Source: Apple

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) delivered rock-solid financial performance for the third quarter: both sales and earnings came in above Wall Street expectations, and guidance for the crucial fourth quarter was quite encouraging, too.

But it's not only about the numbers; smart investors know they need to dig under the headlines for a deep assessment of a company and its potential. Let´s go through Apple's latest conference call to highlight a few important takeaways for investors in this stock.

The iPhone is as hot as it gets

iPhone sales during the quarter ended in September increased by a strong 16% to 39.27 million devices, while sale-through growth landed at 26%. This is great news from multiple points of view, as the iPhone is the main driver for Apple when it comes to both sales and earnings. Besides, the company is known for its halo effect, meaning customers who buy an iPhone tend to stick with Apple when purchasing other products such as a computer or tablet.

CFO Luca Maestri noted that iPhone sales were remarkably strong across different geographies during the last quarter:

iPhone sales grew across both developed and emerging markets. Unit sales in the U.S. grew 17% year over year, and in Western Europe they were up 20%. We saw even stronger growth in Latin America and the Middle East with sales up more than 50% and in Central and Eastern Europe where sales more than doubled.

The Mac is thriving in a hostile environment

According to research firm IDC, global computer shipments declined 1.7% in the third quarter. If that is the case, then Apple is clearly the exception to the rule, because Macs are flying off the shelves. Apple has gained market share in personal computer market with its Mac segment in 33 of the last 34 quarters, proving that product differentiation allows it to outperform the industry during challenging times. In the words of CEO Tim Cook:

We established an all-time quarterly record for Mac sales with revenue growing 18% year-over-year, thanks in particular to the very strong performance of our portables. We're especially proud of our Mac results considering the overall contraction of the global PC market this year and we achieved our highest quarterly market share since 1995.

No saturation in the iPad market

The iPad was the main weak spot in the report, as unit sales declined 13% year over year to 12.3 million during the quarter. There has been a lot of talk regarding the possibility of saturation in the tablet markets; however, Cook disagrees with that point of view.

According to the Apple CEO, many iPad buyers are first-time tablet buyers, indicating the market is far from reaching any saturation point, and weakness in sales is mostly attributable to longer renewal cycles for the iPad than other product categories.

If you look at our top six revenue countries, in the country that's sold the lowest percentage of iPads to people who had never bought an iPad before that number is 50%. And the range goes from 50 to over 70. And so when I look at number, our first time buyer rates in that area, that's not a saturated market. You never have first time buyer rates at 50% and 70%. What you do see is that people hold on to iPad longer than they do a phone.

And because we've only been in this business four years, we don't really know what the upgrade cycle will be for people. And so that's a difficult thing to call.

iTunes software and services is a massive business

Being smaller than other business segments, Apple´s iTunes software and services division tends to be underestimated by Wall Street analysts. But Cook seems to believe the segment deserves more credit, at least judging by the comparison he made in the conference call regarding the division and companies in the Fortune 500 list.

Our revenue from iTunes software and services reached $18 billion, which was more than the annual sales of two thirds of the companies in the Fortune 500 and we generated $6.45 in earnings per share, which is 14% higher than last year and also set a new record.

Tim Cook´s Foolish comment
When asked about how things are looking for Apple investors, the CEO made a fairly Foolish comment (please notice the capital f). As opposed to focusing on quarterly financial figures and short-term sales forecasts, Cook talked about his company's talent, skills, and opportunities:

I would hope that people would look at what we've done and what we've delivered and the power and strength of the product line that we've announced and, maybe more important than all the stuff that you see, is to look at the skills within this company.

And the fact that I think it's the only company on the planet that has the ability to integrate hardware and software and services at a world-class level, and that in itself allows Apple to play in so many different areas and so the challenge becomes one of deciding which ones to say no to and which ones to say yes to and want to focus, and we always have more ideas than we have resources to deal with.

I feel great, as a personal investor I feel great.