Apple offered an aggressive first quarter target as the company engages in its critical Christmas quarter.

Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer projected sales and profits for the current quarter at $9.2 billion and about $1.42 per share. He warned that gross margins seem set to fall to 31 per cent due to rising component prices.

Analysts had been expecting earnings of $1.39 per share on sales of $8.58 billion.

Explaining his uncustomarily positive outlook, Oppenheimer explained: "I’d give you guidance each quarter that we believe we have a reasonable chance of achieving. Apple has been working incredibly hard for a number of years and now things are just really coming together quite well for us and I couldn’t be happier.

"Apple is shipping the best products that we have ever made in our history. We just eclipsed the record that we set for Mac sales last quarter by $400,000. iPod sales accelerated after the transition and we’re shipping the best iPods that we’ve ever made. And the iPhone is doing really, really well. So we’re quite confident in the business and we’ve exited the September quarter with a lot of momentum."

"We're looking forward to a strong December quarter as we enter the holiday season with Apple's best products ever," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO.

Apple's Mac shipments climbed 34 per cent year-on-year, double the industry average for PC shipments, which saw 15.5 per cent growth, according to IDC.