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Apple reported mixed results Thursday and, as Aaron reported, investors see-sawed in their interpretation. True, the company offered a sales forecast that was dramatically lower than what investors expected. At the same time, it reported more than 240 million paying subscribers to its various services, a 58% year-over-year increase that analyst/venture capitalist Gene Munster told me suggests growth in that business “will remain high for a long time.”
I habitually listen to Apple’s earnings calls and can’t help but enjoying the cat-and-mouse banter between analysts and CEO Tim Cook. Back in the day, Steve Jobs would appear occasionally on the calls, sometimes to prove he was still actively engaged. But Cook, a businessman’s businessman, is a constant presence who senses what investors want—even if he isn’t willing to give it to them.
His responses to three questions were particularly entertaining:
* An analyst asked if Apple’s enthusiasm for augmented reality means the company will introduce new AR devices as opposed to its current product strategy of incorporating AR into its iPhone software. Here is Cook’s unsubtle way of ignoring the question: “AR has the ability to amplify human performance instead of isolating humans. We’re moving very fast. I couldn’t be happier with the rate and pace within the developer community.”
* Another noted that the “installed base” of Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone users is growing while Apple’s iPhone shipments are flat and asked if this means customers are upgrading more slowly than before. Without disputing the numbers, Cook said he had a “different view” of them, praised the “reliability” of iPhones, and finally said, “It’s not something we overly fixate on.”
* Asked if the soon-to-released HomePod speaker is primarily about music, Cook launched into a stemwinder, calling it an “incredible product” with an “unbelievable audio experience” in a small form factor that is great for playing music but also for turning up the lights, ordering an Uber (or Lyft) and sending messages—all the things Amazon’s (AMZN) Echo line does. “The use cases will be broad based,” he concluded. “Just like our phones.”
Briefly … Alibaba (BABA) shares plunged 6% Thursday as retail investments crimped results and the company took on a third of affiliate Ant Financial’s equity. This comprehensive Breakingviews article reviews all the salient points … Three journalistic integrity cheers for Washington Post tech critic Geoffrey Fowler for this tough look at Amazon Prime. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (whose earnings soared in the fourth quarter), owns The Post. … A great read about an entrepreneur: Young-adult author Kwame Alexander is starting his own imprint. My daughter and I loved his award-winning verse novel The Crossover. … A lot of you have wondered how Fortune and our Time Inc. cousins will fare under our new owners, Meredith. It’s only one day, but top brass greeted employees with smiles and handshakes in New York Thursday, while others fanned out across the country, including to San Francisco, to host get-to-know-each-other gatherings. The warm gestures were genuinely appreciated by beleaguered Time Inc. veterans. (We got water bottles too.)