Apple COO Tim Cook Confirms Mobile Device Focus, Calls Apple TV a ‘Hobby’

Apple’s (s aapl) Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook wasn’t shy about the company’s focus through 2010, in a conversation with Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey. The talk took place at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference this Tuesday in San Francisco, and was given before an audience of investors. An audio stream of the talk is available here.

In general, the talk was what you’d expect. Cook sang the praises of the company’s current offerings, and gave highest praise to the yet to be released iPad, a device for which the company obviously has very high expectations. But he also took time to frame one of the company’s weakest sellers in a fairly dismissive light.

Cook called Apple TV “a hobby” owing to its low sales numbers when compared to the Mac line. He did, however, state that Apple would continue to invest money into its hobby, if only because “our gut tells us there’s something there.” While being dismissive about a weak seller is a good strategy when talking to investors, I can’t imagine the comments made do much for consumer confidence in Apple’s set top box, and it must be especially disheartening to hear for those that already own the product.

While downplaying Apple’s role in the home theatre TV-viewing aspect of consumers lives, Cook also couldn’t stress enough the significance the Mac maker has in terms of itsĀ viewing on mobile devices. Much of the talk focused on the iPad, which is rumored to be gearing up for pre-sale later this week. Cook basically reiterated the company line regarding the iPad’s considerable web browsing, email and photo viewing capabilities, and he went after netbooks, too:

The netbook is not an experience people are going to continue wanting to have. When they play with the iPad and experience the magic of using it… I have a hard time believing they’re going to go for a netbook.

I suppose when asked how your new product, which occupies an entirely new category, is going to compete with a tried and tested strong seller, “magic” is as good an answer as any. But Cook emphasized the company’s confidence in the product by pointing out how focused it manages to keep its product line, despite the temptation to grow it further, owing to the high number of great ideas they have coming from the elite staff they hire. He also reminded investors about the pricing strategy Apple took with the iPad, saying “we didn’t want to leave a pricing umbrella for competition, so we got very aggressive on this.”

Cook also said he wasn’t afraid of the iPad cannibalizing sales of its other products. That point I agree with, though I would be very afraid of the opposite being true. It seems to me that a lot of potential iPad owners would probably be better suited by an iPhone/iPod touch or a computer. The iPad could do more to help people choose a lane than encourage them to straddle two.

Another area Cook addressed was Apple retail, revealing that Apple hopes to aim higher this year than it has in 2008 and 2009 in terms of new store openings. It’s been staying closer to the 25 stores per year bottom end of its target range owing to the recent international economic troubles, but it has 50 new locations planned for 2010. The expansion plans bode well for the future, since the company depends so much on direct sales.

U.S. customers hoping for an end to exclusivity will be disappointed by Cook’s comments regarding AT&T (s att). He mainly discussed the advantages of a single carrier model, citing simplicity and the ability to work together in close partnership to introduce innovative new features. He also added that while Apple has seen more sales and higher profits in all the markets where multiple carriers have been introduced, that won’t necessarily be the case every time. Brave words considering there’s no data to back them up. Cook’s defense of the much-derided AT&T was definitely the low point of the talk, and struck me as fairly hollow overall.