Apple CEO Says TV Is ‘Intense Focus,’ Sees Closer Facebook Ties

Apple Inc. (AAPL) Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said that television is an area of “intense focus” for the company as it seeks to add products that can build on the success of Macs, iPhones and iPads.

“This is an area of intense focus for us,” Cook said of TV in an on-stage interview yesterday at the D10 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. “We’re going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us.”

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, before he died last year, told his biographer that he had “finally cracked” how to build a TV with a simple user interface that would wirelessly synchronize content with Apple’s other devices. The company is working on a television that may be unveiled this year and released in 2013, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos.

Apple turned to Jeff Robin, the software engineer who built the iTunes media store and helped create the iPod, to lead its development of a TV set, people with knowledge of the product said last year.

The company sells a set-top box called Apple TV that lets customers stream video from Apple products or the Internet to their TVs. Still, that device has yet to gain wide acceptance, and Apple executives have called it a “hobby.”

During the conference, put on by the AllThingsD technology blog, Cook said that Apple has “great appreciation” for Facebook Inc. (FB), the largest social-networking service.

“The relationship is very solid,” he said. “We have great respect for them. I think we can do more with them. Stay tuned on this one.”

Takeovers, Transparency

In the wide-ranging interview, Cook also said that Apple remains on the lookout for acquisitions, though it’s not currently seeking a large-sized deal. He also said that it’s possible that more manufacturing of his company’s products will happen in the U.S. The iPhone, Apple’s best-selling device, might one day be assembled in the U.S., he said.

Much of the manufacturing and assembly of Apple products takes place in factories in Asia, which have come under criticism for treatment of workers. Cook said yesterday that the company is moving toward greater transparency in areas such as supplier responsibility and environmental sustainability.

Even as the company discloses more in those areas, it will redouble efforts to keep products under wraps while they are still under development, Cook said.

Responding to criticism that Apple’s Siri voice- recognition service has functioned improperly for some users, Cook said Apple is working to improve the technology.

Siri, IAd

“There’s more that it can do, and we have a lot of people working on this, and I think you’ll be really pleased with some of the things that you’ll see over the coming months,” Cook said.

Cook also said that the company’s iAd online advertising effort wasn’t essential to Apple’s future, which would remain centered on hardware.

“When I was talking about the things at Apple that make up the four legs of the stool, I didn’t mention that one,” Cook said, referring to Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads.

Before becoming CEO last year, Cook was Apple’s chief operating officer, leading the company’s vast supply chain. He joined the company in 1998 from Compaq Computer Corp. and was instrumental in managing the operational side of Apple’s business while long-time CEO Jobs concentrated on product development and marketing.

The company’s gross margins of 47 percent last quarter are more than double those of rivals Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Dell Inc. (DELL)

Jobs Woos Cook

The interview comes ahead of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The company is slated to unveil a new line-up of Mac laptops, as well as show off new features for the latest mobile operating system that powers the iPad and iPhone, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

A new iPhone, which accounts for more than half the company’s sales, is expected to be unveiled by October, according to analysts, includingMunster.

Cook also spent part of the interview reflecting on Jobs, who recruited him from Compaq when he had no intention of leaving the rival computer maker. After ignoring numerous calls from executive recruiters working on behalf of Apple, Cook agreed to meet with Jobs on a Saturday morning, he said.

Jobs discussed his vision for iMac computers and sold him on the company’s ambitious plans to sell to consumers, he said.

“Five minutes into the conversation, I wanted to join Apple,” Cook said. “He painted a story, a strategy, that he was taking Apple deep into consumer at a time when I knew that other people were doing the exact opposite. And I’ve never thought following the herd was a good strategy.”

“I went back and resigned immediately,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Douglas MacMillan in San Francisco at dmacmillan3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

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