Apple earnings preview: It's all about the iPhone 4S

Apple is expected to report another record quarter, but all eyes are on the number of iPhones sold, with this being the first quarter to include sales of the iPhone 4S.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Early morning line-goers for the iPhone 4S on its launch day in San Francisco.
Early morning line-goers for the iPhone 4S on its launch day in San Francisco. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple reports its first-quarter earnings tomorrow, and Wall Street's expecting some record-breaking numbers all around.

Analysts polled by FactSet predict the company will bring in earnings of $10.04 per share and revenue of $38.92 billion. As usual, that's well above the $9.30 a share on $37 billion Apple forecasted at the end of its last quarter.

There will be a lot to chew on with tomorrow's numbers, which should come in shortly after the close of trading. But the big one to look at is how many iPhones the company sold.

This is the first quarter to include sales of the iPhone 4S, which hit shelves in mid-October. All indications have been that it's Apple's best-selling phone yet, though the company has not provided new data on that since boasting sales of 4 million iPhone 4S units in its first weekend.

Fortune scooped together a collection of 22 estimates from Wall Street analysts, who averaged a guess of 29.74 million iPhones sold. How does that stack up to the same quarter last year? Apple sold 16.24 million units, which in itself was an 86 percent increase year over year. If Apple met the near-30 million estimate for this quarter, that would be about an 83 percent increase this time around.

In its last quarter, Apple surprised Wall Street when it reported iPhone sales figures that were less than what analysts expected, something the company later chalked up to pent-up demand for a new iPhone model and an over-zealous rumor mill. This time, the new phone has been out for the majority of the quarter and continues to draw huge lines in new countries where it's been launched. Apple also continues to offer the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 alongside it, and at lower entry pricing.

The other big number to watch is how many iPads Apple sold during the quarter. The company surprised analysts last year when it brought in better-than-expected sales of 7.3 million units, well above the 6.2 million analysts were expecting. 42 analysts polled by Fortune pegged Apple at having sold "just under" 14 million units this quarter, which would be close to double the sales year over year.

Will Apple break 5 million Macs sold in a single quarter?
Will Apple break 5 million Macs sold in a single quarter? Apple

Last but not least, there's the Mac, with this quarter potentially breaking Apple's all-time sales record of 4.89 million units set in the previous quarter. Per Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, Wall Street's expecting something in the ballpark of 5.2 million Macs sold, representing about 25 percent growth from the same quarter last year.

But that magic 5 million Mac number not happen Muster says. In a note to investors last week, the firm actually ended up lowering its estimate to 4.9 million units based on a "soft" sales report of Macs from research group NPD. Munster also suggested that it would be difficult to compare this quarter's growth with the quarter last year, since that quarter included the recently redesigned MacBook Airs.

Below are some other things to keep an ear out for in the earnings call, which comes at 2 p.m. PT. We'll be following along with that in a live blog, which you can tune into underneath our earnings coverage tomorrow afternoon.

  • Apple's plans with Target. Earlier this month, Target said it would be debuting special Apple displays in 25 of its stores, though did not say if that will include computers. Tidbits on that could (but probably won't) be had on the call.

  • Apple in the enterprise. Apple typically shares its enterprise efforts during the earnings call, including the adoption of iPhones, iPads and Macs. It's of special interest this time around given a study released by Forrester earlier this month that suggested enterprise spending on Apple productswill increase by 50 percent in 2012.

  • Retail bump. Apple opened up a handful of new retail stores during the quarter, and we'll be getting an update on how that impacted Apple's all important foot traffic totals. More importantly, this was the quarter that included both the holiday shopping season and the re-opening of the company's "cube" store in New York. It's one of Apple's most popular stores, but spent nearly half the year closed while it was renovated. The store re-opened the first week of November with a new glass exterior made up of fewer pieces, made to make it look more seamless.