It's business as usual in Cupertino: Underpromise and overdeliver, then lowball the next quarter again. The biggest surprise in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) fourth-quarter report was that CEO Steve Jobs made a rare personal appearance on the analyst call. That stability is very comforting in times like these.

The Turtlenecked One showed up to explain that his company is full of engineers, not economists. "Your next-door neighbor can likely predict what is going to happen as accurately as we can," he said, but he did offer a few market predictions nonetheless. "We have the strongest product line in Apple's history...and $25 billion of cash safely in the bank." That cash is "not burning a hole" in his pockets, so don't expect Apple to go on a buyout rampage today.

The iPhone has become a very large part of Apple's success. Deferred revenue from iPhone and AppleTV subscriptions came in at $5.8 billion, almost ten times the year-ago total. That's very significant next to $7.9 billion of GAAP revenue. "If iPhone revenue was not deferred, iPhone [sales] would have represented 39% of Apple's revenue in the September quarter" said CFO Peter Oppenheimer.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Deutsche Telekom's (NYSE:DT) T-Mobile released the first Android phone today. If those guys were hoping to pounce on a weak iPhone report, they were sadly mistaken.

With 6.9 million iPhones sold in the quarter, Jobs gleefully pointed out that it was more than the entire lifetime of first-generation iPhones (6.1 million), more than Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) quarterly BlackBerry sales (also 6.1 million), and enough to make Apple the third-largest handset supplier by revenue. Ranking behind only Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Samsung, Apple's single handset model outsells the combined plethora of products from established cell phone leaders like Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Research In Motion, and Sony Ericsson. "Not bad for being in the market for only 15 months," Jobs said. Even better considering that the iPhone 2.0 is just three months old.

All in all, Apple's bottom line swelled from $1.01 per share last year to $1.26 per share in this quarter. Convert all of that deferred revenue to instant sales, and you'd get a non-GAAP net income of $2.69 per share. Despite these massive numbers, Apple kept its forward guidance on a tight leash, hoping for nothing more than perhaps $9 billion to $10 billion in sales and a wide range of $1.06 to $1.35 in GAAP earnings per share. The $10 billion is barely above last year's sales -- and that's just in the holiday quarter. Yeah, right -- tell me the one about Santa Claus too, Uncle Steve!

Further Foolishness:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.