Apple’s 10-K Filing Reveals Exciting Product Potential in 2011

The details of Apple’s (s aapl) 10-K filing for 2011 include an increased employee headcount, higher capital expenditure targets, and a decrease in its gross margin, for the second year in a row. Is this a mix that promises another year as innovative as was 2010?

Apple made its annual regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday. It said gross margins will fall again in 2011, just as they did in 2010, “due to a higher mix of new and innovative products,” and predictions of higher prices for components and other production-related costs.

It said much the same thing last year; 2010 brought the introduction of the iPad, possibly Apple’s biggest gamble of the past decade when viewed from the vantage point of Dec. 2009. No wonder they expected gross margins to fall.

This time around, what might account for the same worry? The iPad is a winner, as will be its successor, and one would assume that the next iteration will be evolutionary, not revolutionary, so margins should go down. Same with the iPhone and its next iteration, though Apple might shake things up in that arena to get rid of the stigma of the antenna problems that plagued its latest smartphone release.

The redesigned MacBook Air, which will affect Apple’s 2011 financial year, could account for some of those narrower margins, but I think Apple has even more up its sleeve if it sees the gross margin percentage dropping below levels of a year when it launched a brand new product category. Maybe we’ll see changes as dramatic as the MacBook Air’s new internals come to the rest of the notebook line, or another new device category to extend the reach of iOS further still.

One other noteworthy element of the filing is Apple’s prediction regarding capital expenditure. The company plans to spend $4 billion in 2011, with $600 million of that earmarked for new brick-and-mortar retail. Plans for new stores include between 40 and 50 new locations, more than half of which will be located outside the U.S.

While 2010 is a tough act to follow, the next year should be another big one for Apple, especially as the Android(s goog)-iOS battle heats up. What do you see it planning for 2011?

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