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.

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."

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