Tim Cook: Apple Will Sell No 5” iPhone Before Its Time

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It took Beethoven four years to write that symphony. Some things can't be rushed. Good music and good wine. Paul Masson's emerald dry. Delicious white wine. Paul Masson's wines taste so good because they're made with such care. What Paul Masson himself said nearly a century ago is still true today, 'We will sell no wine before it's time.'

Orson Welles in the 1970s

I love listening to Apple CEO Tim Cook speak in what I call "Cook Code." This is when he tells us something without actually saying it, and he's very, very good at it.

Cook Code is different from Steve Jobs's habit of saying the opposite of what he was going to do (Think: "It's about the music, stupid"), and it's different from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's audacious pronouncements.

Apple's CEO uses Cook Code to signal Apple's future product direction in a fairly direct fashion, even if the outside world doesn't listen or doesn't understand it.

For instance, he told us that Apple would compete with netbooks using what I called an iPod supertouch at the time and was revealed to the world as the iPad. Similarly, he has told us that Apple wants to address the TV market, but we haven't yet seen that come to fruition.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Cook addressed the biggest thing hanging over Apple right now, the lack of a 5-inch iPhone. Many people have pointed to the lack of a 5-inch "phablet" as proof that Apple no longer innovates.

That's silly, of course, but it is clear that many consumers want large screen smartphones and Apple isn't addressing that part of the market. Analyst want to know when Apple is going to fix this, and some rumors have suggested that Apple is working on larger-screen iPhones, but that they won't be ready until 2014.

This has been a hot question during Apple's quarterly conference calls for the last three-to-four quarters as Samsung's Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note II took off (though iPhone outsells the GS3 by a significant margin). In Tuesday's call, Ben Reitzes of Barclays took on the role of questioner when he asked:

I just wanted to get your reaction to what you thought of the 5-inch phone market at this time versus three months ago, and if anything has changed in your view as to that market and its place in the smartphone world versus your 4-inch product.

"Ben, that's a good question," Tim Cook said, a reply he usually offers on subjects he appears keen on addressing publicly. "My view continues to be that iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry. And we always strive to create the very best display for our customers."

He added, "Some customers value large screen size. Others value other factors, such as resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility of apps, many things."

All of those things are true, of course, but his next line is where he laid the law, saying, "Our competitors have made some significant tradeoffs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these tradeoffs exist."

In other words, to channel Orson Welles hawking wine, "We will sell no 5-inch iPhone before its time." Mr. Cook is arguing that it makes more sense for Apple to wait until it can make a 5-inch iPhone that offers the same experience, performance, and quality as the company's current Retina Display.

Orson Welles - We Will Sell No iPhone Before Its Time

Orson Welles - We Will Sell No iPhone Before Its Time

This is almost identical to the language Mr. Cook used when analysts asked when an LTE-capable iPhone would hit the market. Mr. Cook noted that the early LTE Android devices had talk time measured in minutes, not hours, and that was with a large and heavy battery.

Apple waited to introduce LTE until the iPhone 5 using a radio chipset with performance that was high enough to better the non-LTE performance in the iPhone 4S. If we apply the lessons of the past to today's issue, Apple won't release a 5-inch iPhone until it's ready for prime time.

Fandroids will scoff and hold up their phablets and say that Samsung/HTC/etc. has already done this. The HTC One (not actually shipping yet) is a gorgeous and highly-touted device, while Samsung's GS3 has been very popular, if not as popular as the iPhone.

I personally said that the Galaxy S4 that is scheduled to ship in May will have a fantastic display (as announced). The Galaxy Note II, of course, is in a class of its own at the even larger 5.5-inch size.

When you look at all those factors Tim Cook listed above—"resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility of apps"—the iPhone 5 truly does have the best display on the market.

If you accept Apple's assertion, it makes sense for Apple to wait until it is possible to match those factors in the larger form factor. If you do not—if all you care about is a subset of those qualities—it doesn't make sense and Apple is stupid and doomed and doesn't innovate and SHUT UP APPLE SUCKS LOSER!

The real question will be when can Apple do meet its own criteria? Could Apple meet its own qualitative goals in time for a fall release for a new iPhone, or are the vague rumors that Apple will wait until 2014 correct?

My reading of Mr. Cook's comments is that a larger-screen iPhone will come, but it will be later, rather than earlier. I believe he would have answered the question differently if the next iteration of the iPhone was going to include such a display.

Perhaps, something like "As you know, our policy is not to comment on unannounced products, but if we think we can compete meaningfully with a larger screen iPhone, it's a market we will address."

All told, this conference call caused me to put more credence in the rumors that claim Apple will introduce a less expensive iPhone for emerging markets, the so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China this year, while the larger iPhone will come in 2014.

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11 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The difference here (I think and hope) is that Orson Wells was p*ss drunk when filming those commercials. Not sure how I got there recently, but some outtakes on YouTube are spit whiskey through your nose hilarious.

