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Is This Apple's Biggest Tablet Opportunity Yet?

Sunday - 2/3/2013, 11:15pm  ET

After its stiff post-earnings sell-off, Apple  rebounded slightly this week. The company closed out the week at $453 per share, a 3.1% gain from where it'd closed the previous Friday. 

The central story line surrounding Apple's sell-off -- how much growth is still in front of the company -- is still being debated after earnings. However, this week featured a story that both Apple and general technology investors shouldn't ignore. While investors might not be used to looking abroad at Turkey for coming technology megatrends, one looks to be taking place in the country right now. At stake is the trajectory of tablet growth, and a potential huge market for Apple itself. 

An emerging opportunity?
When investors think about top growth markets in front of Apple, they frequently start with the fabled BRIC markets -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Apple has been very upfront that it sees China passing the United States to become its largest market. 

Yet lost in the mania over using the catchy "BRIC" acronym to describe markets with strong growth is that there are dozens of high-growth countries where companies like Apple don't historically have strong presences. Each of these countries is unique in the opportunity it presents.

One of the most under-the-radar growth opportunities is actually, yes, Turkey. It's a country with strong growth rates, relatively strong GDP compared with many other high-growth peers, and a large population of more than 75 million. Not only that, but Turkey's government and populace have also been willing to embrace technology.

Across 2011, Intel  posted surprisingly strong growth rates, which surprised investors who were watching continuing sluggish PC growth in the United States and Europe. The key growth driver was emerging-market growth, which Intel would trumpet on its earnings calls. What's surprising is that in addition to citing growth in China, India, and the world's fourth most populous country, Indonesia, Intel would also trumpet growth in Turkey. The company was an under-the-radar growth driver for Intel's booming global sales. 

However, Turkey is seeing the same shift as other emerging markets, where PC growth is slowing in favor of spending on mobile devices. That's a unique opportunity in and of itself, but what's more interesting is the government's involvement in pushing to improve its educational system with tablets. 

18 million tablets -- that's a big number
Turkey initiated the Fatih project, stylized as F@tih, in November 2010. The basic premise was to modernize education by providing tablets to students and administrators. What makes the program so interesting is its enormous size and scope. 

Turkey is hoping to purchase 17 million tablets for students and approximately 1 million for administrative employees and teachers. The rollout is expected to happen in an extremely fast time frame, considering many educational decisions are made at glacial changes. The project is expected to be completed within three years. 

It's an extremely ambitious project, especially in its universal aim for technology in classrooms. In the project's official PowerPoint presentation (the top link is an English presentation), it notes among its initial aims to ensure that each school has a multiple-function printer. The fact that just getting multiple-function printers in schools is part of the project illustrates some of the disparity in Turkey, which has a large east-west divide, where Istanbul and coastal cities on the Mediterranean are much wealthier than rural communities and ones in the eastern half of the country. In many schools, this isn't a simple technology "upgrade"; its an attempt to catch up to today's technology in one massive shift.

F@tih is an undertaking that, if successful, could lead other nations -- both richer and poorer -- to follow Turkey's lead. There are already numerous programs modernizing technology with tablets, but if Turkey can prove that their widespread use improves education and saves costs in other areas, it could accelerate large-scale deployments like the one being conducted across the country. 

There's a lot at stake here. 

The future of tablet growth?
The news of Turkey's impending tablet purchases was big news across Apple sites last week, because Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with Apple VP of Education John Couch. The size of a potential deal between the Turkish government and Apple has been reported at $4.5 billion. 

Apple's size -- $165 billion in sales in the past 12 months -- doesn't make any potential deal in and of itself a game-changer. Yet the basic premise of a deal with Turkey is tremendously powerful. Steve Jobs conceived the iPad as something revolutionary to education, so that in one fell swoop Apple could put itself at the center of a case study in using tablets to revolutionize education. 

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