Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t make a ton of public appearances outside a few friendly media interviews, the occasional (well, it happened once anyway) congressional hearing, and his company’s carefully choreographed press events. He’ll make one tonight at the AllThingsD D11 conference in Southern California, and I live blogged the event here.
Cook is a very well-trained CEO when it comes to the media spotlight. His appearance last year at D10 didn’t produce a lot of fireworks but shed a little light on a man who was a bit of an enigma until he was thrust into the spotlight upon the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in October 2011. Nonetheless, like Jobs, he’s the only public representative of Apple that anyone can take seriously when trying to predict what tech’s most influential company will do next, and his appearance tonight will be dissected like a Federal Reserve meeting.
Our account of the night follows below, and here’s what I wrote last year at D10, reflecting on Cook’s appearance.
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And with that, we’re done. Thanks for hanging out with us during Cook’s comments, I’ll follow up with something a little more later on. Now to watch the Sharks’ miraculous comeback.
“We’ve tried to put our balance on content creation,” Cook says. “At the beginning, we were very worried” about the consumption meme. “Largely I think our contributions will be most in the creation space.”
We’re supposedly wrapping up with a question about how iOS software isn’t necessarily as differentiated from the competition as iLife was for the Mac as compared to the PC. “What we’re seeing on iPad, productivity has been very key, because there was some view at the beginning of shipping the first tablet was that it would be a consumption device.” iWork is on the iPad, and Cook says Pages is the most popular paid app on the iPad of all time.
“I”m not negotiating it this evening,” Cook says, “but in general I don’t like them anyone than I did last year. But I don’t want copying. It’s a values thing. This is about values at the end of the day.”
Patents! “What is the end game?” Nilay Patel of The Verge wonders. “The pluses that have occurred, not just for Apple but for the whole industry, is that we’ve run the standards-essential question to the ground,” Cook says. Patel points out that Apple couldn’t have sued folks with that goal in mind, but Cook says he’s referring to the countersuits those companies filed against Apple with standards-essential patents.
How important is media to Apple? “Are you asking if Apple needs to own content,” Cook tries to clarify. “I’ve never felt we’ve needed to own content. We need access to great content. We don’t have the skill to produce and direct: that’s not who we are.”
“Mapping is complex,” Cook says. You’re not kidding, buddy. “If you’ve been following our progress you’ve seen us make many improvements,” he claims, but clearly Apple Maps are not on the list of Apple’s greatest accomplishments from the past ten years. Walt turns the knife on Apple Maps, and Cook admits it: “We screwed up there.”
“Why won’t you give us a glimpse of the future?” somebody asks Cook. Cook says Apple is going what it always does: it releases products when they’re ready, and that they believe in the element of surprise.
Kara sneaks in a question: did Apple make a bid for Waze? Cook says the company did not.
Cook is talking about the Apple cloud services that people do use, like iMessage and iTunes. “However, we are making tons of investments in services. I don’t want to announce anything today….” which means you all owe me ten bucks.
Next question: mobile products are increasingly defined by services, and Google is doing a hell of a job. What services might Apple be planning? Betcha ten bucks Cook doesn’t pre-announce any services.
What’s the appropriate age for a parent to buy a child an iPhone? Cook reaches for education, saying that kids have done incredible things with iOS devices. He’s arguing, as many do, that parents need to set limits for their kids with iOS devices.
The next question is about cloud services, and how Google and Microsoft offer platform-agnostic services (and they actually work). Should Apple open up iCloud? Cook would prefer to talk about general cloud services rather than iCloud. He says something interesting: Apple would consider porting an Apple-specific app to Android if it made sense. At the moment, Cook doesn’t think it makes sense to port iCloud services to other platforms.
The first question is about mobile advertising. “We got into mobile advertising because we wanted developers to make more money,” Cook says. Obviously, however, iAd hasn’t set the world on fire. Cook would rather focus on how much money developers have made from iOS, which is more than they can make on Android.
