Record iPad sales can't keep Apple from missing expectations

New products this quarter will decrease gross margins, says CFO

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In 2011, Apple refreshed its notebooks in February, Cook said, giving that year's April-June quarter a full three months to sell the then-new models. "[The new Macs] were available for less than three weeks remaining in the quarter," he said, again talking about this year's debut.

Weekly Mac sales prior to WWDC were lower than in the same periods of 2011, but recovered afterward enough to push the line into the positive.

Baker again dismissed Cook's explanation for the nearly flat Mac sales, noting that Apple has faced late-quarter refreshes before. Baker's reasoning centered around economics: Because Apple sells premium-priced computers, when times are tough it's natural that sales don't boom.

But that may change.

Oppenheimer told analysts to expect a downturn in the company's gross margin for the year's third quarter, which ends Sept. 30. He estimated third-quarter revenue at $34 billion, but more importantly, said that gross margin -- the company's profit -- would also decline to 38.5%.

During the Q&A section of the earnings call, Oppenheimer put the onus of the anticipated gross margin drop on "product transitions," Apple-speak for new or revamped hardware.

Baker said that it was unlikely the third quarter's gross margin would fall that far -- Apple has a history of low-balling expectations, he added -- but acknowledged Oppenheimer's guidance meant something was coming.

What that may be is anyone's guess. Oppenheimer may have hinted at a third-quarter launch of the next iPhone rather than later in the year, or the debut of Retina-equipped 13-in. MacBook Pro notebooks, said Baker.

Or the dip in margins may signal that Apple will pull the trigger on the long-rumored 7-in. iPad, tagged as the "iPad Mini" by most.

"That's certainly plausible," Baker said. "In essence Apple owns the 10-in. tablet market, but because they don't compete in the 7-in. market, they've left a window of opportunity there for Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7. They could be thinking that with a 7-in. iPad that they could own the whole thing."

Gottheil, who is even more convinced than Baker that Apple will unveil an iPad mini this year, concurred. "[A 7-in. iPad] will have a very dramatic impact on their fourth quarter," Gottheil said.

Near the top of the earnings call, Oppenheimer announced that OS X Mountain Lion will go on sale Wednesday, although he did not set a time during the day when the upgrade would hit the Mac App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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