Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm.

Apple’s story is still intact: Never mind today’s results

Apple from Jobs to CookWeaker than anticipated iPhone sales last quarter forced Apple to miss earnings expectations tonight — a rare showing for the company. As a result, Apple shares are getting whacked right now, down about 7% in after-hours trading.

Here’s the thing. While it’s true that Apple didn’t blow away its results for the first time in a long time, the reality is that Apple’s story is still in good shape.

  • Computer purchases are shifting toward mobile devices, where Apple’s iPad tablet and MacBook Air laptops are the best on the market.
  • The tablet market could someday be bigger than the PC market, Apple CEO Tim Cook said on tonight’s earnings call. Apple’s tablet market share is dramatically higher than its PC market share, even with the Mac’s growth in recent years. (Last quarter, Apple shipped more than twice as many iPads as Macs.)
  • Mobile phone purchases are shifting toward smartphones, where Apple’s iPhone and iOS platform are the strongest on the market (with the best profit margins). Apple also just experienced record sales for its iPhone 4S on launch weekend.
  • Enterprise purchases are shifting toward consumer purchases, where Apple’s products are stronger than the competition.
  • All told, this year’s product updates were pretty modest. Just wait until next year, when Apple could release an iPad 3 with retina display, an iPhone with 4G LTE support, a 15-inch MacBook Air, and maybe even television sets.
  • Apple has already hinted at a return to accelerated growth. Its $37 billion revenue forecast for this quarter suggests 39% year-over-year growth — same as this quarter. But Apple always low-balls its guidance. Even this quarter, it beat revenue guidance by 13%. A $40+ billion December quarter would not be surprising, representing 50% year-over-year growth. (Though it would be a surprise if Apple returned to the 71% year-over-year growth it posted last December quarter.)

Like any company, Apple may occasionally miss on a quarter-by-quarter basis, depending on how its product roadmap intersects with the calendar. In this case, it’s clear that the iPhone product cycle got in the way. In a weird way, Apple’s iPhone slowdown is a sign of success. What other gadget product cycle is mainstream news?

And yes, eventually, Apple will need more growth drivers, or growth rates will settle. But it would be silly to say that Apple has any big, fundamental flaws as a result of today’s performance, especially relative to the competition.

Related: Apple just set itself up for a huge product year in 2012