On Tuesday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook likened the wait for next month's iOS 7 unveiling to being a kid on Christmas Eve, teased Apple's interest in wearable tech and claimed the company has a "very grand vision" for the future of television. Cook touched on several topics during an on-stage interview kicking off AllThingsD's D:11 conference, including what's in the company's product pipeline, the smartphone wars and even tax policy. But of course he didn't give up the goods on anything specific the tech giant is working on. Just as important, he often spoke in a kind of code, so ReadWrite has helpfully supplied a "translation" where appropriate.
Apple's Product Pipeline Surprises
If Cook is in a hurry to reveal Apple's next big thing, he didn't let on Tuesday night. "We release products when they're ready," Cook said. "We believe very much in the element of surprise. We think customers love surprises."
Basically, Cook was saying, "Look, we know we haven't released a game changer in awhile. And we know our stock has dropped. But we're building cool stuff. Trust me. When it's ready, we'll show it to you. And then you'll buy it and it'll make your life better. Because that's what Apple does."
Whether you believe Cook's implicit message, you're probably not going to find out for sure until Fall at the earliest.
Apple has sold 13 million Apple TV units to date, Cook said. "About half" of those - roughly 6.5 million - were sold within the last twelve months alone. Not bad for a hobby that Apple has done very little to market. But, as has long been rumored, apparently there's much more in the works. "There is a very grand vision," Cook said in regards to bringing the world's television experience up to date. "It’s an area of incredible interest."
Still, Cook declined to reveal when Apple might launch a new TV-oriented product. We're pretty much limited to Steve Jobs' infamous, "I finally cracked it," line about a new TV experience integrated with iCloud and iDevices. But, hey, at least we know that Apple sold a whole lot more Apple TVs last year than it ever did before.
(See also 5 Ways TV Will Evolve In 2013.)
What Does iOS 7 Hold In Store?
All Things D editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher asked Cook about what's new in iOS 7, the next version of Apple's mobile operating system expected to be announced at the company's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June.
Swisher: "So talk to us about the new iOS."
Cook: "Remember what it was like on Christmas Eve?"
Swisher: "No, we opened our presents on Christmas Eve."
Mossberg: "And I'm Jewish."
Funny, but once again Cook wasn't taking the bait.
Cook did mention that Apple may loosen up a bit when it comes to opening iOS up to third-party customizations. "On the general topic of opening up APIs, I think you'll see us open up more in the future," he said, "but not to the degree that we put the customer at risk of having a bad experience." So don't look for Facebook Home on iOS any time soon.
The Smartphone Wars
As the iPhone has lost its lead in smartphone sales to models running Google's Android operating system, observers are wondering how Apple is dealing with the loss of its dominant position. Here's Cook's take on the matter: "We make the best phone, we don't make the most phones."
Translation: We make one phone. The three generations of that phone currently on sale generate billions of dollars in profit for our carrier partners, supply chain partners and us. The apps available for that phone in turn generate billions more for our developer partners and us - far more than Android phones generate. We make products that we think are the best on the market, and plenty of consumers agree, even at prices that support our above-average margins. Most of our competitors - Samsung excepted - aren't making any money on smartphones. I don't see what the fuss is all about.
That's all true.
Apple has been taking flack on Capitol Hill lately for sheltering its profits overseas. Cook had a very simple response: "We think we should bring all offshore profits back to the U.S."
There's a lot more to it than that. But Cook's basic position is this: The U.S. tax code is messed up. Fix it and we'll do all the business, accounting and paying of taxes that we can in the U.S. of A. Until then, we're a corporation that abides by the law, and we're doing the best we can to abide by that law.
(Google) Glass And Wearable Tech
Tim Cook said Nike "did a great job" on the Fuelband he sometimes wears on his wrist, but he's not about to put a computer in his spectacles. "I think wearables is incredibly interesting. It could be a profound area." But he added that "The likelihood that [Google Glass] has broad appeal is hard to see."
Cook said plenty more on the topic, but it boils down to this: Apple is definitely working on wearable tech and Cook is excited by the emergence of embeddable sensors of all sorts. But he isn't going to throw Google even a tiny bone.
"To convince people that they have to wear something, it has to be incredible," Cook said. "If we asked a room of 20-year olds to stand up if they're wearing a watch, I don't think anyone would stand up." Would a curved glass smartwatch built by a team of 100 engineers to run iOS be incredible enough to capture the coveted 20-year old demographic? Reports from a few months ago say "yes," for what that's worth.