SAN FRANCISCO — The holidays were really good to Apple.
Consumers around the world flocked into the company’s stores and other outlets to snap up iPhones and iPads at a dizzying rate. They also bought millions of laptops, especially the new ultralight MacBook Air.
Even businesses, which have historically shunned Apple’s costly gadgets, embraced its products in larger numbers.
As a result, Apple on Tuesday reported record sales and profits for the last three months of 2010 that far exceeded analysts’ bullish forecasts.
“Apple is already the envy of a lot of companies,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst with Kaufman Brothers. “Yet after they have reached such a high pinnacle, they seem to be able to distance themselves even further from the competition.”
Apple’s strong results are likely to go a long way toward easing investors’ worries — at least for now — over the health of Steven P. Jobs, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Mr. Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer who received a liver transplant in early 2009, said Monday that he would take an indefinite medical leave.
“We had a phenomenal holiday quarter with record Mac, iPhone and iPad sales,” Mr. Jobs said in a news release. “We are firing on all cylinders and we’ve got some exciting things in the pipeline for this year.”
In a conference call with top Apple executives, including Timothy D. Cook, the chief operating officer, who will be running the company during Mr. Jobs’s absence, analysts did not ask a single question about Mr. Jobs’s health.
Two analysts said they believed that Apple would not have answered them and that its executives would have been “irritated” by the questions. Apple said its net income in the last three months of 2010 rose 78 percent from a year earlier to a record $6 billion, or $6.43 a share, from $3.4 billion, or $3.67 a share, a year earlier. Revenue soared more than 70 percent to $26.74 billion, from $ 15.68 billion a year earlier.
On average, Wall Street analysts forecast that Apple would report revenue of $24.5 billion in the last three months of the year and have net income of about $5.38 a share.
While much of the focus on Apple recently has been on the company’s mobile products, sales of Mac computers have once again far outpaced the overall market for PCs, growing 22 percent, to 4.1 million units. Sales of laptops were particularly strong, growing 37 percent from a year earlier.
Sales of iPhones continued to defy expectations, as Apple sold 16.24 million units, 86 percent more than a year earlier. The company also sold 7.3 million iPads, 75 percent more than in the previous quarter. The iPad was not available for the 2009 holiday season.
Analysts said the results should give investors reason to think that the company could do well with or without Mr. Jobs.
“He is an iconic leader, but this is not a one-man operation and hasn’t been one for a long time,” said Barry Jaruzelski, a partner at Booz & Company and the head of its innovation practice. “There are steady hands at the tiller.”
Even before Apple reported its quarterly results, investors appeared to take in stride the news of Mr. Jobs’s leave. Shares dropped more than 6 percent after the opening bell, but recovered to close at $340.65, down $7.83, or 2.2 percent, from the Friday close. The decline was far smaller than the 10 percent drop that analysts had predicted.
Analysts said there was no accident in the timing of the release of news about Mr. Jobs on a federal holiday, when the markets were closed, and a day before it would report strong results.
“The precision of the spoon feeding of the news to everyone was classic Apple,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.
During the conference call, Mr. Cook expressed confidence that Apple still had plenty of room to continue its torrid growth. He said that the company still had a relatively small share of the PC market and that the smartphone and tablet businesses were expanding quickly.
“We feel very, very confident about the future of the company,” Mr. Cook said.
Apple said that the only factor preventing it from selling even more iPhones was its inability to make them more quickly. While the company has solved backlog issues with the iPad and reduced the backlog of iPhone orders, demand is still exceeding supply, a factor that may accelerate when Verizon Wireless begins carrying the iPhone next month.
Mr. Cook said he felt good about the progress Apple had made in meeting iPhone demand and added: “It is not enough. We are working around the clock to build more.”
Christine Hauser contributed reporting from New York.