Welcome Back, Apple TV Speculation

By Evan Niu, CFA Markets Fool.com

Not this Apple TV. Image source: Apple.

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Hello there, old friend. Gosh, how long has it been? It must be almost two years by now.

Speculating on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) building a TV set used to be a favorite pastime among investors and analysts. Sadly, the company reportedly abandoned those plans a few years ago, after spending nearly a decade contemplating and researching the idea. Well, the speculation is back with a vengeance. The Wall Street Journaland Nikkei Asian Revieware reporting that Apple's dominant manufacturing partner Foxconn is thinking about investing in a massive $7 billion U.S. factory that would create some 30,000 to 50,000 domestic jobs.

What's sparking the speculation is that Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou told reporters yesterday that the facility would be producing "larger display panels." Apple would be investing jointly in the facility. The logistics costs for shipping large display panels is much higher, so it makes a little bit more sense to manufacture them in the U.S. It's not clear how large of panels we're talking about.

Cue the rumor mongers

Apple has already confirmed that it is exiting the standalone display market. The company finally discontinued the aging Thunderbolt Display last year, and instead of updating or launching a new model Apple chose to collaborate with LG Electronics to design a couple 4K and 5K UltraFine displays that complement the new MacBook Pros.

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Beyond MacBooks, the only other Apple products that have relatively large displays are iMacs, which come in 21.5-inch 4K and 27-inch 5K display sizes. Back in 2012, Apple made a push with U.S. manufacturing for both the iMac and Mac Pro. A portion of iMac production was relocated to the U.S. at the time. In the years since, it's unclear if Apple has continued domestic production of its flagship all-in-one; it's possible that the company quietly shifted iMac manufacturing back to China. The Mac Pro is still assembled stateside in Austin, Texas, although Apple would prefer to shift that manufacturing back abroad too if it weren't for the current political climate.

The point here is that there are no other Apple products that would need a domestic supply of large panel displays, so the market, as it likes to do, has starting dreaming.

Two years later, it still doesn't make sense

Here's the thing: Apple can accomplish most of its TV ambitions without making a full TV set. That's essentially why Apple chose not to pursue a TV set a couple years ago, since the TV business is not a particularly attractive business in general; margins are razor-thin, commoditization occurs rapidly, inventory risk is significant, and pricing power is virtually nonexistent (a function of commoditization).

There's little upside or potential for differentiation that can be realized through deeper integration with TV hardware, mostly since Apple can still innovate on the interface level with software through its existing set-top box Apple TV. It can -- and reportedly has tried -- also try to introduce TV services like slimmer over-the-top cable packages without getting too involved on the hardware side.

I don't know what Apple's up to, but I doubt that it's resurrecting its TV ambitions.

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.