In terms of relations with its users and business partners, the quarter that ended Sept. 30 wasn’t a particularly easy one for Apple (AAPL). There were complaints and lawsuits about the cost of replacing the iPhone’s battery, the surprise $200 price cut, and the software update that “bricked” untold numbers of unlocked phones. Negotiations with Hollywood and the European iPhone partners were awkward and protracted and in the case of NBC ended in an impasse. Consumers who bought the new entry-level skinny iMacs are still complaining about low-quality screens and an unresolved software glitch that’s causing random freezes.
But in terms of sales and profitability, the consensus among analysts is that the fiscal fourth quarter was a terrific quarter for Apple, buoyed by back-to-school specials, switchers fleeing Vista, and a flood of hot new products. The line on Apple heard most often on the Street — in a cliche borrowed from the automotive industry — is that Steve Jobs’ profit-generating machine is firing on all cylinders these days and will handily beat Apple’s guidance numbers (never particularly hard to do, given how conservative those numbers tend to be).
As the chart below the fold shows, the analysts who follow Apple most closely are marching pretty much in lockstep this quarter, with Cupertino’s guidance as the sole outlier. Everybody seems to be expecting the company to report sales of more than 2 million Macs, 10 million iPods and a million iPhones, give or take a few truckloads.
The biggest news, says PiperJaffray’s Gene Munster, is likely to be the disclosure for the first time of how much revenue Apple has been collecting — and amortizing over 24 months — from AT&T (T) for iPhone sales and monthly user fees. The precise terms of Apple’s revenue-sharing arrangements with cellular carriers here and abroad have been, until now, a closely held secret. Munster estimates that the AT&T deal could add $10.6 million to Apple’s bottom line in Q4 alone.
Apple will announce its quarterly earnings on Monday Oct. 22 after the market closes and meet by phone with reporters and analysts an hour later. Click here at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT) to listen in on Apple’s webcast. Fortune’s analysis of the results will be posted here.
Below, as promised, is a sampling of Q4 estimates: