What to expect from Apple's quarterly progress report

The iPhone has flown off shelves, but did price cuts do the trick to reinvigorate the Mac business?

It's been an eventful quarter for Apple, but can it keep up its momentum? We'll find out Tuesday when Apple releases its fiscal third-quarter earnings.

Recent company news has been mixed, but certainly more positive than negative. During the quarter, which ended June 30, the company released the third-generation iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, which by all accounts, was a blockbuster. But its Mac and iPod divisions didn't experience the same kind of runaway success. Apple has had a string of successful quarters, even in the midst of the worst economic environment since the Great Depression.

One thing the company did do, in a nod to consumers' tight budgets, was lower prices on its Mac notebook lineup . On Tuesday we'll see if it was able to continue attracting shoppers.

Analysts are expecting revenues for the quarter between $7.88 billion and $8.44 billion, and earnings per share between $1.02 and $1.31. Apple itself--which always gives guidance on the low side--is anticipating revenue between $7.7 billion and $7.9 billion and earnings per share between 95 cents and a dollar.

Apple stock has jumped 21.4 percent, rising to $147.52, since its last earnings report in late April. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who stood in for CEO Steve Jobs while Jobs was on medical leave for a liver transplant, has received high marks for keeping the company running smoothly in its leader's absence. Jobs has been back at work, at least part-time, since the end of June.

Apple announced it had sold 1 million iPhones worldwide in the first weekend the 3GS was on the market, and AT&T said the first day the phone was available marked the best sales day in the carrier's history . So while we know iPhone revenue will look good, Piper Jaffray says more specifically that it anticipates total iPhones sold for the quarter will be 5 million.

Mac revenue will show if price cuts are helping. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says Apple sold 2.2 million Macs during the quarter, and says it is getting a boost from the price cuts it applied when it upgraded its entire aluminum MacBook line to MacBook Pros. But recent counts from IDC, which only tracks Apple's sales in the U.S., showed that Mac shipments dipped more than 12 percent during this quarter. The entire PC industry was down 3.1 percent worldwide.

iPods' annual tuneup is expected in September, when it has taken place the past few years. The iPod business has also been slowing down a bit. Piper predicts sales to be down 7 percent from a year ago. But Apple has been increasingly focused on its iPod Touch, which has access to the popular App Store and is expected to get a reboot in September similar to the iPhone 3GS. With a camera and digital compass, the device can offer an even more compelling platform for playing games.

Expect analysts to ask lots of questions Tuesday about the economy. Though Apple has sailed through what seems to be the worst of it, its performance is an important bellwether for the rest of the industry. Intel and Dell both said last week that the tech sector is now looking up for the rest of the year . There will also be interest from analysts in more possible price cuts, and future products like the much-rumored tablet .

Apple also continues to put away cash. As Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech pointed out, Apple added $800 million in cash during the last quarter, bringing its total to $28.9 billion. Only Cisco's $29 billion in cash is better among technology companies. Among computer makers, Hewlett-Packard has $12 billion, Dell $9 billion. So analysts are going to want to know if they're investing it in a new product, a new company, or giving some back to shareholders.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur. E-mail Erica.

 

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