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Wednesday, January 16, 2008, 11:00 am PT (02:00 pm ET)

Wall Street analysts weigh in on Apple's Macworld announcements

Wall Street's usual suspects have started to weigh in on Apple's Macworld announcements, with most speaking favorably of what company chief executive Steve Jobs laid out on Tuesday. However, at least one analyst was skeptical about the potential for the new MacBook Air.

Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research said iTunes Movie Rentals may end up being a bigger deal than some expected.

"On the surface, the announcements look underwhelming and somewhat expected; however, we think when looking back several years from now that the iTunes Movie Rentals announcement will likely end up being a landmark event and potential game-changer," he wrote. "We think movies will ultimately help in driving more users to the Apple platform (iTunes, iPod, iPhone, Mac, Apple TV). In fact, this announcement reminds us of the launch of the iTunes Music Store back in late April 2003 which helped ignite a multi-year 'digital music cycle'. We believe we may be at the beginning of a 'digital video cycle' where there is a fundamental paradigm shift to online video from physical DVDs. In our view, Apple is well-positioned to become a key destination for movies much like it is for music, music videos, and TV shows.

The analyst, however, was a bit cautious in predicting that the MacBook Air would also be a smash hit, saying it may share a bit too much in common with Apple's other notebook offerings, yet provide only limited differentiation in terms of compelling new features.

"While we are impressed with the new MacBook Air and its industrial design, it is not as clear if it will drive incremental buying as has Asus' Eee sub-notebook," he told clients. "To us, there may be too much overlap with its existing MacBook and MacBook Pro. But then again, Apple has proven fairly adept with product placement, most recently with iPhone and iPod touch where there has been minimal cannibalization despite overlapping functionality."

The AmTech analyst added that while Apple shares have been pressured with the technology sector due to macroeconomic concerns, he believes the company is well-positioned to weather the storm better than most with its strong fundamentals.

"We see upside to [our] $210 [price target] in 6-12 months," he wrote.

Over at Piper Jaffray, analyst Gene Munster was bit more bullish on the MacBook Air, saying he believes the super-slim notebook should fuel market share games for the Cupertino-based Apple, helping the company garner an additional 20-30 basis points of global PC market share in 2008.

Apple should also see incremental hardware sales due to the recent addition of iTunes Movie Rental content, according to Munster.

"The consumer's desire to enjoy content whenever and wherever is a clear trend in digital media," he wrote. "We believe that the ability to rent movies on iTunes for $2.99-$3.99 will drive significant interest in Apple's entertainment ecosystem. This ecosystem now includes the Apple TV, iPod and iPhone. Because of the integration of these devices, consumers can be certain that by purchasing Apple devices they can view their content whenever and wherever. Moreover, as people invest in digital media libraries, Apple customers can be assured that their devices will work with newly released content in the future."

Munster maintained his Buy rating and $250 price target on shares of the company.

Ingrid Ebeling, an analyst with JMP securities, shared a similar view on Apple's Macworld announcements, explaining to clients in a research note that she believes Apple continues to stay ahead of the curve and deliver what consumers want.

"We believe Apple’s ability to seamlessly integrate digital media from the Internet onto consumer devices, including HDTVs, will continue to drive market share growth of its Mac business," she wrote.

The analyst reiterated her our Market Outperform rating and $210 price target on shares of the company.