Cook says Apple has thought about opening up control but doesn’t seem too excited. He does say that Apple will open up APIs to developers, but “not to the degree that we’ll put the customer at risk of having a bad experience. There’s always a fine line to walk there. We feel like the customer pays us to make certain choices on their behalf.”
Walt asks about control, and open, and closed, which can be very dirty words in the tech industry. He’s specifically asking about Facebook Home, he’s asking about Apple’s keyboard technology, and a few other things in a bit of a rambling question, the essence of which is: why don’t you let specialists own key parts of the iPhone?
“We’re not currently looking at a big (acquisition),” Cook says, but they’re not ruling it out either. “The keys for us, will it help us make a great product or fit the culture?” Kara wonders about social, which is obviously an Apple weak spot. “It’s not an area where I’ve felt we had to own a social network,” Cook says. “We have looked at large acquisitions. It’s not something we’re afraid of doing.”
“Let’s talk about all your money,” Kara suggests. She wants to know why Apple doesn’t buy more companies. Cook says Apple was on the pace of buying a company every 60 days, every six months or so. Apple has already acquired 9 companies in this fiscal year. Walt: “Did you announce them all?” Tim: “Of course not!”
Stupid Kings. LA 1, San Jose 0.
“The ebook case is bizarre to me,” Cook says, shifting gears. “We’ve done nothing wrong” and it would appeal that Apple has no intention of settling that case, which we’ve covered extensively on paidContent.
Cook deflects that attention to give a shout-out to Apple’s North Carolina datacenters as an example of how Apple turns that scrutiny around. Cook announces that Apple has hired Lisa Jackson, formerly of the EPA, to head up environmental activities at Apple, reporting directly to Cook.
Walt’s reflecting back on how far Apple has come: success has brought a ton of scrutiny to Apple on various fronts. “I think when you get a little larger, you get more attention, and it comes with the territory,” Cook says, winning the Obvious Statement Of The Night award so far.
“If everything developed in the U.S. is taxed on worldwide profits, I worry about where development will be,” Cook says. He’s implying that all development might take places overseas if tax policies don’t make sense, which seems a bit of a stretch but is probably a legitimate concern at the highest levels of the Fortune 500.
Cook is being asked about Apple’s tax practices in Ireland. A lot of U.S. companies have used Ireland’s favorable tax laws to route overseas profits through a very friendly international tax system on the Emerald Isle that allows Apple to pay next to nothing in taxes on those overseas profits. It’s totally legal and a lot of companies inside and outside tech do the same thing.
0-0 at the end of the 1st, by the way.
Cook is talking about Apple’s effective tax rate while I check the Sharks-Kings score.
Cook calls for a reasonable tax to bring profits back to the U.S., which gets a big shout-out from somebody in the audience who found a stronger-proof cocktail during the reception than I did.
Cook says Apple went in to the meeting with a proposal for revenue-neutral reform. “For multinationals, the right approach would be simplicity. Just gut the code: it’s 75 pages long, nobody can read it and make sense of it. Apple’s tax return is two feet high.”
Last quote to Cook, obvs.
“Feel free to attack Congress here,” Walt urges. “The Subcommittee was coming to certain conclusions, and we felt strongly that we looked at those very differently. I thought it was very important to go tell our story and to view that as an opportunity instead of a pain in the ass.”
Walt’s trying to ask Cook about phablets and styluses (stylii?), reminding Cook that when Jobs said he hated things, he often wound up introducing them later. Cook acknowledges the point but says large-screen devices come with tradeoffs. It doesn’t seem like Apple has figured out a way to bring the Retina Display to larger screen sizes.
All those iPods has slightly different product features, Cook says, comparing the storage differences between the iPod Classic, the iPod Mini, the iPod Shuffle, and so on. “Those products all serve a different person. And so on the phone, that is the question: are we now at a point to serve enough people that we need to do that?”
