Tuesday afternoon, Apple CEO Tim Cook presented the keynote speech at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. Cook’s presentation ranged from discussion of Apple’s supply chain strategy in China to how the iPad is cannibalizing computer sales.
We listened in on the nearly hour-long keynote live streaming from Apple’s website, and rounded up the five juiciest, most interesting reveals of Apple’s roadmap and culture.
Here’s what we found — with insight on why it matters.
On Factory Working Conditions
“Apple takes working conditions very, very seriously, and we have for a very long time… Our commitment is simple: Every worker has the right to a fair and safe work environment, free of discrimination, where they can earn competitive wages and they can voice their concerns freely. Apple suppliers must live up to this to do business with Apple. If we find a supplier that intentionally hires underage labor, it’s a firing offense.”
Cook also detailed how Apple is constantly monitoring its factories. He said Apple has eliminated child labor in the final assembly portion of its supply chain.
It’s important to note that Cook opened his keynote with a discussion of working conditions at the manufacturing plants of overseas suppliers. Sure, accusations of inhumane conditions in Foxconn factories are currently making news, and Cook certainly had to respond to the bad press. But the content and tenor of Cook’s comments suggest a new humility on Apple’s part — that the company knows it needs to do the right thing. We can call this a third gesture of “corporate kindness” in the new Tim Cook Era.
“Price is rarely the most important thing. A cheap product might sell some units. Somebody gets it home and they feel great when they pay the money, but then they get it home and use it, and the joy is gone. The joy is gone every day that they use it until they aren’t using it anymore. You don’t keep remembering “I got a good deal!” because you hate it!”
Let’s read between the lines: Cook was responding to a question about tablets, and the above response is obviously a dig at the Amazon Kindle Fire. Clearly, Cook doesn’t think the Fire, or any other budget tablet — or any other tablet, for that matter — is a threat to the iPad.
His response doesn’t simply suggest he’s a man with a competitive streak. It suggests he doesn’t have any respect for the Fire and its Android brethren. It’s a position that recalls the bluster of Steve Jobs, and proves Cook is just as much the fighter.
“The real catalyst to the tablet market will be innovation and pushing the next frontier. Honestly, we’ll compete with everybody. I love competition. As long as people invent their own stuff, I love competition.”
The unspoken message: If you don’t invent your own stuff, Apple’s legal team will make sure to set things right. But this statement also makes us wonder which companies, if any, Apple considers to be competition. Google perhaps? In today’s keynote, Cook could only muster calling Android “that other OS.”
On Mac Cannibalization
“iPad has cannibalized some Mac sales. The way that we view cannibalization is that we prefer to do it to ourselves than let someone else do it. We don’t want to hold back one of our teams from doing the greatest thing, even if it takes some sales from another product area. Our high-order bid is, ‘We want to please customers and we want them buying Apple stuff.’”
While this was just a basic reiteration of Apple’s position since the advent of iOS, it’s also telling for what it reminds us about Microsoft — namely, that in the ongoing synergistic fusion of Windows 8, Windows on Arm and Windows Phone, Microsoft will be attempting to prop up the Windows legacy by any means necessary.
Indeed, when you think of Apple as a dynamic, forward-thinking company, when do you ever think of Mac OS? It’s just not part of the daily conversation or news cycle. But Microsoft has a deeply entrenched, vested interest in making sure Windows never goes away, even if it means, well, window-dressing the Windows desktop with a mobile U.I. We don’t blame Microsoft for trying, and it certainly doesn’t have Apple’s “luxury” of owning such a small part of the desktop and enterprise market share.
On Steve’s Legacy
“Steve grilled in all of us over many years that the company should revolve around great product, and that we should stay extremely focused on just a few things rather than try to do so many that we do nothing well. We should only go into markets where we can make a significant contribution to society, not just sell a lot of products. And so, these things, along with keeping excellence as an expectation of everything at Apple, these are the things that I focus on because I think those are the things that make Apple this magical place. We’re always focused on the future. We don’t sit and think about how great things were yesterday. I love that trait. I think it’s the thing that drive us all forward.”
This is Tim Cook’s assurance to the investment community that a little Steve Jobs avatar is perched upon his shoulder. The avatar isn’t issuing orders, mind you. It’s just rubbing Cook’s delts, and reminding him about core company values.
And this is a helpful avatar to have. We’ve seen all too many tech companies lose their mojo following the departure of founding fathers. Just look at the mess that’s become of Hewlett-Packard. Tim Cook emphasized that he’s striving to maintain the same culture and vision that Steve Jobs fostered while he was in charge. And because Apple does have a clearly defined focus, it should be able to continue to deliver solid, inventive products in the years to come.
And, of course, having another iPad waiting on deck — a product launch that wasn’t acknowledged in even the most tangential, knowingly cheeky way — doesn’t hurt Mr. Cook’s chances for success either.