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Apple's gross margins expected to improve as iPhone 4 'antennagate' ends

The end of Apple's free iPhone 4 case giveaway, along with improved production of the iPad, will help the company's gross margins improve, one analyst believes.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer last week participated in a conference call with New York-based investment firm Gleacher & Company. Unsurprisingly, Oppenheimer did not reveal any incremental information about Apple, but analyst Brian Marshall did state he believes Apple's gross margin profile is in the process of bottoming.

"In fact, if we are correct in our assessment that 'antenna-gate' is behind us and the bumper give-away will cease soon, APPL's gross margin will automatically improve 100bps assuming all else equal (due to $175mil revenue deferral reversal)," he wrote. "If this happens, in our view, one of the greatest investor concerns will be lifted."

In the company's last quarterly earnings conference call, Apple said it would defer about $175 million to buy cases for the iPhone 4 Case Program. That cost will be recognized upon delivery to customers.

In July, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs announced that his company would give away free cases to all iPhone 4 buyers through Sept. 30. After that date, the company will review the situation and conclude whether or not it will continue the giveaway.

In addition to the potential conclusion of the iPhone 4 Case Program, Marshall also sees Apple's margins improving as production of the iPad continues to ramp up and the manufacturing process continues to improve.

Marshall also noted that the Mac is likely to see market share gains in the current quarter due to a strong back-to-school season. He also does not believe that the iPad is cannibalistic to any of Apple's other products, and he projected that the new iAds mobile advertising network could drive roughly $1 in incremental annual earnings per share when fully ramped.

Finally, Marshall also noted that Apple seems to launch "revolutionary products" on a three-year cycle: The iPod ramp took place in 2004, the iPhone was launched in 2007, and the iPad debuted in 2010. Next up for Apple, he believes, is the living room, perhaps in 2013.

"For now, we will have to be satisfied with Apple TV," he said.

Gleacher & Company reiterated its "buy" rating for AAPL stock, and has maintained a price target of $345.