Tickers in this Article: AAPL, QCOM, NOK, AMZN, GOOG, HPQ, SNE
I've recently read that Katy Huberty, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, has put a price target on shares of Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) of between $310 and $400. For those of us who remember the tech bubble, there may be a shiver of remembrance at the $1,000 price target put on Qualcomm (Nasdaq:QCOM) by a PaineWebber analyst in late 1999. That pretty much marked the beginning of the end to that run. The question is, does this signal a similar high-water mark for Apple?

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Troubles In Apple-Land?
Here are some of the issues that could deliver a serious blow to Apple:

Patents
In response to suits from Apple, Taiwan's HTC and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) are firing back with suits that target the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. Should these suits succeed (or other suits emerge and succeed), Apple could face some difficult decisions regarding license fees and could potentially be knocked out of the market.

Censorship
Apple has also taken flack in recent times over its far-reaching prudishness and censorship. Whether it is political cartoonists who find their satire banned or fashion magazines that believe they have to develop an "Iran edition" to run on the iPad, there are plenty of people who have taken Apple to task for its attempts to sanitize content on its apps. Other's have predicted that Apple's hubris will come back to haunt the company. (Discover some of the top apps for your pocketbook in Money-Saving Smartphone Apps.)

Competition
Last and not least, there is the specter of competition. Given the huge financial stakes involved in the convergence of computers, media, and communications, you have to assume that dozens of companies are taking aim at Apple ... and if enough parties take aim, sooner or later they will likely score a few hits. After all, remember that Apple's second act largely came out of nowhere as this was a "computer company" at the time of the iPod launch.

Or Happily Ever Apple?
That said, there are also some good arguments that suggest Apple may just stay bright and shiny after all.

The patent suits are quite frankly a cost of doing business in the technology world, and it is rare for industry-shaking rulings to ever come down. While there may be a settlement or some cross-licensing, the risk that Apple will face a mortal blow from patent infringement is vanishingly small.

The Apple censorship "issue" is frankly just not going to stick to the company. Apple has, I think, realized what most of American mass media (including Disney (NYSE:DIS)) has realized: adult content may titillate, but it's family-friendly content that pays the bills.

As for competition, this is where things get interesting. Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN) has got to be regarded as a serious competitor to Apple. Likewise, Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) seems to have the resources and reputation to mount a real challenge. Sony (NYSE:SNE), too, could be a dark horse candidate as it has both ample proprietary content and a legacy of hardware design excellence.

That said, I think a lot of the other oft-mentioned competitors don't really have a shot. Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY), Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT), Motorola (NYSE:MOT), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) may all want to compete with Apple, but most have already tried and failed. That said, I would not completely ignore HP now that it has Palm's assets for itself.

A Great Business
Although I do not own a single Apple product, I nevertheless appreciate what the company can do. Apple products are nearly always well-designed and well-built, and they are backed by slick marketing that seems to make people actually feel better about paying up for Apple's premium-priced goods.

Also working in Apple's favor is a great business model. In addition to high-end hardware prices, the 70/30 split between Apple application developers and Apple (Apple gets a 30% cut of app sales) is exceptionally lucrative and represents zero risk and virtually 100% margin to the company.

Bottom Line
At the bottom line, I am a PC guy and likely will remain so. Nevertheless, I feel pretty confident that Apple as a company has little to fear in the foreseeable future. Even the stock looks pretty good to a value guy like me - with the company turning 25 cents of every sales dollar into free cash flow, low-teens revenue growth is all it takes to make Apple worth owning today.

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