On the very last day of 2011 Apple’s first fiscal quarter of 2012 ended and what happened during the preceding three months will drop jaws across Wall Street. Unlike previous years the quarter ran for 14 weeks rather than 13, this is something that happens every six years to align the fiscal periods with the December calendar. Six years ago this extra week of product sales wouldn’t have been notable, this time it should be taken into account (little reminder for the analysts amongst you).

Apple will report the results of its first quarter on January 24 and expect the news to be incredibly impressive. Those with even a basic knowledge of Apple’s business will know that its first quarter is always the most profitable driven by strong sales ahead of the holiday shopping season which kicks off in early November and runs right through until the end of December. The products that Apple makes are massive holiday sellers and the iPhone and iPad were sure to have been unwrapped in there millions across the world.

Although sailing under the radar of most onlookers, the clue to just how big Apple’s first quarter was likely to be was actually pinned by Apple itself during the last time we heard the company speak about its financials. During the fourth quarter of 2011 conference call Peter Oppenheimer gave a forward looking statement that predicted that Apple would bring in revenue of $37 billion on earnings per share of $9.30.

Apple's Revenue as of Q411

Estimated and actual quarterly Apple sales revenue

To add some perspective, Apple reported record revenue during the third quarter of 2011 and that was $28 billion. Those who are regular followers of these numbers will know that Apple’s guidance for upcoming quarters is always below what actually happens, in fact Apple often guides 12-18% lower than its actual numbers. Even on the lowest end of that scale Apple will report revenue of $41 billion, on the higher end $43 billion.

Such huge numbers would suggest that Apple has increased its revenue by $15 billion in just six months. But more notably Apple’s previous first quarter reported revenue of $25 billion, a first quarter record but a massive $18 billion below the current expectations.

Such analysis and predictions of revenue reveal just a small piece of the big picture that will be discussed during Apple’s fiscal results on January 24. Sales of its hardware and uptake of iCloud, iOS 5 and OS X Lion will be closely watched. I’ll cover the details of these nearer the January 24 date.