Apple Gets Its Groove Back: iPhone Returned, Quarter Stuns

Apple Inc.‘s (AAPL) week seems to be improving.

The company has retrieved the fourth-generation iPhone one of its engineers lost in a bar – go figure – and reported earnings that even NPR can’t stop talking about.

Recall that earlier this week, an Apple engineer enjoyed a few, presumably warm, brewskies at a German bar in Redwood City, Calif., and accidentally left what is believed to be the new iPhone at said establishment. Then tech blog Gizmodo paid $5,000 for the phone, took it apart, took photos, posted them on the Web, got phone calls from Apple and finally returned the device after Apple wrote a formal letter requesting the device’s return. (Gizmodo says the letter proves the gadget is indeed the latest and greatest iPhone, a sour admission for Apple, which is known for its Skull and Bones-type secrecy over new products.)

So one can imagine that Apple CEO Steve Jobs stopped hyperventilating, at least long enough to stun Wall Street with first-quarter earnings news no one expected. On Tuesday, Apple said iPhone sales busted previous records, soaring 131 percent, to 8.75 million units. That led to a 90 percent jump in profit and a 49 percent surge in sales. All told, that translates into $3.07 billion in profit and $13.5 billion in revenue.

In a conference call, Apple COO Tim Cook called the growth rates “staggering” and Jobs, in a prepared statement, said the three months ended March 31 marked the company’s “best non-holiday quarter ever.”

Apple also sold 2.94 million Mac computers, a 33 percent increase from the year-ago period, even as iPod sales fell just a bit – 1 percent – to 10.9 million units.

The iPhone, however, remains Apple’s golden child, and not just in the United States. Sales of the device soared in Asia and Europe. In fact, international sales made up 58 percent of Apple’s quarterly revenue.

“The quarter was gargantuan relative to expectations,” A. M. Sacconaghi Jr., an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., told the New York Times. “People want a computer in their pocket and Apple is at the very forefront of that business.”

Meantime, Apple wouldn’t talk about much the new iPad – the tablet computer went on sale earlier this month – but execs did say they were shocked by demand for the device. Expect the company’s second-quarter earnings report to be dominated by iPad talk … oh, and probably that new iPhone, too.

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