Apple posts blowout quarter, will ship Watch in April

Big Apple beat; sells 74.5 million iPhones
Big Apple beat; sells 74.5 million iPhones
What's next for Apple?
What's next for Apple?
Apple's iPhone biz > MSFT + GOOGL
Apple's iPhone biz > MSFT + GOOGL
Don't trade Apple, invest in it: Pro
Don't trade Apple, invest in it: Pro

Apple reported a blockbuster quarter on Tuesday, blowing past Wall Street's most optimistic expectations.

The company sold almost 9 million more iPhones than expected, while its cash pile ballooned to the point that it could buy about 480 of the S&P 500 companies outright.

Apple also revealed during a conference call with analysts that it plans to ship its new Apple Watch wearable device in April of this year.

Shares rose 5 percent in after-hours trading.

"I think the runaway success of the iPhone 6 plus and that huge hunger particularly in Asia for the large form factor screen is the runaway story of why this set of numbers is so strong," said Max Wolff, chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners, in a "Closing Bell" interview.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Reuters that the company's China revenue grew 70 percent and that it was not concerned about an economic slowdown there eating into results.

Apple reported earnings of $3.06 per share on revenue of $74.6 billion. Both were records.

Analysts had expected Apple to report earnings of about $2.60 a share on $67.69 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Of 43 analysts polled on EPS, the most optimistic of the bunch expected earnings of $2.97 per share. Of 40 analysts polled on revenue, the most optimistic expected sales of $74.27 billion.

Sales of iPhones hit 74.5 million units versus a 65.7 million estimate. Sales of the iPad hit 21.4 million units versus a 22.2 million unit estimate.

Apple's cash pile rose to almost $178 billion, up 15 percent from the prior quarter.

For the current quarter Apple forecast revenue of $52 billion to $55 billion. Analysts expected $53.79 billion.

Analysts' revenue expectations going into Tuesday's report were already higher than Apple's own guidance.

"Our expectation is, that not only are they going to have a strong quarter, but we think the guidance will prove encouraging, too," R.W. Baird senior analyst Will Power said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Read MoreApple earnings: Record iPhone sales expected

Analysts were expecting strong iPhone sales figures and encouraging growth in the Chinese market. Apple also has several new products, including its smart watch, in the pipeline, which some traders are betting means even more gains for the stock.

Apple offered few new details on the watch during its conference call, other than setting the shipping timeframe. Some had expected the watch to launch in March.

Some investors were also looking for news of an increase to Apple's capital return program—although the company has typically announced changes to the plan in April.

—CNBC's Cadie Thompson, Everett Rosenfeld and Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.