RANCHOS PALOS VERDES, California Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook said technology for televisions was of "intense interest" but stressed the company's efforts would unfold gradually amid speculation the iPad and iPhone maker was on the brink of unveiling a revolutionary iTV.
In one of his more revealing interviews since assuming the helm of the world's most valuable company, Cook also said he hoped someday to see Apple products manufactured in the United States and outlined his approach to managing an organization long-associated with its late founder Steve Jobs.
"Another thing that Steve taught us all is to not to be focused on the past," Cook told this year's All Things Digital conference, an annual gathering of A-list technology and media executives in the upscale California coastal resort town of Rancho Palos Verdes.
Industry insiders and executives say Apple may unveil a TV-based device in late 2012 or 2013 that has the potential to shake up the cozy television content and distribution industry the way the iPod and iPhone disrupted music and mobile content, but Cook has steered clear of commenting on that issue directly.
"This is an area of intense interest for us," Cook said, referring to Apple's existing television set-top box product. "We're going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us."
When asked specifically if Apple was making a television set, Cook said he was not going to answer that question.
Apple already sells a $99 set top box called Apple TV that streams Netflix and other content. Cook, who has previously said the Apple TV product had a hobby status inside the company, noted the company was sticking with it despite not being known as a "hobby kind of company."
"Here's the way we would look at that, not just at this area but other areas, and ask can we control the key technology?" he said in response to a question about how Apple thinks about improving the television experience for consumers. "Can we make a significant contribution, far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we would want?"
Apple has been in negotiations with content companies for its devices. It began talks earlier this year to stream films owned by EPIX, which is backed by three major movie studios.
The company has a good relationship with content owners and doesn't see the need to own a content business, Cook said, adding he has met with several people in that business recently.
MADE IN USA?
In wide-ranging remarks, Cook said he would like to see more of the company's products assembled at home than in China and contain more U.S. components such as semiconductors.
Apple has been criticized for relying on low-cost Asian manufacturers to assemble its products and for contributing to the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
Cook, who took the helm of the world's most valuable technology company in August shortly before founder Steve Jobs died, said manufacturing in the United States was difficult because of declining tool-and-die manufacturing expertise, among other things, but he was working on it.
"There are things that can be done in the U.S., not just for the U.S. market but that can be exported for the world," Cook said. "On the assembly piece, could that be done in the U.S.? I hope so, again, one day," he added.
Apple's final assembly is done through Asian contract manufacturers, particularly Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group and its listed entity Hon Hai Precision. Cook noted that Apple does some component manufacturing in the United States, including the main microchip that runs the iPhone and iPad.
Apple makes the A5 processor in a 1.6 million square-foot factory in Austin, Texas, owned by Korean electronics giant Samsung Electronics.
Cook also said some of the glass for the iPhone and iPad is made in a plant in Kentucky.
The CEO talked about how the iPad was just in the "first innings," but declined to say what was in store for it next.
He reiterated his belief that many consumers will use the iPad more than computers. In response to a question about PC software-maker Microsoft Corp's efforts to enter the tablet market, Cook brushed off the threat.
"The more you look at the tablet as a PC, the more the baggage from the past affects the product," he said.
Apple released the iPad in 2010 and it has quickly defined the tablet computer market, selling more than 67 million units so far.
DOUBLING DOWN ON SECRECY
The 51-year old Cook said he spends less time focused on marketing and design as CEO than his predecessor, who Cook said spent "virtually all of his time on those two things."
At a company the size of Apple, Cook said, having a strong team is critical.
"You could have an S on your chest and a cape on your back and not be able to do everything," said Cook, who later cited Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr as well as Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger as figures that he looks up to.
Cook also discussed efforts to make the company more transparent on certain issues, such as supplier responsibility and environmental matters, but stressed he was committed to preserving Apple's culture.
One Jobs legacy that Cook flagged is Apple's well-known penchant for going to great lengths to keep details of new products under tight wraps, noting that he planned to "double down on secrecy" on products.
But he suggested Apple would not be constrained by its past.
"I love museums, but I don't want to live in one," he said.
(Editing by Matt Driskill and Mark Potter)