Walt’s trying to get him to talk about product pricing strategies, referring back to the iPod strategies such as killing off the iPod Mini in favor of the iPod nano. “We haven’t so far,” Cook says, in response to a barrage of questions about why Apple hasn’t brought out a cheaper iPhone. Phones are more complicated than MP3 players, he says, and Apple has chosen to make sure it’s delivering the best phone experience before it starts to wonder about product segmentation.
“How am I different than Steve?” Cook asks in response to a question from Kara. “In probably a ton of ways, but the most important things are the same,” he says, referring back to the focus on products and culture.
“What kind of leader are you?” Kara asks. “I’ve never viewed a system or a structure to be fixed,” Cook says, reminding everybody that Steve Jobs didn’t think in those terms either. Cook doesn’t want to talk about his leadership style, preferring to leave it to others.
What happened to Forstall, Kara wonders? Cook won’t got there, directly anyway. “The whole concept was to tighten the groups even more so we could find the magic at the intersections,” he says. Believe it or not, he thinks it was a good move.
“Jony (Ive) is really key,” to the next iOS, Cook says. “Last fall we changed things up a bit,” he says, referring to the move to let former iOS head Scott Forstall go in favor of a reorg that put Ive in charge of design across the company. “Jony had contributed significantly to the look and feel of Apple over the years, and could do that for our software as well,” Cook says, in explaining the reorg.
Believe it or not, Cook won’t answer questions about upcoming products! What a great use of his rare time to ask him about future products!
Cook says he isn’t worried about demographics. “Our customers are all ages, and I love that. We try to appeal to everyone.” Cook won’t address anything in particular, of course, but promises that Apple will be “rolling out the future of iOS and OS X” at WWDC in June.
Kara wonders about a demographic shift: will iOS devices get uncool, since they still look the same as they did when they were first announced? This is perhaps leading into an iOS 7 discussion, which Apple is expected to unveil in June with some significant UI changes.
Cook explains that his theory is that Android phones in many countries on many carriers are glorified feature phones as opposed to true smartphones. While Android has plenty of top-tier smartphones, like the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, there certainly are dozens of el cheapo Android phones.
With respect to Android usage, that is.
“What the numbers suggest over and over again is that people are using our products more,” Cook says. “So are people putting these in a drawer?” Walt wonders?
Cook keeps wanting to focus on web share, which makes sense from his point of view. It certainly is a bit weird that iOS devices dominate web browsing stats despite Android’s market share lead. That includes e-commerce stats, Cook says. One lone clapper tries to get a round of applause going, to no effect.
It’s Android time! “Do I look at it? Of course, I don’t have my head stuck in the sand. But for us, winning has never been about making the most,” Cook says.
“I wear glasses because I have to,” Cook says. Welcome to the club buddy. “People who wear them generally want them to be light, unobtrusive…from a mainstream point of view, this is difficult.” But he thinks wearing something on your wrist is more interesting, although any CE manufacturers would have to convince folks that watches are wearable: kids don’t wear watches.
“It’s ripe for exploration,” Cook says. He declines to answer if Apple is going to play around with this market, but please: if you don’t think Apple is working on such a thing, you’re not thinking hard enough. Cook goes so far as to compare wearables to “another branch of the tree” for the post-PC era, a tree that includes the iPhone and iPad as rather significant branches.
Wearables will take on a lot of forms, Cook says. For instance, he wears a Nike Fuelband. “I would say that the ones that are doing more than one thing, that there’s nothing….great out there that I’ve seen. There’s nothing that’s going to convince a kid that’s never worn glasses or a band or a watch to wear one.”
Cook on Google Glass: “It’s likely to appeal to certain vertical markets.” He doesn’t think Google Glass will have a broad appeal (natch) but is high on wearables in general. Watch question in 3, 2, 1…..
