Tim Cook's Lips Zipped on Apple's Next Big Thing
Tim Cook hinted that Apple's next iOS release may leave some wiggle room for developers to do a bit of customization -- perhaps the strongest indication yet that the company is loosening its iron grip. That could be very good news, suggested tech analyst Zeus Kerravala. Perhaps "we can start to see some more advanced applications for the Apple platform."
Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage for an interview Tuesday night at AllThingD's D11 annual tech conference, reiterating his faith in his company's direction without divulging any secrets or bold plans.
Cook fielded questions from interviewers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher about whether Apple has lost its touch recently, as it has been faced with a plunging stock price, increased competition from rivals, persistent patent and antitrust battles, and an investigation into its corporate tax policies.
The interviewers also reminded Cook that it had been a while since Apple has released a groundbreaking product.
Cook took the questions in stride, claiming he wasn't worried about Android's growing market share. The culture of Apple was unchanged, he said -- it was the same dynamic company it has always been.
As for the stock dip, Cook recalled past fluctuations in Apple's market value that didn't destroy it. Above all, Apple is a product company, he noted, and if it keeps launching innovative devices, financial success will follow.
One thing Cook was willing to discuss at D11 was an initiative that got developers buzzing on social media.
Apple plans to further open its APIs for developers, he said. That implies a substantial change from the status quo. Apple's platform is notorious for its impenetrability, as opposed to Google's Android, which is much more open to developer tweaks -- replacing default apps or switching out the built-in keyboard, for example.
Without mentioning Android, Cook said that Apple wasn't going to completely open its system doors and that it wouldn't do anything that would jeopardize the iOS user experience.
Still, the suggestion of a looser approach is a sign that Apple is willing to adjust to a new era in operating system management, said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
"The most notable part of the interview was that Apple plans to open up their APIs to others," he told MacNewsWorld. "I see this as a defining moment that the closed system is hindering growth. As Apple painfully realized with Maps and even iCloud, going it alone isn't working, as they see Android's more [open] approach winning."
That's the right focus for a company that has remained so closed for so long, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.
"Developers will take the path of least resistance and [choose platforms] that are easiest to develop on," he told MacNewsWorld, "and that is putting Apple in a position of weakness. Google can also give developers almost any kind of information they need -- like personal info, search data, mapping info. If Apple can be a little more aggressive with developers and open it up, we can start to see some more advanced applications for the Apple platform."
Mum on Rumors
Cook was less willing to discuss unconfirmed plans for the company's future. He dodged questions about the elusive next-gen Apple television set that has long been rumored, instead steering the discussion toward the success of the current Apple TV set-top box.
Apple TV has been a great way for the company to learn the industry and consumer demand, he noted.
Apple had a "grand vision" for TV, said Cook, acknowledging that the current TV landscape is outdated.
Not many industry experts will argue that the market is outdated, but TV is going to be a tough one to crack -- even for Apple, said Kerravala.
"They have to be thinking of their next big product, but TV is a highly competitive market that doesn't have the margins Apple is used to," he observed. "Apple is a very margin-focused company."
The issue of wearable tech devices also came up Tuesday night. Apple is rumored to be working on a smartwatch -- possibly an initiative spearheaded by Cook, who is a big fan of the Nike FuelBand. The wearable device could help Apple compete with Google's Glasses.
Cook wouldn't confirm any plans for a smartwatch launch but did say that wearing a wrist device was more natural than wearing glasses, even if a key challenge would be convincing a younger crowd to buy a watch.
If Apple does have a wearable device in the works, it could be the next big product that investors are waiting for, said Moorhead. With the current level of scrutiny, Apple can't afford to launch a device that isn't ready for the consumer market.
"I believe Apple is working on a wrist computer or an electronic locket," he said. "The challenge will be the display or the possible lack of one. Apple hasn't had a hardware flop in a while, and I don't think they will release a wearable computer without a high degree of success."
Until Apple does release a hot new product -- whether it's a watch or something else -- the questions Cook received Tuesday about Apple "losing its touch" will keep coming, said Kerravala.
"To get those questions to go away, they really need to release something new," he emphasized. "It's unclear what that next big product will be. It could be time for the iPhone to get a revamp. It's had the same interface since it launched, and it's looking a little old. If Cook wants to show he's in control of the company, he might have to do something a little different -- and they haven't done that in years."