Apple CEO Cook: The iPhone Now Casts The Halo Over The iPad

It’s kind of amazing to consider how passé the iPod, the gadget that defined a decade of music, has become at Apple: the iPhone is the now the halo maker, according to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook. In comments before the financial community at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, Cook spoke about a number of mobile-related topics, including the debate over whether the iPad is a PC, and his views on the company’s $98 billion cash pile.

Of course, it’s no surprise to anyone how mobile-centric Apple’s business has become five years after the debut of the iPhone. But Cook said that the iPhone is now the halo product that is turning the iPad into the fastest-growing product launch in Apple’s history, with 55 million units sold to date, an accomplishment that the Mac didn’t achieve until 22 years after its debut. That’s how people used to describe the effect that the iPod, a huge seller, had on potential Apple customers who were suddenly willing to take a second look at the Mac.

“The iPad has stood on the shoulders of everything that came before it,” Cook said. A generation of technology buyers already understood concepts like the iTunes Store, the App Store, and the iOS navigation system through their exposure to the iPhone to instantly grasp the potential of the iPad, he said.

Still, Cook doesn’t think the iPad will lead to the death of the personal computer as we’ve known it for the past 25 years or so. “I don’t predict the demise of the PC industry, I don’t subscribe to that,” he said, although admitting that tablet sales were eating into Mac sales and were likely having the same effect on the PC industry, which is essentially stagnant. It seems pretty clear that Cook thinks of the iPad as a different product from the PC/Mac, unlike some industry observers who would prefer to lump the two together.

Cook drew hearty laughs for describing the 37 million iPhones sold during the three months ending in December as “a decent quarter,” but said the company is much more focused on the overall opportunity for smartphone sales, which could reach 1 billion units a year within a few years. “When you take it in the context of these numbers, the truth is this is a jaw-dropping industry, it has enormous opportunity to it.”

And emerging markets will account for a huge chunk of that growth, he said. About one quarter of those billion smartphones he referred to will come from sales in China and Brazil, and Apple has invested a great deal in making sure that its economic activity in China involves more than its supply chain, Cook said.