Tim Cook Grabs Spotlight, Lifts Apple's Sagging Image

Apple CEO Tim Cook was a man on the move this week - at the State of the Union Address and at a Goldman Sachs tech conference - touting Apple's new push for affordability.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is having a good week.

Cook attended the State of the Union address as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama and got a verbal fist-bump from the President. Earlier in the day, he spoke at the Goldman Sachs Internet and Technology Conference, where topics ranged from affordable product pricing to Prozac.

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It's about time Cook basked in a little glory. After all, he's had a bad run recently, helplessly watching Apple's stock slide while delivering the earnings report last month. Clearly, Wall Street no longer sees Apple as a high-growth company and casts doubt about its ability to innovate.

At the Goldman Sachs conference, Cook said Apple will make products more affordable. It's an about-face to Apple's tradition of high-end, premium-priced products. Rather than making a cheap product, though, Cook referred to Apple's practice of dramatically discounting older models whenever a new model hits the market.

"We are making moves to make things more affordable," Cook said. "Instead of saying how we can cheapen this iPod to get it lower, we said how can we do a great product, and we were able to do that—the same thing, but in a different concept in some ways."

This is important for CIOs, because older Apple models play well in the enterprise. For instance, retailer Home Depot recently told Apple Insider that it plans to displace some 10,000 BlackBerry smartphones for iPhone 4S devices, not iPhone 5s.

(A Home Depot spokesperson confirmed the switch but declined to give details, only to clarify that the switched smartphones are not ones used in stores.)

Interestingly, Cook said his team couldn't build a cheaper Mac without sacrificing quality, but a new form factor such as the iPad solves the problem. In a research note, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Muster suggested the rumored iWatch could do the same for the iPhone in emerging markets.

On the lighter side, Cook joked that whenever his energy droops, he recharges by going shopping at an Apple store. Of course, it's doubtful that he actually buys anything. "If I ever feel like I'm dropping down to a level that's below excited, I go to the Apple Store," he said. "It's like a Prozac!"

Slideshow: Apple Innovation: 10 Future Tech Ideas

Later that day, Cook attended the State of the Union address. At one point, President Barack Obama's speech turned to the return of U.S. manufacturing. "This year, Apple will start making Macs in America," President Obama said, and television cameras turned to a beaming Cook.

Of course, Apple's "Macs in America" gesture late last year sounds like a marketing ploy. After all, they're probably iMacs. Apple's $100 million U.S. manufacturing investment is a paltry sum relative to its $120 billion cash on hand. But it bought Cook and Apple some good press at the State of the Union address.

Nevertheless, Cook's appearances this week are a good rebuttal to Apple's sagging image.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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