When Steve Jobs was alive, he dreamed of creating an “integrated television set that’s completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine.”
What’s more, he declared, “I finally cracked it.”
Then he passed away.
But his dream hasn’t died.
That vision, detailed in Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, Steve Jobs, is getting closer to becoming reality.
Our “i” World is About to Get Bigger
Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard rumors about Apple’s (AAPL) plans to launch a smart TV (a TV with internet and wireless connectivity) – speculatively called “iTV.” (No shock there!)
This is a booming area. Strategy Analytics expects smart TV sales to dominate over the next few years, accounting for almost three-quarters of global TV sales by 2017.
But with CEO Tim Cook at the helm, Apple has yet to deliver on Jobs’ grand vision.
It’s coming, though…
Last year, Cook fueled speculation when he announced that Apple will be breaking into “new product categories” in 2014.
The tech world lit up, with talk about an iWatch smartwatch and “integrated television” that Jobs mentioned.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is in preliminary talks with Comcast (CMCSA) about integrating the cable provider’s network directly into future versions of an Apple TV.
Sound familiar? It should.
Just as iTunes Radio aimed to slice into Pandora (P) and Spotify’s market share in the streaming music area, Apple and Comcast are looking to take a chunk of the streaming TV business away from companies like Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN).
As a result, both NFLX and AMZN shares have tumbled in recent days, with investors fearing that Apple is serious about entering the television market.
Hint: Apple is very serious. And there’s one company whose shares will do the opposite…
The Circle of Trust
When it comes to doing business with Apple, the tech giant likes to keep things on the down-low.
Likewise, smaller companies are often tight-lipped about having any relationship with the tech giant. Suppliers fortunate enough to partner with it tend to keep their dealings quiet, unless required by law to divulge information.
Well, it appears that small-cap semiconductor maker Pixelworks (PXLW) fought the law as long as it could – and the law won. You see, once revenue from a customer reaches 10% or higher, the SEC requires disclosure.
In Pixelworks’ annual 10-K SEC filing, it was forced to disclose that 10% of its revenue comes from a business relationship with Apple. That means for fiscal 2013, Apple contributed at least $4.8 million of PXLW’s $48 million.
However, news of Apple’s talks with Comcast has triggered questions about the nature of the relationship between Apple and Pixelworks…
Why Apple Wants Pixelworks’ Technology
Pixelworks’ technology allows developers to manufacture screens – no matter the shape or size – with unrivaled video quality. Not only that, the graphics processing unit (GPU) is a “frame buffer” – a new technique that reduces screens’ power consumption.
So in theory, Pixelworks could help improve the displays on any of Apple’s existing products.
However, there’s a strong chance that the relationship is related to future products, such as a smart TV. Especially since Pixelworks already operates in this area. Much of its revenue comes from licensing contracts with companies like Hitachi (HTHIY) and Panasonic (PCRFY), which manufacture high-resolution televisions.
In addition, a recent patent filing indicates that Apple is working on a wireless computer concept, which would use a projector instead of a screen as its display. As it happens, Pixelworks’ VueMagic technology makes it easier to use tablets and smartphones with projectors, and would be the perfect match for Apple here, too.
The rumor mill is grinding, but let’s boil it down to one simple question: Given that Apple paid Pixelworks almost $5 million in the last fiscal year, what can Apple do with that $5 million?
Buy the Future
Pixelworks’ chips cost between $12 and $18. So with $5 million, Apple could test-drive enough chips to design a prototype screen for iTV. In fact, it could craft more than one and make a few revisions.
But it’s not enough money to create a market-ready product for mass production. So it’s likely that the $5-million contract with Pixelworks is some kind of development deal that’s negotiable once Apple conducts more tests on a commercial product.
Analysts are optimistic. Pixelworks’ sales projections call for a 34% jump this year, to $64.5 million. That should spin the company into profitability, with an earnings estimate of $0.08 per share.
Next year looks strong, too, with year-over-year sales growth of 28%, to $82.7 million.
However, it’s important to remember that Apple isn’t driving Pixelworks’ entire business. Much of Pixelworks’ other revenue comes from the likes of Panasonic, Hitachi, NEC (NIPNF), and Seiko Epson (SEKEY).
But news of the deal with Apple has fueled speculation that Pixelworks could also be an outright takeover target for Apple.
Bottom line: When it comes to technology, buy the future. Whether it’s for smartphones, tablets, TVs, or other devices, the world is going high-def. And that puts Pixelworks’ technology right at the center of the trend.
Your eyes in the Pipeline,
P.S. Speaking of Apple, stay tuned for tomorrow’s Wall Street Daily issue, where you’ll see my colleague, Louis Basenese, engage in a feisty battle with Dohmen Capital’s Bert Dohmen on CNBC. In it, Louis pitches his bullish argument for Apple shares.
Trust me… you do not want to miss it!