Anyone who’s followed Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) for a meaningful period of time can tell you the Mac maker has a history of punking Wall Street.

Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the numbers. Apple’s fiscal Q3 profit beat estimates by 33%. Both the second– and first-quarter reports came in 19% higher than expectations, while last year’s Q4 topped the consensus by 14%. Each quarter has put more distance between the iEmpire’s real performance and what analysts had expected to see.

Until now, anyway.

Apple’s $7.05 in fourth-quarter earnings per share fell well short of the $7.28 analysts were expecting. Revenue came in at $28.3 billion – up 39% over last year’s Q4, but also short of estimates. The stock is down more than 8% in after-hours trading.

Digging further into the numbers:

  • iPhone. Apple sold 17.1 million handsets in Q4, down sharply from last quarter’s 20.3 million though up 21% year over year. Analysts were hoping to see Apple sell at least another 20 million units of its iconic smartphone.
  • Mac. The bright spot. Apple sold 4.89 million Macs during the quarter, a 26% increase and comfortably above all estimates.
  • The future. And the really bright spot: Apple is now guiding to $37 billion in revenue and $9.30 a share in profit. Both figures beat Wall Street’s already-optimistic fiscal first-quarter forecast.
  • iPad. Another disappointment. Apple sold just 11.12 million tabs during the quarter, as Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) prepped the new Ice Cream Sandwich update to boost the usefulness of Android alternatives. Analysts were expecting at least 11.5 million iPads sold, with optimists calling for 13.1 million units.

Still, we’ve known for a while that Apple’s iPhone was taking share from Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) , and that was before a new distribution deal with Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) helped boost interest for the record-setting 4s handset. How could Apple not blow away estimates with the wind so clearly at its back?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Sure, Apple came short of hyped-up expectations, but CEO Tim Cook and team are aiming for a holiday quarter that could very well set all sorts of new company records. Do you believe it’ll happen? Or were Q4 results bad enough that you’re ready to duck and cover?

If you’re looking for more investing ideas, The Motley Fool has recently released its latest free report, The Motley Fool’s Top Stock For 2011-12Click here now to request it whilst it’s still free and available.

This article, written by Tim Beyers, was originally published on Fool.com. Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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