Apple CEO Tim Cook Says iPhone Expansion Plans Include 50 More Carriers This Quarter

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In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained his views on topics ranging from smartphones to cash return to shareholders. To understand how Apple will make decisions in the future, it’s important to parse his words and thoughts. Briefly below we’ll look at the financial and the strategic comments made by the technology executive.

Strategic

As has been recently pointed out by ZDNet’s Ed Bott, Apple generates more than half its revenue from the iPhone line of smartphones. No other product group at Apple breaks the 20 percent mark.

Given that reality, Apple’s work to expand the carrier base that it can sell iPhones into is key for the company. According to Cook, Apple will pick up 50 new carriers globally this quarter alone. That’s nearly breakneck pace.

For the company, the Chinese market is a key growth opportunity. Apple is working with China Mobile to drive adoption of its iconic iOS smartphones in the country. Still, according to Cook, “even with adding China Mobile, we still only present our products to two-thirds of the subscribers in the world.”

Next, the PC. Cook claims that Apple is still investing heavily in its Mac line of PCs. Said the CEO: “we haven’t given up on the Mac. A lot of people are throwing in the towel right now on the PC. We’re still spending an enormous amount on really great talent and people on the Macs of the future. And we have some really cool things coming out there. Because we believe as people walk away from the PC, it becomes clear that the Mac is what you want if you want a PC.”

So post-PC? Perhaps not yet.

Financial

Apple is more than open to potential acquisition deals that top the billion-dollar mark, its CEO TIm Cook disclosed. While rival firms, such as Google, have been using extra cash to reel in firms for sums in the 10-figure range, Apple has sat out. Ironically, almost, given that it has the most cash of any technology firm.

Despite its lack of participation in this particular dance, Cook said that his firm has “zero” issue spending more than a billion dollars on a smaller company, provided that the deal is “in the best interest of Apple in the long-term.” With cash reserves north of the $100 billion mark, Apple could afford a grip of such deals.

Google recently purchased Nest for $3.2 billion. Lenovo recently picked up much of Motorola for $2.9 billion. Yahoo tossed more than $1 billion at Tumblr. Microsoft threw down north of $7 billion for Nokia’s hardware division, and Facebook tried to pick up Snapchat for several billion. Apple, the Journal notes, has never spent a billion or more on a single purchase.

Acquisitions aside, Cook also explained his views on how best to return cash to stakeholders in the company. It’s no small issue: Apple is so rich some investors want it to return more dollars, more quickly, to the distributed pool of owners of its stock. Apple’s dividend and share repurchase plans only started a few years ago and have returns in gross dollars more than most firms could dream of.

However, according to Google Finance, Apple’s dividend yield of 2.35 percent is lower than Microsoft’s 3.06 percent. To ask Apple to increase its cash return strategies is therefore not beyond the pale.

In the face of questions regarding a $50 billion distribution proposed by activist investor Carl Icahn, Cook was demure:

We think you want a cash-return program that’s flexible. We may see a huge company tomorrow that we want to acquire or something may happen in the stock market that’s unpredictable. You want to be able to adjust for the long-term interest of the shareholders, not for the short-term shareholder, not for the day trader.

As far as subtle jabs at gadflies go, that’s not a bad one.

Finally, is Apple’s growth slowing? Slightly, but that doesn’t mean the firm is no longer a growth firm in the view of its CEO: “So when you say $14 billion to $15 billion [in revenue growth] compared to those numbers, it’s clearly smaller and a smaller percentage, but, to put it in some context, that’s like adding three Fortune 500 companies in a year.”

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