Apple's quarterly earnings, due Jan. 24, will offer a crucial first glimpse into the performance of not only its iPhone 4S but also how well its Pad franchise fared over the holiday season against Amazon's Kindle Fire and other tablets.
"The critical number is going to be the iPhone number," Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told the Wall Street Journal Jan. 23, referring to how financial analysts and investors will view Apple's overall results. He forecasts quarterly sales of some 30 million.
Although the iPhone 4S bears significant aesthetic similarities to its predecessor, the iPhone 4, it boasts certain new features-most notably Siri, a "digital personal assistant"-that made it a must-have for millions of customers soon after its October release. In addition to Munster, other analysts have suggested that the iPhone 4S sold strongly through the holiday season, but Apple's official numbers will make that theory concrete.
Analysts will also be watching the iPad numbers for any softness in sales, particularly in relation to previous quarters' growth. Although the iPad continues to dominate the tablet market, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet-a full-color device capable of displaying e-books and playing multimedia content-proved a popular option among holiday shoppers.
During the conference call that will almost certainly accompany those earnings results, analysts will press Apple executives for any news of its upcoming projects. And Apple being Apple, those executives will absolutely refuse to respond. Nonetheless, the rumor mill suggests that the company is gearing up for the early-year unveiling and release of the iPad 3, which could feature a higher-resolution screen than the previous two iterations.
Later this year, Apple could face significant tablet competition when rival manufacturers unveil the first tablets running Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8. In addition, companies ranging from Microsoft to Google will do their utter best to make 2012 the year their respective smartphone platforms gain more market share. That will make it an ultra-competitive 12 months for Apple; the earnings results Jan. 23 could give it added momentum for the battle ahead.