Apple's Cook hints at upcoming iPhone 5... or something

CEO Tim Cook doesn't flatly rule out the possibility of a fall product transition, noting that there's "incredible anticipation out there for a future product."

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read
Cook announces the Verizon Wireless version of the iPhone in 2011.

Apple management still isn't talking about the timeline for the arrival of an iPhone 5, but the company dropped a broad hint that past would be prologue.

There has been a flurry of iPhone 5 rumors of late but Apple, which is famous for not talking about its product plans, has remained mum about what's next for its best-selling smartphone.

Until today.

"Can you talk a little bit about that? What's the sequential change in margins you're talking about, and how much do you expect to get back in the December quarter?" an analyst from Barclays asked about the fall product transition. "Do you have any idea with the iPhone, how much rumors and speculations hurt sales?"

Playing this one close to his proverbial vest, CEO Tim Cook nonetheless threw down a few breadcrumbs.

"It's difficult to sort out. I am fairly convinced that there's an incredible anticipation out there for a future product. And as you would expect given what we would be able to deliver in the past...it's a reasonable amount. In terms of channel inventory, we put our current thinking in the guidance (CFO Peter Oppenheimer) provided you."

Not exactly a "no-way, are you out of your mind, fella?" response. Which is just what the chatterboxes who power the rumor mill were waiting for. So if it's not a flat "no," is it a "yes"?

Cook was also asked several times in roundabout ways about a smaller iPad to compete in lower price-band areas, such as that populated by Google's $199, 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet. He didn't take the bait.

"Our north star will be making the best products in the world -- that's what we breath, that's why we live and we are not changing that," he said. " Economic turmoil may push us from side to side, but we're going to stay focused on making the best product. We've seen again and again over the years, that this is when we distance ourselves further from people who don't innovate."

He allowed that Apple could be more aggressive on price points. "We did that with the $399 iPad a few months ago, and the iPhone 3GS, which is free on contract in the U.S. and a few other places," Cook said.

The speculation will continue, and that appears to please Cook. "I am glad people want the next thing, I'm superhappy about that," he said. "I'm not going to put any energy into getting people to stop speculating."

Updated at 3:34 p.m. PT with a new headline and more details from the earnings calls.

Watch this: The latest iPhone 5 rumors