Apple CEO Cook: 'We're unrivaled' in innovation

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said he has never been more bullish about the company's ability to innovate.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company's cash hoard, said that innovation is in the corporate DNA, added that the smartphone market may be the best ever and outlined his acquisition strategy. He also knocked the PC industry's focus on specifications and noted the iPad is the "poster child" of the post-PC era. 


Cook, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, addressed Wall Street analysts and investors for the second consecutive year. Generally speaking, Cook has been much more open with investors than former CEO Steve Jobs.

The overall theme from Cook was that Apple doesn't buy the limits of large numbers and has existing markets---namely tablets and smartphones---that can continue to grow. 

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Cook covered the following topics as he repeatedly noted that Apple can continue to grow:

  • According to Cook, the tablet market is a huge opportunity for Apple and the iPad is the poster child for the post-PC era. "It creates an experience that's draw dropping," said Cook. He added that more iPads were sold than PCs. "We're in the early innings of this game," said Cook. "You can see the whole of Apple (with the iPad."
  • Cannibalization. Cook said he has been asked about cannibalization of products repeatedly. Whether it's the iMac killing the PowerBook or iPad killing the Mac. "If we don't cannibalize someone else will," said Cook. He added that the iPad can poach share from the Windows ecosystem for years to come. "If companies worry about cannibalization it's the beginning of the end," said Cook. 
  • The PC market competed on two things---spec and price. "Customers want a good experience, quality and an aha moment," said Cook. Companies that talk about the specification of something are hiding the fact their products don't deliver a great experience. He added that no one cares about Apple's chip speeds, pixels in a display and other specs. The display comments were a knock on the OLED spec war. "The only religion we have is that we must do something great," said Cook. "We won't make a crappy product."
  • "The age old model of everyone doing a sliver of something is over. Apple can do integration better than anyone," said Cook, referring to the PC market's partner model. 
  • Can Apple do platforms around the world? Cook was asked about whether Apple can do cloud services in emerging markets, which limit content and music purchases. "Our App Store is operating in 155 countries," noted Cook. iTunes, iCloud and iBooks also operate in numerous countries. "I really feel like we advanced significantly last year in building our infrastructure around the world," said Cook. "Our intention is to have our ecosystem everywhere."
  • The retail strategy. Cook said Apple continues to grow its retail footprint. "There's no better place to discover and explore our products than retail," he said. "It's the best retail experience. You realize the experience is there not for selling but serving. It helps you get more out of your products." Cook said store isn't the right term. The retail outlets are the core of Apple, not the headquarters in Cupertino. Apple will also retool and expand stores as well as add to the retail roster, he said. 
  • For Apple, innovation is embedded in the culture. "Innovation is strong as ever and in the DNA of the company," said Cook. "Apple is the center of innovation." He added there's no set formula for innovation and if there were one companies with a lot of cash would acquire it. Innovation is about skills and leadership. "Apple has skills in software, hardware and services. The model that grew the PC industry where companies specialized. That model is not working for what consumers want today," said Cook. "Consumers want this elegant experience." The real magic happens at the integration of hardware, software and services. "I think we're unrivaled in that," said Cook. 
  • Apple has paid developers $8 billion, up from the previous mark of $7 billion.
  • Would Apple do a large acquisition? "We've averaged an acquisition almost every other month (for the last three years)," said Cook. Those companies typically had engineers and intellectual property. PA Semiconductor was a prime example of a good Apple acquisition. PA Semi became the engine of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touches.
  • On the laws of large numbers, Apple doesn't believe in limits. "It's because of that Apple has been able to do so many things over the years," said Cook. He added that when he zooms out he sees a growing market that Apple can address with smartphones and tablets. "All phones will be smartphones," said Cook. He called the smartphone the best market ever and noted Apple has a lot of upside in China, the app ecosystem and global expansion. "The iPhone is only available to 50 percent of the world's subscribers," he said. 
  • Regarding cheap phones, Cook said "our North Star is great products." "We wouldn't do anything we considered a cheap product," said Cook. "That said we have done things to appeal to people more price sensitive." An example is the lower pricing for iPhone 4 and 4S. Cook added that Apple ran out of supply for iPhone 4. "We have made moves to make things more affordable," he said. 
  • Cook said that Apple aimed for a less expensive Mac but couldn't deliver a great product. Apple solved the sub-$1,000 PC issue with the iPad.
  • He countered the argument that Apple had a depression mentality about cash---a charge leveled by investor David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital. Cook said Apple is investing in R&D, stores, supply chain and is also financially conservative. "A company investing a pair of 10s over two years ($10 billion in capital expenses) doesn't have a depressionary mindset," said Cook. "We do have some cash, but it's a privilege to be in this position to seriously consider returning additional cash to shareholders." Cook added that the board is in deliberations.
  • Cook added that the cash debate is about the rights of shareholders. Apple is looking at things to improve governance further, said Cook, responding to hubbub over the company's preferred shares practices via Greenlight's lawsuit. He said Greenlight's lawsuit over Apple's cash is "a silly sideshow" and the money used for pay for lawyers should be given to a better cause.
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