After an initial delay, Apple TV finally may be on the way.
customers report that their credit cards are finally being charged for the product, a sign that the company just might meet its deadline of "mid-March."
Apple had indicated that TV orders would likely ship on March 20.
Though Apple TV has been overshadowed by the iPhone,
which was also unveiled at Macworld at the beginning of 2007, the set-top box could offer a significant boost to the company's fortunes.
Shares of Apple were off 43 cents, or 0.4%, to $89.57 Thursday afternoon.
In its first year, Apple TV could add, at a minimum, $50 million to $75 million in profit, or $150 million in revenue, says Chris Crotty, senior analyst for consumer electronics at research firm iSuppli.
"They are selling it at $299, and in the first year if they sell half a million units, at a 50% margin they could make up to $75 million," he says.
Others analysts such as Deutsche Bank's Chris Whitmore had estimated that the worldwide addressable market for Apple could be as large as $26 billion in 2007.
Whitmore predicts that Apple could sell as many as 2 million units this year and that incremental revenue at a 3% penetration of the addressable market could total $600 million. Deutsche Bank owns Apple shares and makes a market in them.
If Apple TV achieves 20% to 30% of the addressable market in the next three to four years, it could drive incremental revenue by about $5 billion to $7 billion, according to Whitmore.
Apple TV, introduced in Steve Jobs' January keynote address, was
originally scheduled to ship in February but had to be pushed back for reasons the Cupertino, Calif.-based company never made entirely clear.
The product lets users wirelessly stream videos and music stored on their PCs onto their television sets. The box also can store 40 gigabytes of content or 50 hours of video.
"It is part of Apple's overall expansion and attempt to move away from the world of PCs to consumer electronics in the living room," says Crotty.
Other companies that are battling for control of the living room include PC makers, such as
, that use
Windows-based Media Center PCs, and gaming console manufacturers such as
, with its latest PlayStation 3.
Apple TV's rivals, in addition to set-top box manufacturers, include digital-video recording company
"Apple TV is part of an overall trend away from distribution of content by physical media," says Crotty. "Increasingly, a lot of content is being consumed through the PC, and it has been difficult to move it to living room. But Apple TV is a very simple solution for that."
iTunes has about a 70% share of households that use a legal service and share of tracks downloaded, according to research firm NPD Group. Some of those customers could buy Apple TV.
"I think it is going to be a pretty successful product," says Crotty. "We have seen an overall acceleration in efforts for online video, and if Apple gets its product out there -- and even possibly brings down the price a little bit -- there is certainly enough content to draw in users."