Even saying nothing, Apple CEO reveals something

Under pressure from investors and users to wow again, Tim Cook sticks to the standard script

Apple CEO Tim Cook spent more than an hour answering questions at the AllThingsD conference yesterday, but said little that was newsworthy.

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Which everyone should have expected, argued Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner who covers the Cupertino, Calif. company.

"Why were people surprised? Did they think he was going to reveal a new product, just two weeks before WWDC?" asked Milanesi, referring to Apple's annual developers conference, slated to kick off June 10 in San Francisco.

Even so, Cook's appearance on stage at the Wall Street Journal-hosted AllThingsD generated scores, if not hundreds, of headlines on Apple-centric and general technology blogs, on mainstream media outlets and even pieces on television. Many of those stories parsed Cook's comments in detail, mimicking the work of Cold War Kremlinologists, who dissected the Soviet Union and its leadership based on who stood where in photographs taken at military parades where mobile missiles trundled through Red Square.

Cook stuck to the script throughout the interview, noted Milanesi and other analysts, using many of the same talking points he and other Apple executives have employed before -- most recently during an April conference call with Wall Street.

"As expected, Cook didn't reveal any significant new information," added Brian Marshall, a financial analyst with the ISI Group, in a note to clients Wednesday.

Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research agreed. "In the most fundamental way, this shows that Apple hasn't changed," Gottheil said. "But it was far more interesting when Steve Jobs had nothing to say."

Cook is coming up on two years as Apple's CEO, having assumed the chief executive's chair in August 2011, just weeks before co-founder Jobs died of complications from pancreatic cancer.

"Jobs wouldn't have had anything to say about Apple, either, but he would say plenty about the industry," Gottheil said, comparing that to Cook's even-more-disciplined style under questioning.

For her part, Milanesi focused on the big picture, rather than delving into the minutiae of what Cook said, didn't say, or might have said. "His aplomb is amazing," she said. "He showed he could stick to the script, and that Apple wasn't going to change just because people are putting pressure on the company."

That pressure has come from multiple directions, and in some cases has been enormous: As of Wednesday, Apple's stock price was 37% lower than its peak last September.

"Is Apple in trouble? Absolutely not," Cook countered yesterday at the first question pitched, whether Apple had lost its cool and was in trouble because of that. He did, however, repeat what he said at the April call with financial analysts, that he was "frustrated" with the fall of the stock price, but pointed out that Apple has weathered stock downturns before.

What Milanesi found interesting was that Cook didn't deviate from the message mantra when other CEOs might have gone on the offensive. "If it was anyone else, I think it would have been quite different," Milanesi said. "Other CEOs would be scrambling to make a point, or going overboard in justifying their decisions. Apple doesn't do that. Tim [Cook] doesn't do that. He's a much more practical leader than even Jobs."

As is Apple's policy, Cook declined to answer any of the questions posed about potential products, whether something more ambitious than the current Apple TV or an iWatch or even what iOS 7 will look like. On Apple and television, for example, Cook would only repeat his previous lines of, "It continues to be an area of interest to us," and "[Current TV] is not an experience that I think most people love."

"They've been consistent on their messages on TV, for instance," observed Milanesi. "And we're still waiting on what they have in mind."

"It's not a mystery," said Gottheil, of Apple's message, which he thought Cook plainly stated. "'You can see who we are by the products we make,' Cook said. The mysteries are what specific products Apple is working on." But no Apple CEO, whether Jobs or Cook, or some future top exec, would turn that on its head and talk about what may be in the pipeline.

"In fact, he said more than I would have said," Gottheil added. "Cook said 'game changers.' I would have just said, 'We're working on new things.'"

And so it went, on topics like wearable computing -- where Cook went only so far as to say he thought smart glasses, like Google's, were "risky," and that the wrist is a "natural" for something digital; Android's overwhelming sales market share; whether Apple is for old people; and the house-cleaning Cook did last fall when he reorganized upper management.

Some of the questions asked during Cook's interview will be answered in less than two weeks, when Apple holds its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The annual confab runs June 10-14, with a keynote expected on opening day, where Cook and other executives will likely introduce some of the changes to iOS and OS X.

But if Cook's objective was to keep to the script and divulge nothing concrete, why bother?

Milanesi had a quick answer. "Imagine the headlines if he didn't show up [at AllThingsD]," she said. "If he hadn't, then everyone would have said Apple is really dead."

This article, Even saying nothing, Apple CEO reveals something, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Even saying nothing, Apple CEO reveals something" was originally published by Computerworld .

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