Apple meets shareholders; yawns all around

February 23, 2011, 11:20 PM UTC

CUPERTINO, Calif.–Annual shareholders meetings are designed to be yawnfests. Bylaws require a meeting, so companies work hard to comply with the letter of the law–and little more. Apple (AAPL), such a master at jazzing up events to release new products, ably jazzes down its annual meeting.

The usual collection of blue-haired ladies and their gents, plus press from near and far, showed up Wednesday morning on the Apple campus anyway. Undoubtedly they hoped for a Steve Jobs sighting. They had no such luck. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook presided in the absence of the CEO, who is on an indefinite medical leave.

There were no surprises. A shareholder resolution to require Apple’s board to craft a succession plan lost. Votes to election directors won. Then Cook reviewed some already disclosed performance metrics before taking questions from the audience.

And there were some good ones.

* A technologically advanced shareholder griped about plug-ins on the iPhone. Software bigwig Scott Forstall, speaking from the audience, explained that plug-ins are dangerous, a problem Apple encountered in past versions of the Macintosh operating system. Apple likes to “sandbox” apps in the App Store, he said, and can’t do that with plug-ins.

* Another query wondered if Apple’s iOS software for the iPhone and iPad, with its closed system, is Google’s (GOOG) Android what the Mac software was to Windows. Marketing chief Phil Schiller pooh-poohed that idea. Different times, he said. Added Cook: In that day and age business-oriented IT spending, known as the enterprise, drove tech decisions. No longer.

* A shareholder got great publicity for the play in production at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, by asking Cook if he’d seen the drama, a depiction of nasty conditions in factories belonging to Apple suppliers in China. Cook, who said if something isn’t on ESPN or CNBC he doesn’t see it, gave an impassioned defense of Apple’s practices in China and directed the questioner to Apple’s published reports on the subject. Pressed to see the depiction of Steve Jobs, Cook got a little hot under the collar. “I know Steve Jobs,” he said, adding that he doesn’t need to see a play to learn about him.

* A couple questioners wanted to know, to paraphrase them, why Apple is being so greedy by charging publishers 30% to sell subscriptions on the App Store when Google is charging only 10%. Schiller claims Google is spreading misinformation on the matter. He says that while it’s true that Google takes a 10% cut on Web-based subscriptions, they’ll take a 30% cut on apps. (He included an accurate did that there aren’t a whole lot of those yet.) Schiller also called the 70/30 split “fair.”

A Google spokeswoman sent the following response to my request for comment on Schiller’s statement:

Google One Pass is a device-agnostic, browser-based authentication and payments platform designed for newspaper and magazine publishers who choose to sell their content through their websites and/or their mobile apps. When they sell content from their mobile apps using Google One Pass — whether as a single article, a subscription, a timed pass or with the metered model — the payments and/or authentication will be made through the mobile browser. Publishers get 90% of revenue from all transactions using Google One Pass.
To be clear, the Google One Pass announcement is not related to Android or Android Market.

If I’m reading this correctly, Google isn’t contradicting Schiller. It’s an interesting distinction.

Lastly, Cook declined to say how many iPhones Verizon (VZ) has sold since Feb. 10. Tune in on March 2, he said slyly, when Apple hosts a press event to unveil new products.