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Apple: Best. Quarter. Ever.

First IBM, now Apple Inc., which is looking shiny in a robust earnings report. Looks like the computing guys are doing OK in the downturn. So far.

The company beats its guidance and Wall Street’s expectations in its earnings report released on Wednesday, outlining the best quarterly revenue and earnings in Apple history. The primary reason for the success lies squarely on the shoulders of the iPhone and MacBooks, executives said, though iPod sales were up 3 percent from a year ago.

Apple sold 4.36 million iPhone 3Gs in the holiday quarter, representing an 88 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter, bringing the overall total sold to 13.7 million. Apple also said it had sold 2.5 million Macs, up from 2.3 million one year ago.

Executives pointed to the strong performance of its software strategy as contributing to the iPhone’s success, including third-party programming. Since its summer launch, the Apple App Store has seen nearly a half-billion downloads and now boasts 15,000 applications. Executives declined to mention what kind of profit that translated into.

The stats: Quarterly profit jumped to $1.61 billion, up from $1.58 billion a year ago. Revenue increased to $10.17 billion, from the $7.9 billion a year ago. That beat the analyst expectation for $9.74 billion in revenue. Meanwhile, gross profit margin last quarter was 34.7 percent, unchanged from a year ago.

Responding to a question about CEO Steve Jobs’ role (he recently stepped out of everyday operations through June because of health concerns), Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer, told analysts in a conference call that “Steve is the CEO of Apple. He plans to remain involved in strategic decisions, while Tim runs day-to-day operations.”

For all the good news, Apple did say the current quarter would be less shiny. It offered guidance for 90 cents to $1 per share and sales of $7.6 billion to $8 billion.

Apple’s stock jumped 10 percent to $91 in after-hours trading.


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