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Apple results: why it's next quarter's numbers that really matter

Apple results: why it's next quarter's numbers that really matter

From the outside, it’s probably hard for some to fathom why 47.8 million iPhones sold in the last three months of 2012 represents a disappointing return for Apple.

Likewise, 22.9 million iPads, up from 15.4 million in the same period in 2011, doesn’t seem too shabby either.

But when you consider that Apple made $13 billion profit, the same as the year-ago period and ending years of exponential growth, you can see why investors are concerned.

Cupertino simply isn’t making as much money per device as it used to be. Perhaps that’s inevitable. Smartphone ubiquity and saturation is a problem that all tech giants are having to face and Apple is doing better than most.

While it’s easy to point to sliding share prices and flat profits, the real test comes in three months time, when Apple reports on how it has done at the start of 2013.

After all, it’s inevitable that iPhone and iPad sales are big over the period covering Christmas.

But how about after, when people are watching their cash and waiting to see what rival products hit the market?

Apple logo on building

Apple has always been consistent quarter on quarter. In fact, it’s the key to its success.

iPhone sales might tail off in the quarter ahead of a product refresh, but by and large, stability has been the name of the game.

The last three months of 2011 saw Apple sell 37.04 million iPhones, with January to March 2012 seeing sales of 35.1 million handsets.

The drop-off was marginal and this time round it’ll have to be similar in order to stop any burgeoning concern from investors and tech watchers.

If that number is less than 40 million in April, then expect Samsung to be in prime position to push home the narrative that it is the inheritor of Apple’s mantle as premium smartphone maker.

Apple always talks about ‘record quarters’ and is a master of spin, controlling the story from the off.

But if it has a bad start to 2013, relative to its latest figures, then there’ll be plenty more talk of the company’s slow slide from the top.

ipad mini official

We’ll learn far more about Apple’s standing by the middle of April. If things look like they’re going to go badly, don’t be surprised to see a lot of chatter about an iPhone refresh, and even an iPhone Mini, become a lot louder.

Cupertino will want the gossip to flow in order to build hype and hopefully push sales of any new iPhone, which is likely to be launched in June or July this year. All these huge stats from Apple might look impressive, but times are clearly changing.

It might seem churlish to say it, but its days of domination look to be over.

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