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Apple Inc. Earnings Preview: Who's the Real Smartphone King Now, Buddy?

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Apple's earnings report could see it reclaim its champion status, if such a distinction even exists any more.

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The breakfast of champions isn't cereal, it's the competition!
-- David Lee Roth

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is on deck to deliver its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings report tonight, giving the Cupertino-based giant a chance to recapture its crown as king of the high-end smartphone market.

We've already seen Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)-owned Motorola and HTC (OTCMKTS:HTCXF) stumble in rather dramatic proportions, while last week, Korean superpower Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) reported what can be characterized as mixed results in smartphones.

Samsung hit record earnings in its third quarter on the back of its booming memory business. However, within its enormous smartphone business, it saw growth led by mass-market models rather than high-end ones. Meanwhile, in the prior two quarters, Samsung's smartphone growth was led by the big-time flagship models like the Galaxy SIII and S4.

To be fair, there's a chance that this is a near-term hiccup.

However, the global Google Android smartphone market is astoundingly competitive, which can't possibly be helping the situation.

At my carrier Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), I have 24 Android models to choose from. AT&T (NYSE:T) carries 21, while Sprint has 27.

With all the competition, is it any wonder the industry finds profits so hard to come by, even with 46.5% unit growth in the second quarter, per Gartner's research?

And if it's clobbering Motorola and HTC, Samsung should feel at least a little bit of pain.

Meanwhile, Apple has been hanging tough with its latest lineup, which consists of the high-end 5S and lower-priced 5C. Apple had a spectacular opening weekend, selling 9 million units, an 80% improvement over the 5 million iPhone 5 units sold during that model's 2012 debut.

But what's interesting is that all signs point to the 5S dramatically outselling the 5C, which reinforces the idea that Apple has a unique brand power in that customers actually want to pay up in the name of buying the best.

And with that, let's circle back to earnings tonight.

In conjunction with the iPhone launch sales numbers, Apple indicated that its fiscal Q4 revenues would come in near the high end of guidance of $34-37 billion, which would put it at or slightly above the then-consensus of $36.15 billion. Gross margins would also be near the top of its guidance of 34-37%.

Editor's Note: Minyanville will be hosting a FREE live conference call with Sean Udall, author of Minyanville's TechStrat Report, today at 2:00 p.m. ET. Sean will preview Apple's earnings, comment on the competitive landscape, and give his outlook on the world's most important technology company. Click here to register.
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