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Apple's $900 million moment

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 30, 2013
Will defer almost a billion dollars more in the fourth quarter to cover free OS X upgrades and iWork give-away

Apple yesterday put a value on its decision to give away future OS X upgrades to all Mac users and offer the iWork and iLife suites for free to new Mac and iOS device buyers.

Coincidentally, the $900 million that Apple will defer to account for the free software was exactly the same as the amount that its Redmond, Wash. rival wrote off its books in July.

But unlike Microsoft, which crossed off $900 million in revenue to account for an over-supply of Surface RT tablets, Apple's number was not a loss, but instead a long-term deferral of revenue: The money will eventually be recorded on Apple's books.

During an earnings call with Wall Street analysts Monday, Apple's CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, said that the company would defer an additional $900 million in revenue from the sales of Macs and iOS devices in the fourth quarter to account for the free OS X upgrades to the former, and free iWork and iLife apps for both.

"We are deferring a greater portion of the sale of each iOS device and Mac sold," said Oppenheimer. "We anticipate that the additional deferral per device sold, coupled with our sequentially greater unit volume expectations in the December quarter, will result in about a $900 million sequential increase in the net amount of revenue deferred for software upgrade rights and non-software services."

Later, in response to a question, Oppenheimer spelled out how much Apple would defer in revenue per device. "[For the] iPhone and iPad, we are deferring between $15 and $25. That's up as much as $5 per device. And Mac has been some $20 to $40, so up an additional $20," said Oppenheimer.

He also noted that Apple has been deferring revenue on iOS device and Mac sales, and that the $900 million was simply in addition to that. "As a result of an increase in the software that we are providing to customers for free, coupled with our sequential unit increases, we will defer, we think, about $900 million more in revenue," Oppenheimer summarized.

In previous filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Apple had said that it deferred $16 for each iPhone and iPad sold, $11 for each iPod Touch and $22 for each Mac. Those deferrals were to financially account for what Apple called "future, unspecified software upgrades and features relating to the product's essential software" and "the online services to be provided to qualifying versions of iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac."

Among the things covered by the deferrals were iOS upgrades — which once cost iPod Touch owners as much as $20 — updates to the iCloud online storage and synchronization service, and new functionality added to iOS and OS X via updates between major releases.


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