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Standards Board Approves Changes to Subscription Revenue Accounting

Dow Jones Newswires reports that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has given final approval to a change in accounting regulations that will allow Apple to recognize more of its iPhone and Apple TV revenue at the time of sale.

The change okayed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board helps companies that sell goods and services in bundles - like smart phones and other high-tech devices combining hardware and software, or home appliances that come with installation and service contracts.

Under current accounting rules, companies must often defer large portions of their revenue from such sales - recognizing them gradually over time, instead of immediately when the sale is made. The rule change would give companies more flexibility in crediting more of that revenue to their results upfront.

Apple has employed subscription-based accounting for its iPhone and Apple TV segments, which allows the company to provide free software updates over the two-year period considered to be the lifespan of the devices for such purposes. Apple does not use subscription-based accounting for its iPod line, a move which has required the company to charge users nominal fees for operating system updates on the iPod touch.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) is expected to be one of the major beneficiaries of the change, since it would dramatically change how the company reports revenues from its iPhone. Currently, Apple recognizes iPhone revenue over a two-year period, and said recently that overall revenues and earnings in its latest quarter would have been much higher if it didn't have to defer revenues for the iPhone and its Apple TV product. An Apple spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

While the change does not affect Apple's cash flow, it will allow the company to more accurately reflect its revenue in its quarterly financial statements. Preliminary approval of the accounting rule change had been given by a task force of the FASB early last week.