What did Tim Cook really say about Apple’s TV project?
FORTUNE — Many commentators listened to Tim Cook’s remarks about television at the All Things Digital conference Tuesday and concluded that he let the cat out of the bag.
“Let’s be real: There’s enough smoke here that there is some sort of fire,” wrote SplatF’s Dan Frommer, Reading Between the Lines. “Apple is probably going to make a TV,”
“If you’re in the market for a new TV, hold off,” Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster advised CNBC‘s viewers. “Applehas a new product coming and it’s going to be hot.”
“Come on Tim!” wrote Wired‘s Christina Bonnington. “You’ve basically announced that an iTV is all but inevitable.”
Really? Because I listened to the same conversation and what I heard sounded more like a CEO doubling down on Apple’s AAPL existing TV product: Apple TV. Here’s what he said:
“Very uncharacteristic of us, we’ve stayed in the Apple TV product business.”
Although Apple is “not a hobby kind of company … with Apple TV, we’ve stuck in there.”
It’s not “a fifth leg of a stool,” but it’s doubling in sales. Last fiscal year Apple sold 2.8 million units; in the first six months of fiscal 2012 it sold 2.7 million.
“It’s a key part of the ecosystem. This is an area of intense interest for us.”
“The customer ‘sat’ [satisfaction] with that product is incredible. It’s off the charts.”
“And so, we’re going to keep pulling the string and see where it takes us.”
In his Q&A with Cook, AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg was pretty contemptuous of Apple TV in its current configuration: “Right now, to be honest, you don’t have a lot of content on there.”
Asymco‘s Horace Dediu, after listening to the same Q&A, quoted the father of disruption theory, Clay Christensen: “The next big thing is always beneath contempt.”
In his Critical Path podcast Wednesday, Dediu didn’t rule out the possibility that Apple will get into the business of manufacturing flat-screen HDTVs, as so many commentators expect. But he points out that there’s a lot more to TV than a big glass screen: there are content deals, user interfaces, programming APIs, integration with other devices (like AirPlay), etc.
Moreover, the business model Apple is pursuing with its $99 set top box (a low-margin product used for selling content) is the opposite of its other businesses (high-margin hardware supported by apps and other content sold at break-even prices).
“Isn’t this interesting,” Dediu says. “This exactly fits the mold of the incubation of a disruptive opportunity within your own company.”
Could it be, Dediu wonders aloud, that Apple’s future TV product is already here, right under our noses, “hiding in plain sight?”