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Earnings Call: Apple Tries To Avoid Product Shortfalls For The Holidays In Mystery Category

UPDATE: An Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) spokesman never returned calls to clarify whether this is a new product, or just an existing product that will have to be shipped more heavily in order to keep up with demand (Apple wasn’t willing to say — they did say it was not iPhones). UPDATE 2: On Tuesday, Apple announced a new iMac, MacBook and Magic Mouse that will ship in time for the holidays, but nothing as exciting as a tablet, netbook or e-reader device.

Apple surprised analysts today by saying it will have to pay to ship extra products to stores in time for the holidays, but wouldn’t say what it was shipping. During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Apple COO Tim Cook said: “I can’t be specific about the product,” but it will result in an “abnormal and substantial increase” in shipping costs for the company. Cook apologized he couldn’t be more specific, but added “you have to have some fun on these calls.”

Release | Webcast.

The company probably wouldn’t have said anything at all, but it was apparent from the company’s financial outlook for the first quarter, which includes higher revenue figures than the fourth quarter, but lower earnings per share. Apple’s CFO Peter Oppenheimer listed a number of reasons why gross margins would fall, including new products that they will announce soon, products that will deliver “greater value” to customers that will have lower gross margins and increased costs due to air freight (which has nothing to do with the iPhone).

On the call today, no one asked Apple about any questions regarding upcoming products, like a tablet. But during the call, Cook was willing to talk about the increase in mobile phone competition. “We feel great about how we ended our fiscal year,” he said, noting that they sold 7.4 million phones in Q4, which translates to more than 20 million phones for the fiscal year, a 78 percent increase over the year before. “When you look at the ecosystem with iTunes, and that there’s 85,000 apps, we are a country mile longer than anyone else. And with the strong product pipeline we have, we feel very good about competing with anyone…People are still trying to catch up the first iPhone we announced two years ago. We