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Apple CEO: 'We Care About Every Worker'

Tim Cook reiterates Apple's commitment to fair labor practices and highlights his company's focus on cloud services.

Apple: 2011 Year In Review
Apple: 2011 Year In Review
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated his company's commitment to fair labor practices and to a strategic shift toward cloud services.

Cook addressed the issue of working conditions at Apple's suppliers immediately. "The first thing that I would want everyone to know is that Apple takes working conditions very, very seriously, and we have for a very long time," he said. "Whether workers are in Europe or in Asia or in the United States, we care about every worker."

Longstanding criticism from labor rights groups finally came to a head last month following Apple's stellar earnings report. Apple had been moving to defuse the issue. In mid-January, it released its list of suppliers for the first time. But critical coverage in major newspapers and online continued and grew.

On Monday, Apple said that the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an independent labor group, has begun conducting voluntary audits of its suppliers in China.

[ Read Apple Invites Labor Inspectors To Foxconn, Other Suppliers. ]

Cook's assurances set a different tone than Apple's former leader, the late Steve Jobs. Whereas Jobs often came off as assured, exacting, and unyielding, Cook sounded more earthbound and empathetic. He spoke of personal experience working in factories. And his prior job as Apple's COO left him with intimate knowledge of Apple's supply chain.

No one in the tech industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple, Cook insisted.

With that, Cook switched to more comfortable topics, namely Apple's success and the opportunity ahead. Despite the fact that Apple sold 37 million iPhones in its most recent quarter, Cook said that was just 9% of the handset market and suggested there is enormous opportunity ahead, particularly in China.

There will also be challenges. Apple is currently trying to avert the possible ban on sales of its iPad in China as a result of a trademark claim by Chinese display maker Proview.

Nevertheless, Cook predicted that the tablet market will surpass the unit sales in the PC market, noting that Apple has sold 55 million iPads in less than two years. It took 22 years to sell that many Macs, he said.

After touching on Apple's still-undecided plans for its almost $100 billion pile of cash and for Apple TV--still described as "a hobby"--Cook revealed that Apple now has 100 million users of iCloud. That's about as many users as Google has at the moment for its Google+ social network and iCloud was launched four months later.

"I view iCloud not as something with a year or two product life," he said. "It's a strategy for the next decade or more. So I think it's truly profound."

Profound, too, is Siri, Cook said. Cloud services and voice input are not inconsequential projects, he argued. They're technological shifts you'll recall for your grandchildren--that is, assuming Siri hasn't already bored them with the tale.

IT's jumping into cloud services with too much custom code and too little planning, our annual State of Cloud Computing Survey finds. The new Leap Of Cloud Faith issue of InformationWeek shows you what to be aware of when using the cloud. Also in this issue: Cloud success stories from Six Flags and Yelp, and how to write a SAN RFI. (Free registration required.)

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