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Apple Preps for a Holiday iPhone Revival

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s fourth-quarter earnings missed analyst expectations, but the company can console itself with what should be a record-breaking holiday season, thanks to the iPhone 4S. (See Apple Posts $6.62B Q4 Profit and Apple Sells 4M iPhones in First Weekend.)

"We've sold over 4 million [4S iPhones] in just three days after launch, so we're thrilled with the start we had," said Apple CEO Tim Cook on Apple's first earnings since Steve Jobs passed away. (See Apple Chairman Steve Jobs Is Dead at 56 and The Steve Jobs Legacy.)

"We're confident we'll have a large supply, but I don't want to predict when supply and demand might balance, because the demand is obviously extremely high right now," he continued. "I'm confident we'll set an all-time record for iPhone this quarter."

Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that Apple was pleased with its 17.1 million iPhone sales in the quarter -- up 21 percent from 14.1 million in the September quarter last year but down 16 percent from the prior quarter. Oppenheimer and Cook blamed the widespread iPhone 5 speculation for the quarterly slip in sales, noting that consumers held off on buying new iPhones after Apple's June announcement of iOS 5 set off a storm of anticipation for an October iPhone 5 launch. (See iPhone 5 Rumor du Jour: Coming Soon to Sprint?, Here Comes the iPhone 5 (Rumors) and Apple Borrows From Competitors for iOS 5.)

"We can't tell you with precision how many units we would have sold if there hadn't been rumors ... but I believe it's a substantial [number]," Cook said. "That's the reason we called it out, and anyone monitoring the press would come to the same conclusion."

As a result, Apple ended the quarter with 5.75 million iPhones in channel inventory, a sequential decline of around 180,000, Oppenheimer said, but within its target.

Apple held back on rolling the iPhone 4S out to new countries and carriers ahead of the phone's release, which further affected sales in the quarter. But, Cook said it will bring the device to 22 more countries by the end of the year. To date, the addition of Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and KDDI Corp. brings the number of Apple's carrier partners to 230 in 105 countries.

For its first quarter, Apple is expecting revenue of $37 billion and earnings of $9.30 per share.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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