It's already been an action-packed earnings season for many of tech's biggest names. However, on Monday, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), the world's largest company and one of the undisputed leaders in tech, will open its books for investors everywhere.

What should you expect?

Down to the numbers
Because of its odd reporting schedule, Apple's report on Monday will actually be for its fiscal fourth quarter, versus the third quarter that most companies are currently reporting.

The consensus expectations have the bar set pretty low for Apple. At present, the average analyst estimates for Apple only call for modest growth, at best. Take a look for yourself.

 

Q4 '13 (expected)

Q4 '12

% Change (YOY)

Revenue

$36.8 bil.

$36.0 bil 

2.2%

Earnings per share

$7.92

$8.67

-8.6%

Sources: Yahoo! Finance and Apple Investor Relations.

By Apple standards, this seems downright disappointing. However, there are several factors that are worth considering before judging Apple too harshly.

If something comes up short in Apple's report, it'll likely be that the iPad might not see the same kind of robust growth as the iPhone. However, this should make sense, as well. As we saw last quarter, during which period Apple saw unit shipments decline 14%, it seems fair to speculate that Apple fans are holding off upgrading their tablets in anticipation of Apple's most recent one.

As, hopefully, everyone knows by now, Apple unveiled its most recent update of its iPad line this past Tuesday. And if people are indeed holding off picking up a new iPad or iPad Mini until November, it seems reasonable to expect a weak quarter again for iPad shipments.

Rumblings of an earnings beat
Apple's notorious for setting comically low expectations for its earnings, and there's at least some reason to consider whether this could be the case, once again, for Monday's report.

From the reports we've seen from Apple and other parties, it looks like the newest line of iPhones have been smashing successes. Apple announced late last month that it sold 9 million iPhones in its first weekend of sales alone. It's true that the iPhone is set to debut in 31 additional international markets starting November, but judging from what's publicly available, the iPhone should be an area of strength for Apple on Monday.

Apple under pressure
Investors should also keep an eye for any commentary regarding Apple and its capital return program on Monday.

Aside from its iPad event, Apple was also in the headlines this week when activist investor Carl Icahn announced that he had increased his stake in Apple to 4.7 million shares, or roughly $2.5 billion. Icahn also penned another letter to CEO Tim Cook urging him to increase Apple's buyback plans.

Icahn has repeatedly claimed that Apple should increase its current buyback facility to closer to $150 billion in order to make use of Apple's swelling cash balance. Icahn believes that, if his buyback plans are properly executed, Apple's shares could swell to more than $1,200 a share.

The fourth quarter is always a relatively light quarter for Apple. Last year, Apple's fiscal fourth quarter accounted for only 23% of Apple's annual sales. And while that's clearly nothing to overlook, it would also be understandable if some sales for Apple shift into its fiscal first quarter of 2014, especially given its apparent iPad struggles.

No matter what your opinion of it, Apple's earnings are a must-watch for tech investors, and Monday's third-quarter report should be no exception.

Fool contributor Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. Follow Andrew and all his writing on Twitter at @AndrewTonnerThe Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.