For example, Cook said nothing in his appearance Tuesday morning at a Goldman Sachs (GS) conference in San Francisco about whether or not Apple (AAPL) will produce less expensive iPhones or a version with a larger screen. That’s consistent, of course, with historic Apple behavior. Steve Jobs never foreshadowed future products. Heck, he’d outright lie, calling a suggestion for a new gadget “stupid” — months before Apple introduced the product. Cook doesn’t strike me as the lying type. So instead he reminded people that Apple started selling iPods at $399 and eventually made a $49 iPod Shuffle. Not a cheaper product. A good product that cost less. Interpretation: Of course Apple will make less expensive iPhones.
All this non-talk about screen sizes? Cook didn’t address it. He did say there are more important factors than screen size, like color. Interpretation: As I wrote after Apple’s earnings call, this doesn’t mean Apple won’t do a bigger screen size. It means it’s not ready to announce the products yet.
Cook said absolutely nothing Tuesday about a future television product, nor did Goldman analyst Bill Shope ask him. Here’s what Cook did say: He reminded the audience of hundreds of investors that pundits badgered Apple for years about not releasing a sub-$500 Macintosh computer. Apple never did. Instead it created the iPad, which now sells for as little as $329 and is cannibalizing PC sales, including Macs. Interpretation: If you want to understand where Apple is going, don’t pay too much attention to market share battles on iPhones. Sure, that’s important, but the real action is over the next category-exploding product, not the existing offerings. Apple never says anything about the next big thing. Cook’s predecessor just did a far better job of making it seem like he was saying something. Cook is signaling that something is coming. He’s just not about to be specific. Why would he?
In some cases, Cook said a bit too much — or at least not enough once he got going. He praised the experience and success in Apple’s retail stores, preaching some nicely turned messianic lines about Apple’s retail outlets being more community center slash educational experiences than mere stores. He also revealed that on the few days he’s feeling down, or experiencing lower-than-usual energy levels, he visits Apple stores, which he likened to taking a Prozac. (Definite humor points!) He neglected to discuss — and again, Goldman’s Shope didn’t press for it — why he fired his last head of retail, John Browett, and what’s taking so long replacing him. These are the sorts of things investors, who have watched the erosion in the value of the Apple shares in their portfolios, want to know. (No, Cook said nothing about Apple’s stock price. Not a word. He also refused to address Apple’s slowing growth rates despite the huge opportunities he correctly identified. The stock, for what it’s worth, dropped about 1.5% in morning trading.)
Cook said at least one kooky thing that is genuinely disturbing. In swatting away questions about what products Apple will make, Cook trotted out a standard line about what Apple won’t make: “The only thing we’ll never do is make a crappy product.” Um, awkward. This would have been the perfect opportunity to discuss the relatively few times Apple does in fact inflict crap on its customers. Its weak showing in Maps would be example, but the subject didn’t come up. Six years after the iPhone was announced, typing on the device is still problematic for some. Samsung has a really nice software trick that allows users to move the cursor where you want it. To this day that’s near impossible for someone with adult fingers to do on an iPhone. These are glaring feature problems, but Apple pretends they don’t exist — or, in the case of Maps, acknowledges that they do but refuses to explain to its stockholders how the failures occurred.
Which gets to services. Cook repeatedly extolled the virtues of Apple’s ability to integrate hardware, software, and services, like iTunes, iCloud, and so on. The integration of hardware and software absolutely has been one of Apple’s crowning achievements. It is why Apple shot from near obscurity to most valuable company in the world. But services? Some fodder: MobileMe, Ping, a stagnating iTunes (where’s the music or video streaming service?), weak photo sharing in iPhoto, storage features that don’t come close to the state-of-the-art being offered by the likes of Dropbox. That list goes on and on, and if Cook thinks Apple is as masterful at services — especially Internet services — as it is at hardware and software, he’s got another thing coming.
I can’t help but closing with a nod to what a classy guy Tim Cook is. He originally was scheduled to appear at the Goldman conference at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Yesterday, Goldman announced he would be speaking at 7:15 a.m. instead, presumably because Michelle Obama invited Cook to sit with her at the president’s state of the union message in Washington Tuesday night. Before leaving the stage Cook thanked Apple’s investors for coming out early to hear him and for accommodating his schedule change. The investors clearly would rather Cook make Apple grow faster and return more cash to them. For a moment they might settle for some sincere courtesy and respect.