CUPERTINO -- Apple, it turns out, had a mixed-bag Christmas.

On the one hand, it was able Monday to announce record iPhone sales of 51 million over the holiday season that boosted quarterly revenue to an all-time high of $57.6 billion and modest profit growth to $13.1 billion, or $14.50 a share.

Those numbers beat Apple's performance a year earlier, but the lackluster earnings and the company's lukewarm guidance for the current quarter looked to many like so many lumps of coal. Earnings barely beat Wall Street's expected revenue of $57.46 billion, and net income of $12.67 billion, or $14.05 a share.

Apple shares dropped sharply on the news, down nearly 8 percent in after-hours trading. And with growing concern evident in the analysts' questions during a conference call with CEO Tim Cook, the earnings only added more fodder for fears that the iconic creator of the iPhone and iPad had lost its way. With blockbuster or new-category products missing from the mix, and rivals coming on strong, Apple's revenues have been flattening the past two years.

"These earnings numbers tell me that you can't expect anything new from Apple in the current quarter," said Van Baker with Gartner Research, suggesting that the company has been too slow in meeting consumer demand for things like bigger smartphones. "They're now paying the price for not coming out with the larger-screen iPhone, and it's obvious that the earliest we'll see any new products is at least the quarter after this one.

"Their own guidance is basically telling its customers: 'You're going to have to live with what you've got.'''

While Apple sold an unprecedented number of iPhones, the company's primary revenue driver, the number was below Wall Street's expectations. According to a survey conducted by Fortune, the consensus among 44 analysts expected first-quarter iPhone sales of 55.3 million, up 16 percent from the 47.8 million units in the same quarter a year earlier. With iPhones accounting for about 60 percent of Apple's revenue, strong iPhone sales are key to its bottom line.

Of particular interest to Apple observers Monday was the 26 million iPads sold during the holiday season, up from the 22.9 million sold a year earlier. When Cook last fall unveiled the new iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina display, he said with almost a wink: "It's going to be an iPad Christmas." And while the quarterly sales number was just above what analysts had expected, it seemed to suggest that Cook had overhyped the tablet's holiday performance.

Even more troubling, the current quarter's results could again disappoint. Apple expects to generate $42 billion to $44 billion in sales, which pales beside the $46 billion Wall Street was looking for in March's numbers.

Nevertheless, Apple put a positive spin on its earnings, especially its iPhone sales, and Cook promised great things were coming from the Cupertino tech giant.

"We are really happy with our record iPhone and iPad sales, the strong performance of our Mac products and the continued growth of iTunes, software and services," he said. "We love having the most satisfied, loyal and engaged customers, and are continuing to invest heavily in our future to make their experiences with our products and services even better."

Product-launch timing had a big impact on earnings for the latest quarter, including the Nov. 1 release of the new iPad Air and the later release of the new iPad mini. And with robust sales in China even before Apple announced in December that it would sell its phones through Chinese powerhouse China Mobile, investors are clearly focused on the current quarter, when the impact of that deal will be felt for the first time.

In a note to investors, JPMorgan Chase analyst Mark Moskowitz said, "We expect investors to start to ponder, what's next?" And he wonders whether the anticipated larger-screen iPhone from Apple will be enough to keep its revenue-engine humming.

"If the only major catalyst after China Mobile penetration is a larger-size iPhone screen," he wrote, "then there is risk that potential upside to estimates may not be as large as it has been in the past."

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc