The All Things Digital conference was supposed to be a friendly affair for Apple. Usually the company’s CEO gets on stage and hints about a new product the company is working on, or pontificates about the next-generation of interaction paradigms Apple might embrace.
Granted, both of those things happened during Tim Cook’s appearance on stage at D11 but his talk was largely defined by the topic of Apple’s tax practices. Cook said on stage that he is in favour of tax reform and simplifying the 7,500 page US tax code, pointing to the fact that Apple’s tax return is nearly two feet tall. He also stressed again that Apple does not use “gimmicks” to avoid paying its fair share of taxes.
“The subcommittee was coming to certain conclusions and we felt strongly that we looked at those very differently. We thought it was very important to tell our story and view it as an opportunity instead of a pain in the ass,” he said of the proceedings that occurred last week.
While Cook also said the company’s “north star” is on making the best products, unfortunately for Apple its becoming less defined as a hub of innovation and more defined by its corporate ethics. Whether Apple pays enough in corporate taxes is a matter of politics, and those on different ends of the political spectrum are likely to disagree. For the record, Cook said it paid $6.5 billion last year in tax placing the company at an effective rate of 30.5%. Apple can’t shake the topic of taxes because it doesn’t have anything interesting in the product pipeline aside from refreshed versions of its existing gadgets.
Unless Apple can innovate again, it will enter its twilight being defined as a tax cheat . Of course WWDC takes place the week after Computex, so it’s not impossible – but also not likely – that the company could shake this negative PR with a product that wows.