iPhone sales boom pushes Apple to first-quarter records

But weaker-than-expected Mac sales may hint at cannibalization caused by iPad, says analyst

Apple on Tuesday announced record first-quarter revenue on the back of soaring iPhone sales, with an assist from the iPad.

During an earnings call with Wall Street analysts and reporters, Apple said it had sold 35.1 million iPhones during the quarter, an increase of 88% from the same period a year ago, and 11.8 million iPads, well over twice as many it sold in the first quarter of 2011.

"[The iPhone] blew through our ... forecast," acknowledged Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets, which had pegged iPhone sales of just 29.6 million units.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the iPhone and iPad numbers showed "aggressive growth."

Revenue of $39.2 billion was a record for any quarter that ended in March, although it was about $7 billion short of the all-time record set last quarter. Sales rose by 59% over the year-ago period, and the net profit of $11.6 billion, which also a record for the first quarter, was nearly double what the company booked in the first three months of 2011.

As has become the trend, Apple's revenue was fueled by another big jump for the iPhone, the line that accounted for almost 58% of Apple's revenue, an even larger percentage than last quarter's 53% contribution.

It was the second consecutive quarter that the iPhone accounted for more than half of the company's revenue.

"Apple is a phone company, but it's not your father's phone company," Gottheil said about the iPhone's contribution.

Apple's 35.1 million iPhone sold was almost as high as the record 37 million units it sold last quarter. The 35.1 million number blew by the consensus estimates of Wall Street analysts, who again seriously underestimated sales by predicting Apple would sell just 31 million iPhones.

Among the sales drivers, said chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer, were strong sales of the iPhone in China, where Apple sold five times as many units as in the year-ago quarter.

Apple began selling the iPhone 4S in China in mid-January, nearly three months after the U.S. launch, and two weeks into the quarter just reported.

Mouse over a bar to see data details; click on items in graph key to turn them off and on. Source: Apple earnings statements

Another contributing factor, said Oppenheimer, was an additional 2.6 million iPhones that Apple coaxed out of its suppliers during the quarter, a move that let the company meet demand for the first time since Apple introduced the iPhone 4S last October.

Sales of the iPad were also brisk, but did not match the blow-out quarter at the end of the 2011: Apple sold 11.8 million iPads, up 132% over the same quarter in 2011 but down 24% from the previous quarter.

The iPad brought in 16.8% of Apple's income for the quarter.

One analyst noticed a drop in the average sales price (ASP) for the iPad line, and asked Oppenheimer if that meant the price cut on the iPad 2 had boosted sales, and if so, what that told the company about the business it could do with lower-priced tablets.

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