm's roadmap looks attractive for the next 2 years and we think the 200+ tablet designs will drive significant share gain for the company.
  • Samsung (SSNLF): Samsung will likely be the winner not only as a tablet maker with its own tablet Galaxy Tab series but also as a key supplier of the components like mobile DRAM, NAND, and LCD/OLED. Such synergies across hardware and components should continuously contribute to Samsung's strong top-line growth and profitability.
  • Sharp (SHCAF): We expect Sharp to be the major panel supplier for the new-coming iPad with a differentiated technology called IGZO. Since it currently does not supply panels for iPad2, the contribution of the IGZO panel sales for the coming iPad to the company's profitability should be significant in FY3/13.
  • Texas Instruments (TXN): With 5 chips (Wi-Fi, OMAP processor, Power Mgmt, Transmitter, speaker, transceiver) in the new Kindle Fire, TI has a $600mn ($30 content/unit x 20mn est. units) tablet opportunity in 2012, with upside from content in Barnes and Noble Nook color tablet. Meanwhile, improving macro could drive fab utilization and gross margins back towards ~55% from 50% today.

Below the fold: The losers.

  • Acer (ASIYF): Acer tablets will likely be challenged by both iPads and aggressively priced Kindle Fire tablets. We do not believe the disconnect between sell-in and sell-through of these tablets is sustainable.
  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD): Increasing tablet penetration could cannibalize low-end notebook market that has been recent area of strength for AMD. Meanwhile it continues to suffer from manufacturing and execution issues at the high-end notebook (Llano) and server (Bulldozer) space. Recent restructuring could impact share in discrete graphics with Nvidia as potential beneficiary.
  • Asustek (AKCPF): Similar to Acer, we expect Asus tablets to be challenged by both iPads and Kindle Fire tablets. We do not believe the disconnect between sell-in and sell-through of these tablets is sustainable.
  • IAC Interactive (IACI): We remain cautious on the long term value of the PC toolbar search business (which we don't see as well positioned on mobile), a business that generates about 50% of search segment revenue.
  • Lexmark (LXK): Broader adoption of tablet devices in the consumer and enterprise space, in conjunction with increasing traction of cloud computing & storage, should redefine the way we access/maintain/store data. We think this will negatively impact Lexmark and other traditional PC peripheral vendors.
  • Research in Motion (RIMM): We see RIM as the net loser in the race as its Playbook strategy has failed from its onset to drive any acceptance by consumers. As a result, the ecosystem is increasingly being marginalized by apps developers. RIM's plan to leverage its enterprise customers.
  • Yahoo (YHOO): Yahoo's market share in mobile search is significantly below its share on PC. We expect more searches to move to tablets and smartphones.
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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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