Bryan Chaffin

I found some on Funny or Die, Brad. Entertaining. smile

Kart

I miss Steve Jobs! http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml

Nick

I strongly believe that Tim Cook is unfit to run apple. I personally think it’s time I have 5 inches iPhone display in the palm of my hands.

Jim

I agree, Cook has not proven he is fit to run Apple. There appears to be a total lack of creativity in Cupertino. Under his guidance Apple is falling fas, recent sales and profit numbers bear this out. I can no longer trust the software updates from Apple as being anything that is reliable or anything that I actually would ever want, this includes the horendous current version of iTunes and it’s patches, Mountain Lion and Aperture. Is there anyone running the software development other than a bunch of teenages?

BurmaYank

@Nick:
If you could ”...have 5 inches iPhone display in the palm of my hands…” , you must also be able to easily pick up a basketball from the floor with that one hand and you probably must stand at least 7 feet (or more than 2 meters) tall!

geoduck

Personally I want a phone to be a phone and a tablet to be a tablet. I’ve had to use other people’s 5” Samsung phones and found them to be uncomfortable, and I’m a big guy. OTOH I find the display to be too small for tablet use.

As far as the low cost iPhone I would love to see one but I’ll be furious if it’s only sold in BRIC countries. I really want to get an iPhone but I haven’t been able to justify $700 up front for an iPhone5 or even $450 for an iPhone4, ( I never get a phone on contract. I buy it and go month to month). I could justify one for $300. Till then I’ll keep using my LG ‘dumb-phone and iPodTouch.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

No doubt the iPhone has a very nice display. But you know how basketball coaches say that you can’t teach height? Same with phone size. If you want a bigger phone, the very nice screen quality of the small one doesn’t matter.

Why would you want a bigger phone, even if resolution, etc. were not as good?
1. Reading large backlit text is easier on older eyes than reading high quality (e-ink) text or smaller text.
2. Larger control areas for the young and old, who don’t always have optimum motor control.
3. Pictures look better on a crappy 5+” screen than on the best 4” when you’re sharing with friends.

webjprgm

For reading and sharing photos I imagine one would want the largest device that would comfortably fit in one’s pocket.  That size would vary based on what kind of pants, dress and/or purse the user had. (I have a mix of carpenter jeans, dress pants, and cargos. The iPhone 5 is about the largest that fits in the carpenter jeans side pocket.)

But as a convenient phone, communication device, and quick fact checker, a one-hand experience is better which is very hard to do with a 5” phablet.  Two-handed typing, though, might be easier on the phablet. I haven’t tried it myself.

I use my thin, one-handed phone most of the time and pull out a 7” iPad mini when I want to read or take notes.  it’s not too heavy or too large to carry around when I know I’ll need it.  If I’m at home I pull out the older 9.7” iPad retina for magazines or videos.

So in practice I find the 4” size to be the largest that fits in my pocket and I can select the most optimal device for the desired use.  Of course, I’m a computer guy who goes out of my way to surround myself with stuff like this, whereas many people would only be able to choose a single device.  Is that who wants 5” phones? Or do they just have bigger pockets?

wab95

Bryan:

I wanted to respond to this, but recent events have afforded little time.

I also wanted to make sure that I was properly deciphering Cook Code, so I decided to run the following statements through my Universal Translator. This is how my UT decoded Cook:

“Some customers value large screen size. Others value other factors, such as resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility of apps, many things.”

Translation: “There are two types of customers; those with a myopic focus on a single feature or on specs, and those in search of a solution to challenges in managing their digital lives. One of these values, for example, a big screen, and would buy a piece of [redacted] if it had a big enough screen glued onto it, and the other looks at the ecosystem in toto and how a device fits within that system, and whether or not the whole package addresses their need. We’re not even trying to go after the first customer, although we wish them well, whereas we work tirelessly for the latter”.

As you can see, Cook Code is economical; it’s amazing how much more content there is to it when translated into human standard prose.

“Our competitors have made some significant tradeoffs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these tradeoffs exist.”

Translation: “By our standards, our competitors ship crap with a big display. We won’t make crap, and we certainly won’t ship it. If we can provide a larger display on a device that does not compromise best in class user experience, which is the investment that we attempt to build upon and leverage with every new product or product refresh, then we will consider doing so if we feel it addresses a real or potential need in our target market, but no promises. It has to be cost effective”.

Cook Code is like a compressed file that expands when opened by the right translation; or perhaps there’s something wrong with my Universal Translator; it has been awhile since I last had it serviced.

BTW: I love the sarcasm implicit in that gargantu-phone being held by the venerable Mr Welles. My arm hurts just thinking about holding that thing up to my face. Perhaps if Peter Gabriel reprises his ‘80s hit, ‘Big’, for the 21st Century, he’ll add a line about how he’ll only talk into a big phone.

yazi

I had an iphone 4. It was getting old, and starting to fall apart, and I wanted to try Android, so I got a Galaxy SIII.

While I don’t hate it, the quality doesn’t come close, and Android is fun to play with, but not as good for day-to-day use (IMO).

I’ll get an iPhone next time. I couldn’t afford a Mac so I bought an HP. I use it once a month, maybe.

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