Apple's 'disappointing' earnings: 4 theories

For the first time since 2002, the tech giant's quarterly results fail to meet Wall Street expectations. What went wrong?

The iPhone 4S
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Apple doesn't always win. On Tuesday, the iPad maker announced its fourth quarter earnings, and for the first time since 2002, Wall Street's tech darling failed to meet analysts' expectations. Apple sold 17.1 million iPhones in its latest quarter, 11.1 million iPads, 6.6 million iPods, and 4.9 million Macs — with total quarterly revenue of $28.27 billion. That fell short of the $29.5 billion figure forecast by outsiders, but was still well above Apple's conservative in-house estimate of $25 billion. Why did Apple "disappoint"? Here, four theories:

1. The new iPhone was delayed

The real "culprit" is the long "iPhone pause" between the launch of the iPhone 4 in summer 2010 and the iPhone 4S this month, says analyst Brian White, as quoted by Barron's. If the new phone had launched sooner, it would have boosted sales. Instead, there was actually a "slowdown in iPhone sales" in the second half of the quarter, says analyst Charlie Wolf, as quoted by Fortune.

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2. The iPod cratered

iPod sales were down 27 percent from the same period a year ago. The iPod "may be slowly dying as people don't need to update those units each year or they simply use their iPhones/other smartphones to listen to music," says Sean Ludwig at VentureBeat.

3. The MacBook Air cut into iPad sales

Sure, Apple sold 11.1 million iPads — but that was well below our estimate of 12.5 million units, says analyst Ashok Kumar, as quoted by Fortune. What happened? Customers raced to snatch up the impressive new MacBook Air, which "likely cannibalized iPad demand."

4. Expectations were simply too high

"This miss is just a minor blip due to analysts getting overzealous," says Andy M. Zaky at Fortune. You may hear chatter that Apple's best days are behind it, but that's hogwash. Business is still gangbusters and "nothing about the company has changed." The supposed "big miss on Tuesday was the inevitable result of analysts getting too carried away with their expectations."

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