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iPhone 4S propels Apple to massive earnings

Apple posts its biggest quarter ever, fueled by record sales of the iPhone. It posts earnings of $46.33 billion and profits of $13.06 billion.

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
4 min read
Apple earnings

Any notions that Apple's iPhone 4S was a lame duck were erased with Apple's quarterly earnings.

Apple reported revenue of $46.33 billion and profits of $13.06 billion, or $13.87 per share, for the quarter ended December 31, 2011. That was up from the $26.74 billion, or $6.43 per share, the company saw at the same time last year.

"We're thrilled with our outstanding results and record-breaking sales of iPhones, iPads, and Macs," Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, said in a statement. "Apple's momentum is incredibly strong, and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline."

Analysts polled by FactSet Research Systems, on average, predicted that the company would bring in $10.06 per share on revenue of $39 billion.

The performance obliterated Apple's own estimates, which called for earnings of $9.30 a share on sales of $37 billion. Apple made a rare miss in its previous quarterly earnings, posting results that were strong but lower than analysts expected, due in no small part to customers holding off on buying new iPhones in anticipation of a newer model.

For its current quarter, Apple expects revenue of $32.5 billion and projects earnings of $8.50 per share, 48 cents above analyst expectations.

Apple's gross profit margin for the quarter was 44.7 percent, up from the 38.5 percent the same quarter last year.

Following the news, shares of the company skyrocketed, sending Apple to new highs. In after-hours trading, Apple was up by $33.59, or 7.99 percent.

By the numbers
As expected, the iPhone was the star of Apple's quarter, with the company having sold 37.04 million units. That's well above the 30 million analysts were expecting. This is the first quarter to include sales of the iPhone 4S, which hit shelves in mid-October and had stronger launch sales numbers than any previous iPhone model.

Apple's iPhone 4S was the company's top seller.
Apple's iPhone 4S was the company's top seller. Apple

Apple also said it sold 15.43 million iPads during the quarter, up 111 percent from the 7.33 million it sold during the same time a year ago. That exceeded the 13 million to 14 million units analysts were expecting.

Of special note were Apple's Mac sales, coming in at 5.2 million units. That surpasses the 5 million units for the first time ever and bests the company's previous top tally of 4.89 million units, set in its previous quarter. That figure matched up exactly with the 5.2 million analysts were expecting Apple to sell.

iPods continued their decline, with Apple posting sales of 15.4 million units, a decrease of 21 percent, compared to the company's sales during Apple's first quarter last year. This was the first time in recent years in which Apple did not do a full refresh of its iPod Touch line, which continues to make up the majority of iPod unit sales. When debuting the iPhone 4S in October, Apple opted instead to offer it in a new color (white), as well as cut its price.

Along with Apple's product line, the company's retail stores saw notable growth year over year. Apple's retail group accounted for $6.1 billion in revenue for the quarter, an increase of 59 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Part of the reason for that was foot traffic to the company's stores, which Apple pegged at 110 million visitors, up from 76 million last year.

From the call
During its conference call with investors following the release of its financials, Apple fielded questions about its rivals, including Amazon and its Kindle Fire tablet, as well as how it stacks up against competitors in the smartphone field.

A Goldman Sachs analyst questioned whether Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire tablet--and other low-cost iPad alternatives like it--might actually be turning people on to Apple's iPad or making an impact on Apple's sales.

Apple's iPad.
Apple's iPad. Apple

"In terms of our competitiveness, the ecosystem for iPads is in a class by itself," Cook said. "I think people really want to do multiple things with their tablet, and therefore, we don't really see these limited-function tablets and e-readers [as] being in the same category."

Cook noted that there were a number of customers that would buy what he referred to as "limited function" devices but that people who wanted to buy an iPad wouldn't "settle" for something else.

"In terms of tablets, last year was supposed to be the year of the tablet, and I think most people would agree that it was the year of the iPad for the second year in a row," Cook boasted. "So we're just going to continue to innovate like crazy in this area, and we think we can continue to compete with anyone who is currently shipping tablets or that might enter in the future."

When asked whether Apple and Google were in a "two-horse race," in terms of market share with iOS and Android, Cook dismissed the claim.

"iOS is doing extremely well," Cook said. "I wouldn't say it's a two-horse race. There's a horse in Redmond that always suits up and always runs, and will keep running, and there are other players we can't count out."

Instead, Cook offered that the company continues to focus on "making the world's best products."

"We'll just keep on doing that and somewhat ignore how many horses there are," Cook said. "We just want to stay ahead and be the lead one."

Updated at 3:50 p.m. with additional details from Apple's earnings call with analysts and investors. You can read along with some of its highlights in CNET's live blog of it, embedded below.