9 key takeaways from Apple’s surprising earnings call

Photo: Alex Washburn / Wired

Photo: Alex Washburn/Wired

Apple turned what could have been a deathly boring financial ritual into an occasion for celebration Wednesday, posting record numbers and making headlines with some unexpected moves.

Here’s our take on everything you need to know from the latest quarterly earnings call.

Apple is rich

First off, let’s take a look at the cash Apple has on hand — $150 billion to be exact. Tim Cook stressed that this enormous pile of money would be used to focus on Apple’s top priority: making amazing products and investing in the essentials (retail, marketing, new markets, supply chain). “We are not going to underinvest in this business,” he said.

Apple shares more wealth

Two massive initiatives will let Apple share all that wealth with investors. First off, Apple took the wraps off an almost unheard of seven-to-one stock split, causing one veteran financial reporter to tweet his surprise. “I’ve followed $AAPL for 18 years,” tweeted Arik Hesseldahl (@ahess247). “Rarely been as surprised by an earnings report as I was today.

Meanwhile, Apple is adding about $30 billion to its Capital Returns program. Usually cranky super-investor Carl Icahn (or is that iCahn?) sounds stoked about the boost to the stock-buyback program. “Agree completely with $AAPL’s increased buyback and extremely pleased with results,” he tweeted. “Believe we’ll also be happy when we see new products.”

Apple’s announcements received a ton of attention on Wall Street, and after-hours trading rocketed the stock price up 7.65 percent (about $40 per share) as of this writing.

Apple still knows how to innovate

Innovative new products are in the pipeline, Cook assures us, but for now, Apple fans (and stockholders) can try to wrap their heads around that crazy seven-to-one stock split. Seven-to-one? WTF? Cupertino’s innovative boardroom maneuvers prove Apple still possesses an uncanny ability to shock and awe — even when it comes to mundane matters like stock splits and capital returns.

The new CFO is dreamy

Everyone loves Luca Maestri, says our resident Italophile Nicole Martinelli. Listening to the incoming Apple CFO discuss gross margins and operating expenses was like relaxing in a soothing bath of Prosecco. Smart, dapper and loaded for bear with a tantalizing yet understandable Italian accent, Maestri stole the show from outgoing CFO Peter Oppenheimer.

The iPad is all-around amazing

Speaking of the smooth-as-silk Maestri, his take on the iPad was flattering, as he pointed out that two-thirds of iPads registered last quarter were snapped up by first-time iPad owners. It’s clear who’s winning the tablet wars. “iPad accounts for four times the web traffic of all Android tablet users combined,” said Maestri.

Similarly, Cook jumped in during the Q&A session near the end of the hour-long call to sing the praises of Apple’s tablet, telling investors, “I am very bullish on iPad.” He noted it’s the only Apple product to become an instant hit in three key markets: consumer, business and education. They’ve sold 210 million iPads in only four years. Even more surprising, iPads are used by 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 91 percent of tablets activated at the enterprise level were iPads. Many businesses have written key proprietary apps that embed the iPad deeply within the companies’ operations.

The iPod is a dead man walking

The iPod started the mobile revolution, but it was only mentioned as a past achievement during Wednesday’s call. Sales of the music players continue to plummet as listeners move to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and iTunes Radio. The iPod era is ending with a whimper, not a bang.

Apple TV is not a hobby

Amazon’s Fire TV might have stolen some brain share in the past couple of weeks, but Tim Cook isn’t worried. During the call, he reminded us all that Apple’s little no-longer-a-hobby set-top box is making so much damn money that we all have to take it seriously.

“When you look at the sales of the Apple TV box itself and the content bought off the Apple TV,” he said, “for 2013 that number was over $1 billion. It didn’t feel right to me to call something that’s making $1 billion a hobby.”

As for Amazon? “Apple TV compares extremely favorably to the content that is on the Amazon FireTV,” Cook said. So there.

China is the new Wisconsin

Apple is making inroads in new corners of the world. “There’s a number of markets out there where we’re beginning to really catch on to a number of customers,” said Cook in response to a question. “I am particularly proud of the results in these markets. These have not been historic strong points for Apple.”

Perhaps most encouraging: China sales grew 13 percent year-over-year, Cook said, with an all-time revenue record in greater China of $9.8 billion. iPhone sales rose 28 percent and Mac units rose 13 percent in the country. All of this, Cook pointed out, far outpaced predictions made by market research firm International Data Corporation. iTunes services revenues more than doubled year-over-year and iPad demand has grown by 6 percent (IDC predicted flat tablet growth). “I feel like there’s still loads of opportunity there,” Cook said.

Tim Cook is fierce

Every time our new fearless leader took the lead during the earnings call, he sounded rock-solid. When answering questions, he was direct, clear and unerringly optimistic. For example, when Office for Mac came up, his answer was, basically, bring it. “If it had been done earlier it would have been even better for Microsoft, frankly,” he said.

Is Cook finally stepping out from the shadow of Steve Jobs? If nothing else, the current Apple CEO is tough, no-nonsense and as fierce as a lioness defending her cub. If, of course, her cute little furball was the biggest company in the world.

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About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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