For once, the Mac and iPad lead Apple’s record financial results

One of these quarters, Apple’s going to announce financial results that don’t result in some sort of record. Perhaps as soon as next quarter, even. But on Thursday, Apple announced the results of its financial third quarter of 2020—and they were an all-time third quarter record. Literally every measurable category went up, year over year. It was so sunny a set of results that Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed almost embarrassed to be reporting such huge growth amid a global pandemic and some powerful social upheaval in the United States.

In any event, here’s what I gleaned from the results and Apple’s regular post-results conference call with analysts that might provide some insight about where Apple is and where it might be going next.

Topsy turvy: Mac and iPad lead the way

This quarter’s banner numbers were led by, of all products, the Mac and the iPad. Mac revenue was up 22 percent versus the year-ago quarter. Mac sales were only slightly lower than during last year’s holiday and back-to-school quarters, which are generally by far the two best quarters for Mac sales.

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The iPad, meanwhile, only had its best quarter in four-and-a-half years, since the 2015 holiday season. Sales were up 31 percent, and Apple made more money on iPads in the last quarter than any non-holiday quarter in six years, and in any quarter since the 2018 holiday season.

q320 ipad

How to explain it? This was a quarter where Apple shipped two new laptops with good keyboards, probably releasing a lot of pent-up demand. And the iPad had a good keyboard story, too, with the release of the new iPad Pro and its accompanying Magic Keyboard accessory.

But I’d wager that the major contributor to this sales bump is people upgrading their work-from-home setups in response to not being able to return to their offices due to the pandemic. Cook suggested as much three months ago, based on some initial sales figures, and now we can see the numbers that motivated him to make that suggestions.

However, a few of the analysts on the call with Apple struck some warnings about the great quarter for the Mac and iPad. Doesn’t this sales bump just mean that Apple pulled forward some sales that would otherwise have been made during the back-to-school and holiday quarters? Cook says that Apple expects strong performance in the back-to-school period, but his attitude toward the holiday quarter seemed a bit more… iffy.

“I think we need to see a vaccine or a therapeutic or both, and, you know, there’s some optimism around that in that particular timeframe,” Cook said. “I think that would boost consumer confidence quite a bit if it began to happen.” Unless Cook has access to reports the rest of us don’t have (and he specifically said he didn’t), this seems a bit too optimistic. Given the current economic uncertainty, it would not be a bad bet to suggest that Apple will face a challenge at breaking any records during the upcoming holiday season.