Apple says its iPhone 4 profit margin is not as big as some published reports claim.  (Source: Apple)

Apple revealed in its conference call that its $1B USD N.C. data center will be online by the year's end, but, secretive as ever, it would not discuss what it was for.  (Source:
Company opts not to talk about Facetime interoperability, data center in conference call

For Apple there's the good, the bad, and the ugly right now.  The good is that the company just posted another quarter of impressive sales and earnings.  The bad is that it's finding itself increasingly the target of antitrust attention in the U.S. and abroad thanks to its growing size.  And the ugly is certainly the reaction of customers to Apple's announcement that it would not be offering a recall or direct engineering fix to the iPhone's antenna woes (Apple's preferred solution is to hand out free cases that limit the issue).

Amid that backdrop Apple chief executive officer Steven P. Jobs, chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer, and chief operations officer Tim Cook took part in a quarterly conference call that was equally interesting for what was left unsaid as what was said.

The first jewel from the press conference was an attack by Oppenheimer on iSuppli's estimates of the iPhone's cost.  According to iSuppli, the recently released fourth generation iPhone costs $187.51 in parts (and with contract reportedly brings Apple around $600 per phone sold).  And iSuppli also has estimated that the $499 Wi-Fi iPad costs a mere $260 to make.

If accurate, even given the cost of labor and engineering, those numbers would indicate a massive profit margin.  While not officially calling out iSuppli by name, Oppenheimer suggest that the published estimates may be suspect.  He stated in the call, "I'm suggesting you don't put a lot of credence in these third party reports."

Actually this may be more than just Apple trying to disguise its profit margins -- there may be a legitimate question of the iSuppli estimates' validity.  According to 
Techcrunch, "iSuppli is well-known for low-balling these numbers in an effort to convince manufacturers to contact them in order to connect with their preferred suppliers, so grains of salt must be taken."

Also interesting in the conference call was Apple's refusal to talk about its upcoming $1B USD North Carolina data center that will be completed by the end of the year.  The 500,000 foot structure is five times larger than the company's current data center in Newark, California.  While Apple refused to discuss how it would be put to use it is widely expected that Apple may use it to launch a streaming music subscription service.

If Apple launches a service it will likely come bundled with a DRM scheme different than that backed by its competitors.  Sony, Samsung, Nokia, Adobe, Cisco, HP, Toshiba, Microsoft and Intel are all backing a new cloud DRM scheme called UltraViolet -- which Apple wants no part of and will likely try to lock out of its devices.

Of the data center's completion Oppenheimer would only cryptically state: "And then we plan to use it."

Also interesting was that Apple failed to discuss Facetime interoperability.  Currently only available for video chats between iPhone 4s, Steve Jobs has said a spec would be published allowing calls to other devices.  He has not made it clear whether this might include competitors' phones like the Sprint HTC EVO 4G powered by Android.  Video chats with webcam-equipped Windows notebooks could also be possible.  Cook deflected this question, though, stating, "Punting that one for another day."

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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