Apple's Huge Fourth-Quarter Earnings: 10 Implications for 2012

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple posted a massive fiscal fourth quarter that saw record-breaking iPhone sales during the period. All the indications are that the company will continue to report quarter after quarter of massive earnings as long as it can continue to release innovative products.

Apple on Jan. 24 announced a record-breaking fiscal first quarter for the 14 weeks ended Dec. 31. The company earned a $13.06 billion profit on revenue of $46.33 billion. What's more, Apple sold 37 million iPhones and 15 million iPads. The quarter showed once again how important Apple is to the industry, and that there's little chance of any other company in the space coming close to matching it in the near future.

But there were many more takeaways from Apple's financial performance during the fourth quarter. As with any company, Apple must continue to innovate and deliver the products consumers want. Past quarters are usually a good indication of how the company's strategy to achieve that goal is working out. Past quarters also provide solid insight into those things that matter most to the firm.

Read on to find out what Apple's huge fourth quarter says not only about the iPhone maker, but the entire technology industry in 2012. Spoiler: good things for Apple, and bad things for competitors.

1. There's no slowing the iPhone down

If the 37 million iPhones Apple sold during the fourth quarter tell us anything, it's that there's simply no slowing down Apple's smartphone. The handset is wildly popular around the world, and that will only continue.Its competitors can only hope for a distantsecond place.

2. There's no slowing the iPad down, either

The chances of the iPad's sales slowing to a crawl in the coming quarters are also slim. The device, even after several months on store shelves, was still popular last quarter. With the continuing speculation that a new iPad will be launching this quarter, iPad sales should remain strong.

3. The iPod is dying

All this talk of strong sales leaves out one key feature of Apple's financial statements that was easy to overlook-declining iPod sales. According to Apple, iPod sales dropped 21 percent year-over-year last quarter, totaling 15.4 million unit sales. That figure is nothing to sneeze at, but as more consumers buy iPhones, the need for an iPod will diminish. In a few quarters, the iPod might be just about dead.

4. Apple has tons of cash to do whatever it wants

According to CFO Peter Oppenheimer, Apple has $97.6 billion of cash on hand. That's more than cash reserves of the vast majority of countries around the world, and it gives Apple the leverage it needs to do whatever it wants. Will it acquire other companies? Will it pay out dividends? The choice is Apple's.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...