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Steve's health, netbooks, Apple TV, and veiled threats

After the financial presentation, Oppenheimer was joined by acting-Steve Tim Cook - and naturally the first question from the online and phone-based audience was: "How's Steve?"

Oppenheimer and Cook, to no one's surprise, revealed no news. Oppenheimer reiterated that Jobs is "still the CEO," "plans to remain involved," and is active in all strategic decision-making, and that Cook is the go-to guy "for day-to-day operations."

Cook worked to deflect questions about what would happen to Apple if - Heaven forfend - Jobs doesn't return this June as promised. Apple's executive staff, Cook said, has "extraordinary depth and tenure," and the company is filled with people who are "all wicked smart" with Apple's "values extremely well-entrenched."

The Appleonians are, according to Cook, "constantly focused on innovating." He described the Apple culture as one in which "we don't settle for anything less than excellence," and that "no matter who is in charge, those values are deeply embedded in the company."

If that sounds as if Cook was trying to calm worried investors, it could be because Cook was trying to calm worried investors.

When asked about Apple's possible plans to enter the sub-$500 netbook market, Cook was having none of it. Although he admitted that Apple is "watching that space," he opined that netbooks have "hardware that's much less powerful than what customers want," citing "cramped keyboards" and "small displays." He summed up his disdain for "the netbook space" by simply saying: "We think the products there are inferior."

Straight talk - but if the Meltdown continues and netbook sales continue to rise, we assume Apple might notice.

Cook was kinder to the Apple TV. After noting that its sales are "up almost three times" since the same period last year, he allowed that: "We still consider this a hobby." However, it appears to be a hobby that Apple is evidently enjoying, as Cook said: "We'll continue to invest in [the Apple TV] because we fundamentally believe there's something there for the future."

Finally, the rising tide of iPhone competition was brought up. Cook first took the high road, joking: "It's difficult to judge products that are not yet in the market," then reminding the questioner: "We've said from the beginning that software's the key ingredient, and we believe we're years ahead in software development."

Then, without being prompted, he raised the temperature a bit when he said: "We like competition as long as they don't rip off our IP [intellectual property] - and if they do, we're going to go after anyone who does."

When the questioner asked if Cook was specifically referring to the recently announced Palm Pre, which some observers have implied borrows more than a little of the iPhone's look-and-feel, Cook backed down a touch. "I don't want to talk about any specific company," he said, "I'm just making a general statement."

But then he raised the threat level to DEFCON 1 when he said: "We will not stand for having our IP ripped off - and we will use any weapons that we have available. I don't think I can be any more clear than that."

No, Tim, I don't think you can.

Palm, it may be time to mobilize your lawyer corps. ®

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