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

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.