Apple Earnings Will Kick Off a Buzz-Filled Week

Amid the palpable hype of the run-up to Apple's (AAPL) rumored tablet computer launch Wednesday, the company will offer a somewhat more sober release: its first quarter 2010 earnings announcement, which takes place Monday.Investors will be keeping a close eye on the sales figures for the company's iPhone, which have continued to grow strongly following the release of the third and fastest version of the device, the 3GS, in June 2009. Holiday-season sales figures for recently updated iMac desktops are also likely to draw interest, given the line's strong performance in recent quarters.

In October, Apple predicted sales of between $11.3 billion and $11.6 billion, and diluted earnings per share of $1.70 to $1.78. That said, the combined effect of continuing consumer enthusiasm for iPhone, sales momentum following the fourth quarter -- Apple's most profitable quarter ever -- and hype over a possible tablet could lead the company to show better results than had been forecast.

Robert Cihra, a Caris & Co. analyst told clients on Jan. 14 that Apple's results may be even better than Wall Street is expecting due to strong Mac computer and iPhone sales, according to the Associated Press.

Indeed, analysts expect Apple's net income jump 18% to $1.9 billion, or $2.07 per share, compared to $1.6 billion, or $1.78 per share during first quarter of 2009, according to Thomson Reuters.

Tablet Talk is a Familiar Tale

Should the company thrill its fans with a new tablet computer Wednesday, as expected, it will be entering well-trodden territory while reprising an earlier chapter of its history.

On Jan. 6, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled a Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) touchscreen tablet computer at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, adding to a long line of earlier Windows-based tablets. But earlier yet, Apple debuted its own original tablet, the Newton, in 1993.

Much has changed for both companies as the marketplace for portable computing has evolved. Should Apple provide a new entrant to the tablet market as expected on Wednesday, Monday's earnings numbers might offer an early hint about how receptive its customers will be to coughing up the $600 to $1,000 Apple-watchers expect the device is going to cost.

Meanwhile, until the fog of tablet-hype blows clear, Wall Street is likely to sit tight.
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