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Cook's 'big plans' remark reveals nothing about Apple product timing, everything about what fans crave

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 2, 2014
"What else can he say?" asks analyst.

A leaked email from Apple CEO Tim Cook that teased "big plans" for 2014 renewed speculation that the company would finally make good on expectations by launching new product lines, including wearables and a smart television, next year.

The problem is, Cook has touted similar big plans in the past and pundits' hopes have failed to materialize.

"The information content of these [messages] is zero," said Ezra Gottheil, analyst with Technology Business Research. "Apple doesn't really have to do what people expect. But the commentariat has column inches to fill. They have to talk about something."

Earlier this week, Apple-centric website 9to5Mac published Cook's annual message to company employees, noting that it included the line, "We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love."

9to5Mac and a host of others used the sentence, in particular the words "big plans," to again tout long-circulating rumors of forthcoming Apple products, among them a purported "iWatch" smartphone accessory and an Apple-branded smart TV. Both have been on the rumor radar for months or even years.

But Cook has regularly used similar language in past exhortations, memos and even during calls with Wall Street.

"We've got some really great stuff coming in the fall and across all of 2014," Cook told financial analysts in April after announcing 2013's first-quarter numbers (emphasis added). In the same call, Cook also said, "Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software, and services that we can't wait to introduce this fall and throughout 2014."

Cook's "great stuff" and "amazing new" products for 2013 amounted to the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad Air, Retina iPad Mini and Mac Pro -- solid evolutions of past products that in some cases are selling in large numbers. But they're hardly revolutionary, as were 2007's iPhone and 2010's iPad, or as would entries into new markets presumably prove.

As Gottheil said, it's useless to tap a CEO's public comments -- which by 9to5Mac's record, virtually every internal email issued by Cook is -- for speculation on upcoming wares or launch timetables.

In fact, Cook used an October conference call with Wall Street to quash thoughts that Apple would soon enter new market categories. "I didn't say in April that you would see [new product categories] in this year and the first half of next year," Cook said when pressed by one analyst to clarify previous remarks.

Cook and other CEOs are caught between a rock and a hard place, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar, when it comes to trumpeting the future without giving anything away. "What else can he say?" asked Milanesi of Cook's "big plans" comment. "That they won't have great new products?"


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