Home Tim Cook at the D Conference: Between the Lines

Tim Cook at the D Conference: Between the Lines

Apple boss Tim Cook spoke Tuesday night at the D10 conference, his first major public interview since becoming CEO of Apple last year. His chat touched on everything from what he learned from Steve Jobs to his big-picture goal for Apple: to build great products, of course.

But as always when a big-company CEO like Cook speaks, the most interesting stuff is what he didn’t say.

Apple Is Probably Going to Make a TV

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, the conference hosts, prodded Cook at length about the company’s product plans. This is almost always a waste of time. Perhaps it’s an exercise in being thorough in front of an audience with high expectations. But Cook believes deeply in Apple’s product secrecy principles, and would never unintentionally reveal a new product ahead of its proper, formal launch presentation.

But the way Cook was acting – his allusions, his commentary about the TV business, and some nervous chair-twisting – suggested that he was hiding something. (Cook even defended iTunes’ video content library!)

Let’s be real: There’s enough smoke here that there is some sort of fire. The way Apple has continued to invest in the Apple TV set-top box – which is selling twice as fast this year, so far, as last year – is evidence that Apple believes something is worth doing in the TV business. 

Cook’s reasoning for Apple getting into a theoretical new industry included questions like: Can Apple control or own the key technology? Can it make a significant contribution beyond others in the industry? Can it build a product that we all want?

If you’ve spent any time near most TV sets recently – especially the software – the answer to at least two of those questions is an easy “yes.” Whether Apple can control key technology in a TV set depends at least partially on Apple’s vision for the TV product. Is it just a nice TV or is it something new? But Cook didn’t seem dismissive at all, even in the way Steve Jobs sometimes postured.

Either way, it seems that Apple has real potential here. Whether it will ever ship or not, who knows. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. But it seems that Apple is at least spending a good amount of effort looking into it. My guess is that it will actually happen sometime.

Apple Is Probably Going to Do Something With Facebook

Cook was actually surprisingly forthcoming here. He didn’t announce anything specific: for example, that Facebook would be integrated into a future version of iOS or OS X.

But his choice of words – “stay tuned” – suggests something is imminent. Cook gushed about how Apple has great respect for Facebook, how he thinks Apple can do more with the company, and even laid out a logical explanation justifying why Apple should work with Facebook. This is about as close as I’ve ever heard an Apple executive say “Yep, that’s going to happen.”

Of course, things can change unpredictably, but it seems that Apple and Facebook will be doing more together in the future than less.

Apple Has Little Interest in Advertising or Social Networking

When a Google employee asked Cook about Apple’s advertising business, Tim Cook joked that it would be very small next to Google’s. “I don’t see it at the same level by any means” as Apple’s core products, he said. “It’s not nearly to us what it is to you, obviously.”

When an ABC News journalist asked Cook about Ping, Apple’s music-related social network-of-sorts, he said “I don’t think we have to own a social network.” He continued: “But does Apple need to be social? Yes.” Then he gave the examples of Apple integrating Twitter into iOS and OS X, its iMessage and Game Center services, etc. “We tried Ping, and I think the customer voted and said ‘This isn’t something that I want to put a lot of energy into.'”

Then, when Kara Swisher joked that Cook should sell Ping to Google+, Cook laughed very hard.

It seems Cook is going to give the iAd business some time, as it’s probably paying for itself and may eventually be helpful to iOS developers. But it seems Cook isn’t crazy about it.

My hunch is that Ping is going to fade away in the next version of iTunes. This seems like an opportunity to partner with Twitter and Facebook and not waste time on a failed social network.

Apple Really Hasn’t Changed That Much At All

Naturally there is going to be a lot of curiosity about how Apple is different after Steve Jobs’ death and now that Tim Cook has been CEO for several months. There was even a Fortune magazine article about it, though it isn’t very convincing that Cook was actually making any dramatic changes.

The way Cook talks, it doesn’t seem like much is different, after all. At least where it matters, in Apple’s approach to products. He seems very keyed into the long-standing Apple “DNA” of demanding the highest quality, focusing on a narrow set of products, secrecy, etc. (As he should: He’s been there since 1998!) The results, of course, will have to speak for themselves. But so far, so good.

So, How’d He Do?

Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. He is Tim Cook. That means a Southern je ne sais quoi and laughter. That means a lot of analogies and some jokes. He said “ass” twice, in different contexts.

Cook obviously isn’t trying to parrot Steve Jobs. He offered Apple’s take on a few things, like the patent system, but didn’t slam or cut the way Jobs sometimes could. Perhaps that means he isn’t as memorable as Jobs, or as threatening. Perhaps he wasn’t always comfortable in his seat or with every question. But Cook seems more than comfortable in his role. And that’s good news for Apple.

Also: When Will Apple Peak?

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