By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 19, 2011

Apple’s acting chief dismisses them as “heavy,” “bizarre” and nothing but “vapor”

The biggest surprise in the earnings results Apple (AAPL) released Tuesday has to be the number of iPads it shipped in its Christmas quarter: 7.33 million, up nearly 75% from the 4.19 million sold in the previous quarter.

Given how many me-too products were displayed or announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week — more than 80 by one count — it’s not surprising that one of the first questions from analysts during Tuesday’s earning call was how Apple viewed the new “competitive landscape.”

The answer offered by COO Tim Cook, who is running the company now that Steve Jobs is on sick leave, was unusually blunt, naming names and calling them as he saw them: big, heavy, expensive, bizarre and vaporous.

Below: The transcript of his exchange with Goldman Sachs’ Bill Shope.

Shope: On the iPad side again, now that you’ve had the opportunity over the past few weeks to see more detailed specs and in some cases the price points for all the countless tablet devices coming in 2011, can you comment how you’re currently viewing the competitive landscape for the iPad and if that has changed at all over the past few months?

Cook: If you look at what’s shipping today, there’s not much out there, as you know. And generally speaking, there are two groups today that are at least on the market today. The ones that are using a Windows-based operating system are generally fairly big and heavy and expensive. They have very weak battery life. They require a keyboard or a stylus as the input device. And from our point of view, and what we’ve seen, customers frankly, just are not interested in them.

Then you have the Android tablets. And the variety that are out shipping today, the operating system wasn’t really designed for a tablet. Google has said this, and this is not an Apple view by any means. And so you wind up having a size of a tablet that is less than what we believe is reasonable or even one that would provide what we feel is a real tablet experience. And so basically, you wind up with a scaled-up smartphone, which is a bizarre product, in our view. Then you’ve got a third group – and so those are the two that are shipping today. And frankly, speaking, it’s hard for me to understand it. If somebody does a side-by-side with an iPad, I think some enormous percentage of people are going to select an iPad there. Those are not tablets that we have any concern on.

The next-generation Android tablets, which are primarily what you mentioned in terms of the CES,
there’s nothing shipping yet, and so I don’t know. Generally, they lack performance specs. They lack prices. They lack timing. And so today, they’re vapor. paper We’ll assess them as they come out. However, we’re not sitting still, and we have a huge first-mover advantage, and we have an incredible user experience, from iTunes to the App Store and an enormous number of apps and a huge ecosystem. And so we’re very, very confident with entering into a fight with anyone.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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