Apple CEO tempers expectations for 2013

In an interview at D11, Tim Cook said getting products right is more important than market share and ruled out a social network acquisition.

By Forbes Digital May 30, 2013 2:12PM

Tuesday evening, Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg interviewed Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at the D11 conference.  What inferences can be made about Apple through the end of 2013 from Tim Cook’s commentary?

Apple still cares more about creating the best product, not selling the most products. The inference here is that Apple is not going to worry about market share numbers. This data point in and of itself may shed light on whether or not Apple cares to introduce a slimmed down iPhone, which has been speculated for some time.  

Tim Cook said that focusing on such a product may take Apple off focus, when there is still a lot of work to do on the iPhone. He spoke about the evolution of the iPad and the iPod, where smaller form factors really served a different audience, and his response indicated that the iPhone had not evolved to the point where they needed to find a different audience. He did not rule it out in the future, however.

Bottom line: It does appear that Apple will introduce a slimmed down iPhone for now to target the lower end of the smartphone market.

Apple television does not seem imminent, although remains of great interest.  The likelihood of an Apple television (as opposed to the Apple TV, currently out) in the near future was asked from several angles. Tim Cook skirted these questions,"“…but it continues to be of great interest." He cited learning a great deal from the 13 million Apple TVs sold. He went  on to say that the television experience remains outdated and could be improved. He commented that this is a very grand vision. 

Bottom line: Between the grand vision and still learning, it seems that those waiting for an Apple television will need to wait longer.

Apple acquisitions will not include a social network or a content play. Apple has been and continues to be acquisitive, purchasing companies every 60 to 75 days. They only disclose what they are required to disclose, meaning financially material acquisitions. He did rule out purchasing a social networking site because they have integrated "elegantly" with Facebook and Twitter and they already offer iMessage and Game Center, two social products. Furthermore, Tim Cook clarified the content question looming as many have suggested that Apple should buy Netflix. He said Apple did not need to own content, but just needed to have access to great content. Apple offers over 35 million songs, 200,000 television shows and 60,000 movies, and iTunes is still growing. Apple is not afraid of large acquisitions, but it has not been in its DNA. Tim Cook commented that he and Steve Jobs were not alike on all things, just the big things.   

Bottom line: While many have speculated about (and hoped for?) a large acquisition for Apple to broaden its offerings, like Netflix, Tim Cook ruled this out.

Apple's answer to wearables could well go beyond a watch. Tim Cook, as expected, dismissed Google Glass but did acknowledge that the broader wearables market "could be profoundly interesting." He wears a Nike FuelBand, which he likes, and commented that the wrist is interesting. Recall Apple's previous partnership with Nike on the Nike + iPod sensor that tracks mileage, pace, and calories while playing songs. Tim Cook opened up other possibilities by saying "the whole sensor field is going to explode" and with the "arc of time," possibilities will emerge. He was very positive on the area, commenting that there are lots of opportunities, lots of players and it would become an important part of the "technology tree" like iPod, iPad and iPhone.  

Bottom line:  Tim Cook gives the sense that Apple is thinking bigger than just the wrist and it will not compete directly with Google Glass. By opening it up the topic to discuss a "sensor field," Apple could be looking at other opportunities in what we routinely wear, although a wearable technology from Apple sounds in the not-so-near future.

Expect advances in iOS, OS X and services that could have great appeal. Apple consolidated software and hardware under Jonathan Ive, iOS and Mac software under Craig Federighi and services remain under Eddy Cue. Jonathan Ive has brought great form factors to Apple fans and could very well bring big changes to the operating systems to enhance the user experience. Tim Cook, in response to a question regarding Apple seeming to lag Google in terms of services, spoke strongly of his commitment and focus on services. This sounds like an area in which Apple may introduce interesting new items at WWDC. One item touched upon in the interview was whether Apple would let customers make changes to the home screen or keyboard. Tim Cook pointed to the risk on the customer experience by opening up too much, but did concede that Apple would open up more. He did not rule out a subscription service, like music or radio.  

Bottom line:  A new, fresh iOS and OS X with new services could really excite customers. New categories of services could serve as a catalyst. Incremental changes that make current functionality slicker may not be enough to create a replacement cycle in iPhones, iPads or Macs.

Do not expect changes in Apple's strategy. Apple is going to continue to focus on great products, and measure success not by market share but by usage, commerce and customer satisfaction. Apple is not going to change that it develops products in secrecy until they are ready to launch. Tim Cook remains committed to bringing out completed products, in contrast to the question posed about Google's publicized projects.

Conclusions. Why is another article speculating about what Apple will do next important? Analyzing what Tim Cook said and didn't say is important because Apple stock price has fallen to $443 from $707, and seems to remain in a trading pattern mostly between $428 and $463. Investors have moved Apple from the growth stock category to the value stock category, and look for certain catalysts to propel Apple back to growth and a higher price. The catalysts that have been bantered about in the media include an Apple television, an Apple iWatch, an acquisition of a content creator/distributor, or an iPhone of a different form factor.

However, from this interview, investors should not expect new product announcements, such as an Apple television, an iWatch or even an iPhone mini, any time soon. And investors should not hold their breath for an acquisition such as Netflix, proposed by numerous journalists and analysts. And Apple seems unlikely to introduce a new iPhone with a larger screen as Tim Cook said Apple will continue to focus on other attributes, such as brightness, reflectivity, color and battery life.

On the other hand, it does seem as if Apple will use its new iOS and OX release to improve services, including some ability for users to customize screens and usability of Apple products.  Apple may have some big ideas up its sleeves regarding wearable technology and television but it sounds like investors may be waiting until 2014 for signs of what that may be. Tim Cook made it clear that Apple likes "surprises "rather than trickling out releases.

In the near term, it looks like investors will have to wait for the big surprises and, as a result, Apple may remain in this trading pattern until the surprises are launched. And from this interview, it looks like that won't happen until next year.

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