“I’ll make you a deal,” Cook says to Walt: “You’ll be the first to know” about any TV project. The Apple-ATD industrial complex continues for another product generation.
Basically Cook is still teasing any kind of TV project. They’ve learned from Apple TV, they’re intrigued by TV, but nothing seems imminent. “It’s not an experience that has been brought up to date for this decade.”
Kara wonders about Apple’s relationship with Hollywood, thinking that they are perhaps more confident in their position against Apple. “Are they holding up your TV project?” Walt wonders? “You know, I don’t want to go into detail,” Cook says, as Gene Munster cries softly in the corner.
Kara turns the conversation to television. Apple has now sold over 13 million Apple TVs, Cook says. The project has “been very good from a learning point of view for Apple. Many of us agree there are things about the TV experience that could be better.”
Believe it or not, Cook thinks Apple “is still that company. We have the same culture and many of the same people that brought you the iPhone and the iPad… The culture is all still there, many of the people are still there.”
Walt’s wondering about “game-changing” products, pointing out that the iPad Mini wasn’t exactly a new thing, as our Kevin Tofel is well aware. “In a way, you’re like a movie studio,” Walt says to Cook. “Are you still that company that’s going to do that?”
“The stock price has been frustrating,” Cook concedes. Investors don’t like it, but these things move in cycles, Cook said. In 2007, Apple’s stock price was $200, in 2009, it was $75, Cook said. It closed today at $441 and change.
“Apple has always had competition to focus on. But our North Star is always on making the best products. So we always come back to that.” This is a standard stump speech from Cook and Apple in general: product focus has always trumped stock price and market share in the company’s public presentations.
Kara points out that Apple has competent rivals (for once). Cook demurs, saying that Microsoft has always been a competent rival in the PC space, and also includes “incredible hardware companies like Dell” in that mix, which is kinda funny. “But we’ve always suited up and fought.”
“Absolutely not,” Cook declares. “We’re a product company, and so we think about products.” He brings up Net Applications stats about phone usage, as opposed to market share, which has been a hot topic over the last few weeks in the mobile market. “I feel pretty good. We’re coming off closing the last year with an unprecedented number of products.”
Cook is out. Walt hits him off the bat with a question about Samsung and the Android phone business in general, the stock being down, and a bunch of stuff that Cook probably wouldn’t address off the bat, were this not scripted. “Is Apple in trouble?” Walt wonders?
Walt and Kara have emerged to formally kick off the event. The prepared monologue so far references jokes about News Corp. splitting, Yahoo buying AllThingsD (Kara’s personal obsession) and a new logo.
Raju jokingly thanks Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for a boost in ATD page views over the past few weeks, as well as a few sponsors that we’ll leave out.
As you might have noticed, we’re late. Let me take this opportunity to implore folks reading this live blog to leave me updates of Sharks-Kings Game 7 in the comments.
And now that I spelled his name wrong he’s probably tuned me out for good. Fixing, thanks to the editing features they built in.
Trying to get WordPress’ Matt Mullenweg, sitting two seats down from me, to notice that we’re using the WordPress live blogging tool, developed in partnership with GigaOM engineering and WordPress engineers. No dice.
That’s an Alabama Shakes recording, I should make clear.
Last year the festivities started off with a marching band and Glee’s Jane Lynch for the D10 opening. Right now we’ve got Alabama Shakes and a bunch of cocktails, which truth be told, is probably better.
It’s kind of a who’s who of the media and tech worlds at this conference, and for some reason they let us in. Twitter’s Dick Costolo, Cisco’s John Chambers, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Tesla’s Elon Musk are on the schedule for just tomorrow.
We’ve been allowed entry into the Palos Verdes Ballroom at the Terreana, and we’re about ten minutes away from Tim Cook’s appearance at D11.
Spotted while waiting to get in: Cook making plans to chat later with Steve Sinofsky, formerly head of Microsoft’s Windows group and now a free agent, as well as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings chatting with outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.