Apple Earnings: iPhone Units Take Big Dip, Sales Saved by iPads

Last Updated Oct 19, 2011 7:02 AM EDT

For those who are certain of Apple's (AAPL) inevitable march to world domination and flawless business strategy (and management gets most things right there), it's wise to see where things go awry. And they did on the iPhone front. According to the company's filing with the SEC, iPhone sales were just under 17.1 million -- a 21 percent year-over-year growth, but a serious tumble from last quarter's 20.3 million.

It's not as though Apple took a financial beating. Selling 11.1 million iPads and 4.9 million Macs helped hit quarterly revenue of $28.3 billion and a net profit of $6.6 billion. Apple also hit $108.2 billion revenue for the year, with net income of $25.9 billion and overall gross margins for the year of 40.5 percent. The company has about $76.5 billion in cash and securities. More than a third of it is cash and short-term securities. This was a stunningly strong performance.


And it's not the first time that Apple has seen a drop in iPhone unit sales. Not shipping a new device in the summer was bound to hurt, even though Apple announced that it had 4 million iPhone 4S units in the first three days of the product's availability. As I've mentioned before, there's something to be said for pent-up demand.

But the results also show that Apple's position, although strong, is uncertain. No single other hardware vendor sold as many smartphones, but Google's (GOOG) strategy is more akin to Microsoft's, in terms of working with as many hardware partners as it can. Android is putting a hurt on the iPhone and its ability for unfettered growth.

This is why Apple is trying so hard to hinder Android's expansion with legal maneuvers, and much of that effort is focused on tablets.

What? Android offer a threat in tablets? A laughable notion -- until you remember all the people who used to say that about Android smartphones just a few years ago. There are too many companies trying too many different things for Apple to out-innovate them all. Eventually, Android will win in tablets -- unless Apple can cripple the effort by tying Google into legal knots.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.