Summary:

One quarter after Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) mildly surprised everyone with a rare earnings miss, it’s clear Tuesday that the company’s amazing run…

Siri on iPhone 4S
photo: Getty Images / Oli Scarff

One quarter after Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) mildly surprised everyone with a rare earnings miss, it’s clear Tuesday that the company’s amazing run is far from over. Apple sold 37 million iPhones in its fourth quarter alongside 15.4 million iPads, blowing away the estimates of financial analysts in what was the best quarter the company has ever seen.

Apple’s quarterly revenue was $46.34 billion, up 73 percent compared to last year’s fourth quarter. Net income was $13.06 billion, more than double last year’s profit of $6 billion and representing earnings per share of $13.87. Analysts were expecting $38.85 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $10.08, according to *Yahoo* Finance.

The fourth quarter (it’s actually Apple’s first fiscal quarter) was the first that the iPhone 4S was on sale, and that appears to have gone pretty well for the company. The 37 million iPhones sold during the quarter is also more than double the total from last year’s fourth quarter of 16.2 million and shows just how much pent-up demand there was for a new iPhone earlier this year: Apple sold 17 million iPhones a quarter ago. Apple has now sold 315 million iOS devices in total as of December, said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial analyst.

It seems pretty clear that smartphone market share will have moved in Apple’s favor during the fourth quarter, once the estimates are released over the next week or so. Apple CEO Tim Cook said on the company’s earnings call that while he can’t always get hard data on Android market share because of the free-for-all that is the Android community, Nielsen estimates for the fourth quarter suggest Apple is now neck-and-neck with Android for U.S. smartphone operating system market share. (See our chart on historical iPhone sales here.)

Some analysts think Samsung, perhaps the most vibrant Android partner, sold as many as 35 million smartphones during the quarter, but Samsung won’t release official numbers until Friday. Still, Motorola (NYSE: MMI) and HTC have struggled to the finish line in 2011, and Apple may have made significant gains at their expense, especially in the U.S.

Cook also made it clear that Apple is watching the fortunes of Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8, noting in response to a question about the two-horse race that’s often used to describe Apple versus Android: “There’s a horse in Redmond that always suits up and always runs, and will keep running.”

The iPad growth story was also off the charts: again more than double the totals from a year ago (15.4 million compared to 7.3 million) and up 40 percent compared to the third calendar quarter of the year despite new low-cost Android tablets from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) that actually appeared to resonate with consumers.

Cook said that if that’s true–that the Kindle Fire and others captivated the public–that Apple didn’t notice anything with respect to its own sales. “People really want to do multiple things with their tablets, we don’t see limited function tables and ereaders being in the same category,” he said. “I think they’ll sell a fair number of units, but I don’t think that people that want an iPad will settle for a limited function (device).”

In other numbers:

»  85 million people signed up for iCloud after its launch in October.

»  iPod sales were down 21 percent compared to a last ago, as it becomes pretty clear the world is moving on from standalone MP3 players. Still, Apple continues to lead the market for that type of device, Oppenheimer said, also noting that iOS-running iPod Touches make up over half of all iPod sales.

»  Mac desktop sales increased by 21 percent while Mac laptop sales increased 26 percent. Cook made it pretty clear that Apple isn’t focusing on desktops, however, noting IDC numbers that tablets outsold desktop PCs in the U.S. during the fourth quarter.

»  Revenue from the iTunes Store was up 42 percent compared to last year, and Oppenheimer said that 140 million pieces of content–apps, music, and video–were downloaded from the iTunes Store on Christmas Day alone. He also noted that 600,000 copies of Apple’s new iBooks Author tool were downloaded following last week’s iBooks event.

Apple even managed to match analyst expectations as far as its outlook for the upcoming quarter, something it rarely does. Apple said it expects to record revenue of $32.5 billion and earnings per share of $8.50, compared to estimates for $32.04 billion and earnings per share of $8.03.

Here’s how the stock market reacted in after-hours trading:

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