Shareholders take stock of Apple

At annual meeting, Steve Jobs tells shareholders that Apple's doing well by the environment, as well as in its shift to Intel processors.

CUPERTINO, Calif.--Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs defended his company's environmental practices during the annual shareholder meeting, but also took time to reflect on market share and the Mac maker's transition to Intel chips.

Shareholders gathered at Apple's campus here on Thursday to vote on three proposals this year. Preliminary voting indicated that shareholders approved proposals to re-elect Apple's board of directors and to extend its contract with its auditor, KPMG.

However, they did not approve a shareholder proposal to require Apple to set recycling goals, based on preliminary voting. The final voting results will be announced when Apple files its 10-Q report with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Jobs said Apple now ranks somewhere between Hewlett-Packard and Dell when it comes to recovering old computers, based on the percentage of sales that each company recovers.

"We're a little better than HP, and a little worse than Dell," he said.

The tone of the recycling debate this year was far more cordial than last year, when protestors gathered outside Apple's headquarters to criticize the company's recycling efforts, and Jobs compared the negative assessments of Apple's environmental record to cow excrement.

Part of the reason was that Apple recently announced a free computer take-back program that will allow new Macintosh owners to trade in their old Macs or PCs at Apple stores or through the mail. The company currently accepts free trade-ins at its offices here and offers a recycling service for a fee, but will start the free program in June.

But Jobs still faced questions from investors who wanted him to set a numerical goal for Apple's recycling program. He declined, but noted that the company has all but eliminated harmful CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors from its product line, with the eMac the only remaining Mac that comes with a CRT display. "We might be sitting here next year with none," while other PC vendors continue to sell CRT monitors that are responsible for a great deal of pollution, he said.

In other perennial concerns, investors asked Jobs why Apple hasn't captured a larger percentage of the PC market given the runaway success of the iPod. "We would like to increase our market share, and the Intel switch will help us do that," Jobs responded. He said the transition is going more smoothly than he had envisioned, compared with past transitions like the move from 680x0 processors to Power PC processors or the move from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X.

Apple acknowledged that it has felt some mild pain from flat sales as some customers wait for the wholesale conversion of the product line to Intel's chips. But once that is completed by the end of this year Mac growth should improve, Jobs said.

"Each point of market share means $2 billion in top-line revenue," said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, who joined Jobs onstage to field questions from the audience.

One investor asked Jobs to respond to worries that his new position on Disney's board of directors, following that company's acquisition of Pixar Animation Studio, would detract from his attention to Apple. He said the opposite was true, because his responsibilities as a Disney director would actually allow him more time to concentrate on Apple than he had as CEO of Pixar.

Jobs and Apple seem more worried about the macroeconomic environment than the health of the PC market, which some analysts feel is in line for slower growth this year.

"One of the nice things about having 4 or 5 percent market share is you don't really care if (the PC) market is down," he said. But the overall state of the consumer economy does have a big effect on Apple's fortunes, he said, noting that "$70 a barrel oil has to catch up with us at some point."

The CEO also fielded a few questions that he probably doesn't get very often. He doesn't plan on running in San Francisco's upcoming annual Bay to Breakers race this year, joking "I probably wouldn't finish if I did." And a shareholder who works for local jazz station KCSM appeared one step closer to getting the station's audio feed listed on iTunes.

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