Notes of Interest from Those Tim Cook Interviews

December 7th, 2012

So Apple’s stock price began to rise somewhat Thursday after lengthy interviews with Tim Cook were published. I suppose his comments offered a measure of sanity to the crazy world of Wall Street, where rumors and misunderstood stories are enough to cause a company’s stock price to dive.

As you might expect, despite the length and breadth of those interviews, a lot of what Cook said is what you’d expect him to say, nothing more and nothing less. His messages were carefully rehearsed, with just enough juicy tidbits to keep Apple’s name front and center in the tech and mainstream media.

So you know, for example, that Apple plans to build at least some Macs in the U.S. in 2013, and invest some $100 million dollars in making that happen. It’s not that glass and chips aren’t fabricated in this country already, but Apple has been singled out by critics for building their tech gadgets in Asia. In response, Cook has claimed that it’s not the lower salaries that prevents domestic manufacturing, but having a sufficient supply of skilled production engineers, and building the sophisticated equipment required to assemble an iPhone, an iPad or an iMac.

There’s even a separate report that Foxconn, Apple’s main manufacturing partner in Asia, actually has plans to build a plant in the U.S., so you wonder if that’s where at least some of Apple’s investment might go, since Apple won’t be assembling this unmentioned Mac themselves.

But I don’t think it’s hard to guess which Mac is involved. After all, Cook has already promised a replacement for the aging Mac Pro. Even if the new Mac workstation is thinner and lighter than the current model, the complex manufacturing techniques Apple has pioneered shouldn’t be required. There is, for example, no display or hard-to-build casings to consider in the mix. Because of the high average selling price of a Mac Pro, Apple doesn’t have to be concerned about a somewhat higher cost of production and how it might hurt profit margins.

As a matter of fact, sales of the 2013 Mac Pro — or whatever it’s going to be called — are likely to be fairly high in the scheme of things based on pent-up demand. But understand that Cook hasn’t said which Mac is going to be produced in the U.S. It’s always possible production will be limited to custom versions of other Macs, but saying something is assembled in the U.S. is a carefully regulated step, and Apple would have to make sure that the right percentage of domestic content and assembly is included. So we’ll see.

The other tantalizing statement comes in a short paragraph about TVs. In the wake of the statements from Steve Jobs quoted in the authorized biography of Apple’s late co-founder, expectations grew that an Apple branded TV might be coming soon. There are still rumors afoot, but they’re now all about 2013.

Cook only fueled the fires of anticipation when he said: “When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

But he already said a lot, except that it’s still not altogether clear whether Apple will build the TV set, license technology for premium lines built by existing TV makers, or just make a souped up Apple TV set top box.

Here’s the deal: The TV market is highly saturated, and there are loads of good to excellent models already at various price points. Apple’s main advantage would be to the interface, and Apple doesn’t have to build the whole set to provide that interface, just as they don’t have to build cars to have an Apple-inspired interface on some future models. Sure, much of what you see when you watch your TV can be accomplished with an Apple TV. But the actual set up routine for most sets tends to be more complicated than it has to be due to the inferior, unwieldy interfaces. I’m sure many of you hardly notice those set up screens, except maybe when installing a new set and running it for the first time. There are loads of options to spruce up the picture, but those options are barely noticed, and thus you aren’t getting the best those sets can deliver.

Another interesting comment to come from these interviews is the claim that the recent executive shakeup, in which VP Scott Forstall was benched, was all done in the name of “collaboration.” Cook remarked: “You have to be A-plus at collaboration. And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration. We’ve got services all in one place, and the guy that’s running that has incredible skills in services, has an incredible track record, and I’m confident will do fantastic things.”

He’s talking about Jonathan Ive’s expanded duties, and the statement makes it quite clear that Cook felt Forstall didn’t play well with others, among other issues, and that’s why he’s no longer part of the team. And, by the way, Maps continues to get better, but I think we knew that already.

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