updated 07:30 pm EST, Tue February 14, 2012
Great products beget profit, popularity, CEO says
In his address at the Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco earlier today, Apple CEO Tim Cook talked at length about the philosophy behind Apple's products and shared the simple secret of their success: former CEO Steve Jobs' insistence that the company focus on simply creating a select group of great products. The emphasis throughout his talk was less about profits or specific products and more on philosophy and discipline.
Calling Apple "a unique company [with] a unique culture that you cannot replicate," Cook assured analysts that despite the absence of visionary co-founder Steve Jobs, the company continues to focus on the goals and philosophy that Jobs brought back to Apple when he returned to the company in 1996. He spoke of how Apple "is a place where people do their life's best work," and that "you will talk to your grandkids about these types of profound changes" in personal technology use that Apple is helping to pioneer.
Cook was typically modest when discussing the actual results of the company's approach, which has placed it as the most highly-valued publicly-traded company in the world. "We had a decent quarter last quarter," he joked, and said that Apple "spends our money like it's our last penny. I think shareholders want us to do it that way. We've never felt rich -- it may sound bizarre, but it's true." His comments reflect the views of Jobs, who aimed the company "at the intersection of art and commerce" rather than focusing on profits, shareholders or market dominance.
Instead, said Cook, Jobs wanted Apple engineers to focus on creating great products, and for Apple to revolve around making "a few products that make a significant contribution to society." In doing so, Jobs believed, profit and popularity would often follow naturally.
Even when they didn't for some reason -- such as the Apple TV, which has done well but is still referred to as "a hobby" to avoid casting it as a relative failure compared to the mega-success of the iOS and Mac businesses -- workers who produced such products, and the consumers who bought them, could be proud of them and see them as money well spent. Apple sold three million of the units in 2011, making it the most popular set-top box on the market but insignificant compared to its other product lines.
Cook repeatedly referred to the Apple TV set-top device, saying "if you don't have one, you should go get one. I can't live without it," and pointing out that those who had bought them love them. "We've always thought there was something there, [and] we hope to find something larger. Those who have one understand." He then repeated the sales pitch: "If you don't have one, you should get one."
He concluded his remarks by talking about the corporate culture that Jobs and Apple have built and how he will maintain it. "Steve drilled it into us for so many years that the company should revolve around great products ... I am not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of [that]. There is no better thrill than to see people using Apple products. That is what brings a smile to my face."
Cook came back to the theme of the importance of quality products again and again throughout the presentation, mentioning that the legacy of great products and services such as the App Store, the iTunes Store and the iPhone had enabled Apple to have so much success so quickly with the iPad. In the phone industry, he said, it turned out that "everyone in every country" has wanted the best product, inferring that endless new models with slightly different feature sets was not working for the competition. "The paramount thing is the product," he said. "It is the focus."
He concluded his remarks by saying that "at Apple, we always focus on the future, and it is a privilege to be a part of it." An audio-only webcast of Cook's speech is now available for streaming from the QuickTime Conference web page. [Photo via Sarah Tew/CNet]