The company said on Monday that it had sold 61.2 million smartphones (analysts had expected it to ship 58 million units). But perhaps more extraordinary, the average selling price of that gadget went up compared to a year ago -- one of the new versions, the iPhone 6 Plus, is a full $100 higher than the previous iPhone 5s model -- and yet Apple continues to take away market share from its competitors.
All of this comes on top of a holiday season in which Apple posted the most profitable quarter ever recorded by a company in history.
There had been some reports in recent days that Apple's iPhone growth was slowing from its breakneck pace. A report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo picked up by 9 to 5 Mac said that iPhone shipments have "peaked" and that he expected a higher-than-normal decline from the holiday quarter.
Yet sales were strong around the world, particularly in the all-important Chinese market, where Apple saw overall sales jump 71 percent. The China region has now become more important to Apple than Europe.
The latest report from the International Data Corporation estimates that Apple held nearly 20 percent of the world’s smartphone market at the end of 2014, an increase from 17.5 percent the previous year. It largely took those sales away from Android-based smartphones, which declined by about the same amount over that period. In the United States, the competitors are much closer; comScore's latest numbers -- reflecting a survey taken in February -- show Apple at 41.7 percent of the market to Android's 52.8 percent. Apple is also the leading hardware maker in the United States, according to the firm's latest numbers.
On a call with analysts, chief executive Tim Cook said Apple is seeing more people switch from Android devices than it has in the past, and has also seen an uptick in sales to first-time smartphone buyers.
Apple, whose shares are one of the most widely held in America, also announced a major expansion of its capital return program, saying that it would pay back $200 billion to stockholders by the end of March 2017. It also will increase its dividend by 11 percent, to 52 cents per share. The company only started returning money to shareholders in 2012, when Cook took over.
Executives were also upbeat about the Apple Watch, which went on sale too recently to be included in Monday’s earnings report. Cook said he was "happy" with where the company currently is in sales, though he didn't release hard numbers. Demand, he said, is outpacing supply, but he believes Apple will be in a position to sell the watch in more countries by June.
A recent report from Slice Intelligence, an online sales analytics firm, estimated that just 22 percent of initial Apple Watch orders were fulfilled over its opening weekend. And several consumers who woke up at odd hours to order the Watch as soon as it went on sale in early April complained that there was a lengthy delay in the device's shipment. But Cook said that new products can “end up taking some time to fully ramp" and that customer response has been “literally...close to 100 percent positive.”
There were some disappointments in Apple's results. Sales of the iPad again failed to meet expectations, this time falling short by roughly 1 million units; the company reported that it had sold 12.6 million iPads this quarter. Growth in this once red-hot segment has been sliding for several quarters for Apple and rivals as well, as large-screened phones such as the iPhone 6 Plus eat away at the tablet's place in consumers' hearts.
The Mac, which also has been a bright spot for Apple recently, grew 9 percent from the same period last year. But sales were lighter than expected, at 4.6 million rather than the 4.7 million analysts expected.
But most analysts were left in a tizzy over the quarter. Apple shares, which closed up over 1.5 percent Monday to $132.42 per share in regular trading, surged after-hours, hovering above $134 -- an all-time high for the world's most valuable company.