CUPERTINO -- The biggest news out of Apple's annual shareholders meeting Friday morning was what didn't happen.
After beating the war drums for months to get Apple's board to buy back more of its stock, activist investor Carl Icahn yanked his proposal a few weeks back, thus stealing a lot of the thunder that the audience might otherwise have enjoyed.
"Shareholder proposal No. 10 was withdrawn and will not be presented at this meeting," announced Apple's general counsel Bruce Sewell, effectively making the historically dull meeting even duller.
After shareholders approved the other largely pro forma proposals submitted by management and re-elected eight board members, including former Vice President Al Gore, CEO Tim Cook was in a jolly mood when he took the stage at Apple headquarters in Cupertino. Going far beyond the 60 minutes these annual meetings normally run, Cook launched into a litany of upbeat Apple product endorsements, calling the new MacBook Air not only "incredible" but "particularly incredible." He told the several hundred shareholders who had braved the rain to attend the meeting that Apple had made $1 billion in revenue from hardware as well as content sales in 2013 from the Apple TV, hinting that the product may well be moving beyond the "hobby" he has long referred to it as.
Some of Cook's comments came off a bit awkward. While he praised the new iPad Air as "really profound," he added that "when we looked at our first iPad, it looked great. But now when we look back at it, we're kind of embarrassed."
While Cook should be forgiven for trying to inject a note of levity into an event as boring as watching paint dry, he ended up teasing his audience in a most painful way. After boasting about Apple's $171 billion in revenue last year, "which is higher than any tech company in the history of the world," he dropped this line:
"We want to grow more," he said, with a sly grin. "And this morning, we want to unveil some new products ..."
It was reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs, who repeatedly would use lines like that just before hitting his product-launch audiences with some amazing new gadget. But after a pregnant pause, filled with an excited "Oooooohh" from the audience, Cook said: "I was kidding about that last part."
The audience collectively groaned, to which Cook replied: "Hey, I gotta have some fun."
The joke was a sore point for many investors who think Apple for several years now has failed to come up with a truly innovative and life-changing product, such as the iPhone and iPad -- a shortcoming that many think has contributed to Apple's sagging share price.
"We're big supporters of Apple, but lately it's just been more and more of the same," said Adam Gold, a longtime shareholder and portfolio manager for Espial Capital in New York City who had spoken earlier during the Q&A with Cook. "They're making billions and billions of dollars, but they need to come up with something truly imaginative and innovative, like Google did with Google Glass. Stock buybacks are not what we're looking for. We're talking autonomous cars, robots and other game-changing products we're seeing out there.
"I love Apple," Gold said. "But 2010 was the last time they showed us something really amazing. And it's now 2014, and in the meantime other companies have passed them by."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689. Follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.