Apple Dropping Hints (On Tablet?) During Very Happy Earnings Call

its most profitable quarter in company history

According to several news sites that posted transcripts of the Apple earnings call, including the Apple blog 9to5Mac, Apple executives said that air freight costs are expected to see "abnormal" increases in the company's first quarter of fiscal 2010, and they have nothing to do with iPhone and everything to do with moving a large volume of Apple product in time for the holidays.

Sanford Bernstein Co. analyst Toni Sacconaghim pressed Apple COO Tim Cook to elaborate on the air freight, and Cook responded, "The air freight is not related to the iPhone so these are unrelated topics. But, generally speaking, the air freight is planned to get enough units in to the channel in time for the holidays and is necessary for that reason."

Apple Senior Vice President and CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that the increase is larger than usual but that he "can't be specific on the product. He also said "it's an abnormal sequential increase."

As is usual with Apple, nothing specific, and everything hinted at. But neither Cook nor Oppenheimer did anything to dispel the notion of an incoming tablet -- or something else requiring "abnormal" freight costs -- either. Add it to the now pages-long list of hints that Apple's long-awaited tablet PC is on deck. Maybe the component makers at Foxconn know a little something about it, too.

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Among the highlights of Apple's blowout quarter, which ended Sept. 26, was a 24 percent year-over-year increase in quarterly revenue ($9.8 billion from $7.9 billion), a 50 percent increase in quarterly profit ($1.7 billion from $1.1. billion), a 17 percent increase in Mac computer sales (3.1 million sold), and a 7 percent increase in iPhone sales (7.4 million). Only iPod sales were down from one year ago, dropping 8 percent to 10.2 million sold.

Apple also reported revenue of $36.5 billion for its fiscal 2009, up 12 percent from $32.5 billion the previous year. The overall strong earnings sent shares of Apple soaring in premarket trading Tuesday.

"We feel very, very good about suiting up and competing against anyone," said Cook on the company's earnings conference call. "I think that people are really just trying to catch up with the first iPhone that was announced two years ago, and we've long since moved beyond that."