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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Analysts fail to perform Jedi Mind Trick on Apple CEO

You do comment on unannounced products…

Analysts are like the rest of us. They want to know what Apple’s got up its sleeve in terms of new product introductions. The difference between them and us is, every three months they get on the phone with Tim Cook and get to ask him a question or two. And some analysts just can’t resist an attempt to get Cook to slip up or play coy or otherwise violate the first rule of Apple Club: We do not comment on unannounced products.

Gene Munster—who spent several years trying to get Apple to admit it was making a TV set, but to no avail—attempted to confuse Cook with a run-on sentence: “Historically in terms of new product categories you guys have always looked for unique advantage before getting into a segment, and I’m curious about the car, and there are a lot of rumors out there, and would like your perspective on how you think about an advantage that Apple could add in the auto space.”

Cook’s response is pretty great, because he knows that we know that he knows that we know about Project Titan. But we know that he knows that… well, you get the idea.

“I can’t speak about rumors, but as you know, we look for ways that we can improve the customer’s experience on different sets of products, and we’re always looking at new things,” Cook said. “It’s clear there’s a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience, and so it’s interesting from that point of view. But certainly nothing to announce today.”

Are you sure, Tim? You sure you don’t want to announce the Apple Car 40 minutes deep into a telephone call? Okay, I guess, if you really want to be that way.

Steve Milunovich of UBS also took a run at Cook. “Does Apple today have a grand strategy for what you want to do? I know you won’t tell us what it is, but do you know what you want to do over the next three to maybe five years?” (In other words, I know you won’t tell me what you’re working on, but do you know what you’re working on, or are you going to be as surprised as the rest of us?)

Cook with the smackdown: “We have the strongest pipeline that we’ve ever had and we’re really confident about the things in it, but as usual, we’re not going to talk about what’s in it… We have a strong sense of where things go, and we’re very agile to shift as we need to.”

There were a couple more teases in the call as well. When asked about the possibility of Apple doing something in the media business—the question referenced AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner—Cook didn’t pooh-pooh it. “In terms of owning content and creating content, we have started with focusing on some original content… And I think it’s a great opportunity for us, both from a creation point of view and an ownership point of view,” he said. “It is an area that we’re focusing on.”

Similarly, Cook didn’t throw in-home digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home under the bus, though he could have. While extolling the virtues of Apple’s own approach with Siri, he qualified his comments: “I think that most people would like an assistant with them all the time… That doesn’t say that there’s not a nice market for a home one; I’m not making that point. I’m just saying that on a balance point of view, I think the usage of one on the phone will likely be much greater.”

Meanwhile, leave it to CFO Luca Maestri to be the biggest tease of all. “We’ll have some exciting news to share with current and future Mac owners very soon,” he said. See you at Town Hall on Thursday, Luca.

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