Apple's Steve Jobs: "Apple beat RIM!"

The eminent CEO made a "surprise" appearance on Apple's fourth-quarter earnings conference call, gloating about the 6.9 million iPhones (compared with RIM's 6.1 million BlackBerrys) that Apple sold last quarter.

By Jason Snell
Wed, October 22, 2008

Macworld — It's not often that Steve Jobs appears on an Apple financial-results phone call. But there he was on Tuesday, appearing as a surprise "special guest" as Apple unveiled its fourth-quarter earnings. And he held court, making some scripted pronouncements, parrying with questioning analysts, and offering enough vague tidbits to whip Apple Kremlinologists into a frenzy.

Among the biggest issues Jobs confronted was the ongoing global financial climate. Jobs opened by saying, "Some remarkable things are happening at Apple, but everything is set against this remarkable economic slowdown." Later, he said, "We are not economists. Your next door neighbor can likely predict what's going to happen as well as we can."

But in general, Jobs was about as optimistic as he could be about Apple, given the global economic conditions. He said that Apple customers are the "smartest, most product-aware customers in the market." While they may postpone purchases, he said, they're unlikely to abandon Apple and would more likely just delay purchases rather than switch to a competitor.

More importantly, Apple's cash reserves—Jobs said the company has almost $25 billion dollars in the bank, and is free of debt—will help the company invest its way through the downturn and emerge with better products and a stronger position over its competitors, as it did during the last economic downturn.Apple, always conservative when it comes to estimating future financial results, was especially conservative this time out. Jobs, again, had an explanation: "There's a lot of prudence in [our forecast]," he said. "And it's also October. October has always been a foggy month for us. Sales often don't often take off until November sometime.... We think we're doing the right things, and we think we know what the results may be, but there's a lot of prudence built in. We're not economists and we read the same newspapers you do."

One analyst suggested that Apple could use the cash to buy back its own stock, but Jobs intimated that the money would be better used for funding R&D and perhaps even acquiring other companies or talented employees. Or even better, much of it could remain as a safety cushion. "It [the cash] isn't burning a hole in our pocket," he said.

More than the economy, though, I suspect Jobs was on the call to crow about Apple selling more phones in the last quarter than its rival, Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of the Blackberry. But rather than purely gloating, Jobs actually sounded surprised and impressed by the news, and even paid RIM a compliment.

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