Apple Computer's first-quarter earnings more than quadrupled, dramatically exceeding Wall Street expectations, based on strong holiday sales of laptop computers and its wildly...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple Computer’s first-quarter earnings more than quadrupled, dramatically exceeding Wall Street expectations, based on strong holiday sales of laptop computers and its wildly popular iPod music players.

Company shares soared nearly 12 percent yesterday in extremely heavy late trading.

For the three months ended Dec. 25, Apple said it earned $295 million, or 70 cents per share. In the same period last year, the company earned $63 million, or 17 cents per share.

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Revenue for the quarter was $3.49 billion, up nearly 75 percent from $2 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had projected earnings of 49 cents a share on revenue of $3.18 billion.

“We came in quite a bit stronger than we guided, and I’d attribute that to the fantastic results of iPod,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief financial officer.

Apple, which holds $2.48 billion in cash, said yesterday that it shipped a record 271,000 iBook laptops last quarter. It collected more than $1.2 billion from 4.58 million iPods, a 525 percent boost from the holiday quarter of 2003.

iPods have made Apple a Wall Street darling, and the company has sold more than 10 million since their debut in 2001. In the past year, Apple’s stock has tripled, and the company holds 65 percent of the hard drive-based portable music player market.

Analysts are expecting scorching sales. In a research report yesterday, Darcy Travlos of Caris called the new items “nothing short of brilliant.”

“New products will contribute positively to both revenue and margins,” Travlos wrote. “Apple is in front of the curve.”

Apple shares climbed 90 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $65.46 yesterday. In extended trading after the earnings report was released, the stock gained another $8.03.

The earnings came a day after Apple introduced a computer the size of a paperback. The 40-gigabyte Mac mini will cost $499, an 80-gigabyte model $599.

The units, which go on sale Jan. 22, mark Apple’s most brazen attempt to woo entry-level technology shoppers away from computers that rely on the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Apple has only 3 percent of the U.S. computer market, and company executives say they’re aiming with the Mac mini to woo PC users who may have felt Apple products were too expensive.

The bare-bones minis are smaller than some stand-alone external computer drives and do not come with monitors, mice or keyboards.

Apple also introduced Tuesday the tiny iPod shuffle, which starts at $99 and seeks to maintain Apple’s dominance in the portable music business. The shuffle is a flash memory-based digital music player, more durable and lightweight than iPods that use hard drives for storage.

But Apple executives warned that adding two new products would make it difficult to provide accurate financial guidance for upcoming quarters. They would not provide estimates on sales or even say how many minis and shuffles their factories could produce.

In a conference call yesterday, Oppenheimer warned analysts not to expect a repeat of the last quarter’s revenue growth.

“It’s our objective to grow at 15 percent or better,” he told analysts. “As you model the company, that would be something to think about.”