Apple has reported holiday quarter sales and profits that beat Wall Street expectations, as new 5G iPhones helped push handset revenue to a new record and sparked a 57% rise in China sales.

Apple shipped its iPhone 12 lineup several weeks later than usual.

But an expanded number of models and new look appear to have tapped into pent up demand for upgrades, especially in China.

The company also posted strong sales of its Mac laptops and iPads in the quarter, driven by consumers working, learning and playing from home during the pandemic.

Apple's revenue for the quarter ended December 26 rose 21% to $111.44 billion.

Earnings per share rose to $1.68 from $1.25. Analysts had expected $103.28 billion and $1.41 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Sales of iPhones were $65.60 billion, compared with estimates of $59.80 billion and beating Apple's previous quarterly all-time high of $61.58bn in iPhone sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2018.

Shares of Apple were down slightly in after-hours trade following the report but have risen nearly 12% since January 15.

The results come as investors have spent the past year rethinking Apple's valuation.

Apple's shares often traded at lower price-to-earnings ratios than its rivals due to Apple's dependence on the iPhone. But those ratios have risen over the past year, as have valuations of other major tech firms.

Apple, the biggest US listed public company by market capitalisation with a value of $2.4 trillion, has thrived through a pandemic that forced it to close many of its stores but prompted many consumers to buy or upgrade devices. 

Apple chief executive Tim Cook told Reuters in an interview that the company now has an active installed base of 1.65 billion devices, compared with 1.5 billion devices a year ago.

Cook also said Apple now has an installed base of more than 1 billion iPhones, an increase over the 900 million the company most recently disclosed in 2019. 

The pandemic's travel restrictions disrupted Apple's product development cycle, with a late launch of its 5G devices temporarily wiping as much as $100 billion from its market capitalisation in October.

But even then, Cook and others were optimistic that the phones would become strong sellers, citing early sales data in China.

The prediction proved correct, with fiscal first-quarter sales in China rising 57% to $21.31bn, compared with $13.58 billion a year earlier.

"We had two of the top three selling smartphones in urban China," Cook told Reuters in an interview, adding that many of the company's other products and services also sold well.

Tim Cook said that Apple gained iPhone sales in China both from customers switching from rival Android devices as well as existing customers upgrading devices, but said "upgraders in particular set an all-time record in China."

Mac sales reached $8.68 billion, in line with analyst expectations of $8.69 billion. Apple in November released its first laptop and desktop computers with processor chips of its own design, breaking a nearly 15-year partnership with Intel. 

Sales of iPads were $8.44 billion compared with analyst expectations of $7.46 billion.

Cook told Reuters that sales of Macs, iPads and the iPhone 12 Pro model all ran into "supply constraints." He said that "semiconductors are very tight" but that other areas of the supply chain contributed to the constraints as well.

The company's services business, which includes its new Apple One bundle of television, music and cloud storage services, had $15.76 billion in revenue, compared with analyst estimates of $14.80 billion. 

Cook told Reuters that Apple has 620 millio paying subscribers on its platform, ahead of its goal to have 600 million subscribers by the end of 2020.

The services segment also includes sales from Apple's App Store, whose billing practices have become a flashpoint of conflict with "Fortnite" creator Epic Games and whose privacy rules have ticked off a public spat with Facebook.

Apple's wearables and accessories segment, which includes the Apple Watch and AirPods product lines, hit $12.97 billion in revenue, versus analyst estimates of $11.96 billion.

Apple in December released the AirPods Max, a $550 set of over-ear wireless headphones, with shipment dates stretching months into the future within hours of the product's launch. 

Cook said short supplies of the AirPods Max could continue into the company's current fiscal second quarter.

Apple las tnight also declared a dividend of 20.5 cents per share. 

Its chief financial officer Luca Maestri told Reuters that relative weakness in the value of the US dollar added about 100 basis points to Apple's fiscal first-quarter revenue but did not have an impact on the company's gross margins.