The last time Apple made a big purchase like these investors are suggesting brought Steve Jobs back to Apple along with the brilliant crew of Next. Since then purchases have been a small chip maker here, a specialized software company there, the jukebox company which iTunes is based on (sorry the name escapes me) none of which are household names.
Apple doesn't seem to subscribe to the mentality of companies like, Microsoft-Yahoo, HP-Palm, Time Warner-AOL, etc... who's mergers or acquisitions have not proven to be great successes. Rumors and suggestions that Apple buy Adobe would benefit nobody but Adobe stock holders. Apple seems to look for technologies that have something new and exciting to offer allowing Apple to realize a product fully. Buying a large expensive company like Facebook (which may have peaked in popularity by now) is not how Apple does business. Why buy when you can license or make a deal to integrate a technology that seems timely giving you a way to drop it when the world has moved on.
A big acquisition would say a lot about where Apple wants to go.
There are a lot of reasons Apple might acquire a company:
* Acquiring suppliers to improve its supply chain and margins. I can't see Apple trying to buy Foxconn, Toshiba, etc., to shave a few percentage points down on tear-down costs. Apple already has great bargaining power with its suppliers.
* Taking out a competitor. Computers? No. iPhone? No. Software and OS? No. I'm not sure who Apple could buy that would improve their market share in any market that wouldn't run afoul of DOJ, FTC and European regulators.
* Improving access to content and distribution. I could see Apple buying a studio (Sony, CBS) to improve its access to content, buying a local cable provider (Comcast, Charter, TWC) to get better access to the living room, buying Netflix for its delivery patents or Tivo for its DVR patents (though neither of those would be a major acquisition).
Personally, I would like to see Apple buy a major publication or publishing group like the New York Times or Conde Nast and remake the news and magazine businesses for the iPad age.
I can't help but think that the planned acquisition has something to do with streaming content out of that giant server farm that Apple is building in North Carolina.