Apple's Margin Slip is Showing

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It seems a little early to start worrying about Apple's ( AAPL) gross margins, right?

Let's just bask in the lingering warmth of Apple's scorching June quarter performance for a while. Blowout numbers -- sales of $15.7 billion, or 61% growth; earnings of $3.51 a share, 75% above last year; 3.47 million Macs, a third better than year-ago levels -- all showed that Apple simply crushed it in nearly every category.

But there was a peculiar miss that could undermine an investor's optimism. Gross margins took a dive and landed at 39%, down from 41.7% in the prior quarter. And to make it worse, Apple expects the margin to narrow even further this quarter as sales of new, less lucrative products like iPads and iPhones take off.

Apple expects September gross margins to be about 35%.
Apple's Gross Margin Slip

Gross margins are a measure of health for a company. It's the money remaining from sales after costs are subtracted. It's typically a view on whether prices are comfortably higher than costs. For high-growth companies, a narrowing of margins can be a sign that there's some straining to pull in sales by cutting prices.

This makes no sense, given that Apple can't make enough iPads and iPhones to keep up with demand. But CFO Peter Oppenheimer told analysts on Apple's earnings call Tuesday that Apple is charging less than its usual blistering markup on new products.

"We have been pretty aggressive here with pricing, and it is going to play through a bit on the margin line," Oppenheimer said.

The question is whether Apple is bearing unexpectedly high costs on the new devices, or if Apple is playing hardball and going after market share at the risk of profits.

Edging out competition on price is a strong move if Apple wants to continue to own the emerging tablet market.

Of course, tech investors might recall the gross margin slip at Research In Motion ( RIMM), as the BlackBerry maker struggled to enter the consumer market with new products and a defective touchscreen phone aptly called the Storm.

It's been a rough road for RIM, a company once thought to be invincible in the smartphone market.

But really, let's get back to the victory parade. There can't be any parallel between RIM and Apple, right?

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.