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Apple: Best Mac, iPhone quarterly sales ever

Apple says fiscal fourth quarter was its most profitable, with "some really great new products in the pipeline for 2010."

Apple did not disappoint investors as it closed out its fiscal year. The company reported its earnings Monday afternoon, calling the fiscal fourth quarter of 2009 its "most profitable ever."

Apple recorded revenue of $9.87 billion and earnings of $1.67 billion, or $1.82 per share. That's up from the $7.9 billion in revenue and $1.26 per share of a year ago. And that easily fell within the range of what Wall Street was hoping for. Analysts had been expecting earnings per share somewhere between $1.24 and $1.72, and revenue between $8.74 billion and $10.55 billion.

The evidence of Apple's continued ability to float above the economic storm of the past year sent its shares over the $200 mark in after-hours trading, surpassing its 52-week high of $192.32.

Apple is still sticking with accounting rules that require it to recognize revenue for the iPhone and Apple TV over a two-year period. Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said that the company can start recognizing the bulk of iPhone and Apple TV revenue in the quarter the products are sold anytime over the next year. But he said he's still unsure when Apple will actually make the switch.

As in previous quarters, Apple again opted to break out what revenue would look like if it didn't follow those rules. For the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended September 28, revenue would rise to $12.25 billion and earnings to $2.85 billion.

Apple says that it sold more iPhones than ever during the quarter, 7.4 million, representing a 7 percent rise from a year ago. That's due to the expanding number of regions, including China at the end of the month, that have the iPhone--as well as more carriers than ever, said Apple COO Tim Cook. He also pointed to the continually expanding App Store, which now has 85,000 applications available.

Cook also was able to get a dig in at its competitors in the smartphone market--one of whom launched a snarky anti-iPhone ad on TV over the weekend--saying, "Frankly I think people are really just trying to catch up with the first iPhone developed two years ago. We've moved beyond that."

And while the iPhone is indeed continuing to boost Apple's bottom line, the company also moved a lot of Macs during the traditional back-to-school quarter. Apple says it sold 3.05 million Macs, 17 percent more than a year ago. iPods were, as expected, the company's weak spot--the 10.2 million sold was 8 percent less than a year ago.

In a statement, CEO Steve Jobs crowed about the successful sales period for the Mac and iPhone, but also hinted at what's in store for next year.

"We are thrilled to have sold more Macs and iPhones than in any previous quarter," Jobs said. "We've got a very strong lineup for the holiday season and some really great new products in the pipeline for 2010."

In fact, the company that usually doesn't like discussing unreleased products seemed to take pains to cryptically reference them. Oppenheimer mentioned it a couple times, saying the company is looking forward "to exciting new products. We're very enthusiastic for the year ahead."

When discussing the upcoming year, Cook also noted "an amazingly strong product pipeline."

Is this code for the long-awaited touch-screen tablet? Or the less-exciting but recently speculated iMac and white plastic MacBook update? Blogger John Gruber at also says he hears that Tuesday will bring a swarm of new products, including a multitouch trackpad for Mac desktops. Perhaps the extra attention called to unnamed future products is a way of detracting from what is supposed to be Microsoft's big week, with the launch of Windows 7 scheduled for Thursday.

In regards to its brand new Snow Leopard operating system, Cook said that sales of OS upgrades to Mac OS X 10.6 were twice as high as the same five-week initial sales period from the previous version of the OS, called Leopard. "We were very pleasantly surprised by it," he said.

Apple stores also had their best quarter ever in terms of revenue ($1.7 billion) and Mac sales (670,000), and 15 new locations opened over the three-month period.

But as the company turns in a string of "best fill-in-the-blank quarters ever" (holiday, non-holiday, in the history of the company), it's hard not to wonder if exceedingly high expectations will soon be a problem. Apple is, as always, choosing to be conservative. The company is predicting its fiscal first quarter 2010 will bring in between $1.70 per share and $1.78 per share and revenue of between $11.3 billion and $11.6 billion.

This post was updated throughout at 3:40 p.m. with information from the company's earnings call.