tech: some quick thoughts on apple’s numbers

Apple just had its most profitable quarter ever – in fact, the most profitable quarter any tech company has ever had. Apple’s doing okay.

That’s not really important, though, unless you’re a shareholder or an investor. What are important if you’re a developer, or someone who’s just interested in the tech, are the underlying sales numbers. To wit – 37 million iPhones, 15.4 million iPads, 5.2 million Macs. It also sold 15.4 million iPods, the only area of its business that declined (for obvious reasons).

Here’s what I think we can take away from that, and what I hope is going to be injected into ongoing tech debates by these figures.

First, the iPhone 4S has not been a flop. It has not been a failure. Consumers were not disappointed. Tech journalists and a vocal minority of people who got over-excited by rumours on tech blogs were disappointed, but the 4S is the fastest-selling iPhone yet, so it’s pretty obvious that actual people walking into shops with actual money in their pockets are pretty fond of the phone. (And if you think the 4S was a flop, my god, what kind of numbers are you expecting the 5 to do when it eventually arrives?)

Second, iOS is still giving Android a run for its money – even though it doesn’t need to. The numbers-game competition between iOS and Android is largely only relevant to a small number of analysts who rarely comprehend the arse-elbow distinction. iOS is playing a different demographic – Apple, as has done for years, is making a premium-priced product that pulls in a certain market and has big profit margins. The fact that they’re still even in the same league, sales-wise, as clone operations aiming cheaper products at broader markets is a testament to the strength of their product and brand.

But how much of a run for its money? Well, I’m still waiting to see Google’s latest estimate for how many Android devices it activated in that quarter, but I’ll wager it wasn’t many more than the 60-million-odd iOS devices (counting 8 million or so iPod Touch units) Apple sold. If you’re making apps or games for mobiles, by the way, that’s potentially 60 million new customers for you – in three months alone. Android can probably claim similar numbers, but I’m increasingly worried that Android is getting a reputation as being “iPhone but for people who don’t want to pay for apps” – some phone networks in the UK are actively pushing Android as that, which is really damaging.

Third, the tablet market is very real, but nobody else has a ball in play right now. 15 million iPads is way, way more than most analysts reckoned the entire worldwide market for tablets to be, and yet that’s three month’s sales. I’m reminded of World of Warcraft, in a lot of ways. WoW launched into a market that was thought to be about a million players, worldwide. It promptly picked up ten million subscribers – and yet its competitors still struggle to break a million. It’s like WoW has tapped into a market that’s totally separate from the actual MMO market, where its competitors still struggle.

iPad is the same deal. It’s jumping off shelves, while Android tablets and other competitors do no business worth a damn. I still think Kindle Fire is going to do something good in this market, but I now think it’s going to take version 2, maybe version 3 of the device before that happens.

Fourth, in spite of all this iDevice fuss, which you might expect to detract attention from the computer business for Apple, the Mac is doing really, really well. 5.2 million is its best sales ever, I think. Those are great numbers, especially when you consider that most of them are probably direct sales to computers – PC manufacturers with bigger numbers usually have huge corporate purchases in there, which are great if you’re selling office software on Windows, but meaningless if you’re selling games. Which prompts the question – when are PC developers other than Blizzard and Valve (as usual, the smartest guys in the room) going to notice that a huge whopping percentage of the computers being used by teenagers, university students and young professionals are Macs, take the “lol Macs suxx!” stick out of their asses and start developing games natively for the platform?

Finally, haters are gonna hate. If anything, I expect the deluge of predictions that Apple’s going to fall on its arse and angry claims that its users are all marketing-blinded sheep to intensify as the company’s success becomes even more apparent. Fair enough – that’s the Internet for you. On the other hand, if you’re in the business of development or content delivery, I think it’s pretty clear, for now, which side your bread is buttered on – personal prejudices be damned.