Oops. They did it again.
Apple's (AAPL) latest blow-out quarter has everyone reaching for the superlatives and competitors reaching for the Maalox.
But an important lesson may be missed in those numbers.
That is, they weren't American. Apple shares fell in the days leading to the announcement, based on disappointing results from U.S. carriers. In fact, total activations of iPhones in the U.S. were down, from almost 14 million to just 9 million.
What happened is that China picked up the slack. "Greater China," which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, proved its value as a consumer market, and Apple hasn't even signed up China Mobile, the mainland's largest carrier with 600 million subscribers.
Some American reporters decided this means Apple is going to have a bigger problem with piracy but that has yet to be proven. What is known is that its sales are now a three-legged stool, with just over one-third of revenue coming from the Americas, one-third from Asia and slightly under one-third from Europe.
This is big news, important news. And not just for Apple.
One thing I noted when in China a few years ago is that middle class people there associate America with quality. You may not think much of your Buick or Ford, but Chinese managers lust for one. You may think of Pizza Hut as fast food, but they think of it as a night out. While you're doing Ta'i Chi in the morning, Chinese grandparents are ballroom dancing in Chengdu.
We worry about and envy China. They worry about and envy us.
It's a commercial symmetry that may be short-lived or may be long-lived, but while it goes on there are benefits to both sides. Chinese consumers want the best, and associate American brands with that message. Which means bigger revenue numbers for American companies with a big presence in China, like Yum Brands (YUM), Coca-Cola (KO), and McDonald's (MCD). It means these companies may out-perform competitors that have been late to China.
It must be noted here that many American analysts don't expect these good, symbiotic times to last. Some see China coming in for a hard landing, leading to negative global growth, higher inflation, and political instability.
But Apple can afford to let its Chinese partners improve wages and working conditions for Chinese workers there. If these workers can aspire to having iPhones of their own, it could give Apple sales another boost.