iPhone sales boom pushes Apple to first-quarter records

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

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Notwithstanding Cook's assertions, Apple may have to rethink that: The company sold 4 million Macs, short of Wall Street's estimate average of 4.2 million, with unit sales increasing just 7% increase year-over-year, a small gain for Apple, which typically posts double-digit gains.

Although Apple's Mac sales increases easily beat IDC's estimate of a 2% growth across the personal computer industry, Gottheil saw weakness in the lower-than-anticipated results.

"There seemed to be a lot of over-explaining by Tim [Cook] when he was asked about Mac sales," said Gottheil. "Truth is, there have been several better quarters for the Mac than this one."

Cook again acknowledged that the iPad had an impact on computer sales, including Apple's own Macs, but he argued that the trend was slow developing.

However, Gottheil saw the performance of Mac notebooks as a hint at an immediate cannibalization problem.

Apple sold 2.8 million laptops and 1.2 million desktops, representing gains of 2% and 19%, respectively, over the same period of 2011. The higher gain posted by Apple's desktop line was unusual, as typically notebook sales have grown at a faster pace. In 2011's final quarter, for example, notebook sales jumped 28% from the same period the year prior, compared to a 21% increase in desktop Mac sales.

"If there's cannibalization by the iPad, you would definitely expect it to be in notebooks," said Gottheil about those numbers.

The other factor in play could be the lack of a recent Mac refresh.

"The [current] Macs are long in the tooth," said Gottheil. "And with expected refreshes, there might be some pent-up demand as people wait for the new."

Macs accounted for just 13% of Apple's revenue for the quarter, and even though Apple again beat the average industry growth number, its computers still comprise a very small portion of all sales. Earlier this month, research firm IDC estimated that worldwide sales for the quarter were 87.1 million, making Apple's part of that pie a thin slice of just 4.6%.

Nonetheless, the quarter overall was another big win for Apple, said Brian Marshall of International Strategy and Investment Group (ISI).

Source: Apple earnings statements

"When Apple beat its revenue guidance by [about] 25% last quarter, we called it the 'perfect' quarter." Marshall wrote in a Tuesday note to clients. "Apple managed to again deliver huge upside in the March 2012 quarter, beating its revenue guidance by 20%+. In our view, March 2012 appears to represent Apple's second 'perfect quarter' in a row."

That second "perfect quarter" prompted a buying spree of Apple's stock in after-hours trading.

While shares dropped 2% Tuesday to $560.28 by the day's closing bell, as of 8 p.m. ET yesterday night, the after-hours price had jumped 7.8% to $603.81.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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