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This one Tim Cook comment is key to understanding Apple's big plans

Apple's tight-lipped CEO Tim Cook just hinted at the company's plans with chips, acquisitions, cars and China all in one comment.

Apple announced in May a $1 billion investment in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a rare move for a company that tends to hang on to its cash. Cook weighed in on the decision on Tuesday, and his remarks touch on three strategies that have been at the nexus of Wall Street's commentary.

"We obviously invest a lot of capital in our business itself to support research and development," Cook said. "However, we're constantly looking on the outside for great talent, and great intellectual property. And we have been buying companies, on average, every three to four weeks or so."

He added:

"In terms of the investment in Didi, it was an unusual investment in that, as you know, we don't have a long history of doing a lot of these," Cook told investors on a conference call following the third-quarter earnings report. "We have done some before. We invested in ARM in the early days, we invested in Akamai and a few other companies, so it wasn't the first. From a Didi point of view, we see that as one, a great investment. Two, we think that there's some strategic things that the companies can do together over time. And three, we think that we'll learn a lot about the business and the Chinese market beyond what we currently know. Didi has an incredible team there. That's sort of the rational for why we did that."

Takeaway 1: Acquisitions, chips and Apple's cash pile

Incidentally, on Thursday, Apple also announced a licensing agreement with CBS Television Studio's "Carpool Karaoke." While Cook admits it's rare to draw down its massive $231.5 billion cash hoard, it actually did decline this quarter.

But he also compared Didi to a specific prior investment that just had a big payoff.

Chip designer ARM agreed to be acquired by Japan's Softbank for around $32 billion this month, a blockbuster deal for big tech — and as Cook notes, one of Apple's few past investments.

Perhaps a harbinger for things to come, Apple's investment in the chip business has not gone unnoticed in Silicon Valley.

"They are doing something kind of bold that may not come to the surface. If you look at who they're hiring around Silicon Valley, they're scooping up all the best chip engineers," Kevin Landis, chief investment officer for Firsthand Capital Management, told CNBC's "Closing Bell." "They have been for the last several years. They're going to be the number 1 chip company in the world before too long. We're not used to thinking of Apple as a chip company, but here they come."

Takeaway 2: Drumbeat grows on Apple Car

What sort of "strategic things" could Apple with the transportation company? Reports, unconfirmed by Apple, have hinted that the company may be working on a car.

The Didi investment comes amid unconfirmed reports that Apple is developing an electric, autonomous vehicle.

Indeed, on Monday, The Wall Street Journal said that the iCar, dubbed "Project Titan," might have just gotten a big-wig new boss.

Takeaway 3: Searching for the key China

Apple's plans to understand the "Chinese market beyond what we currently know" come as performance in China has also been central for investors.

That's after currency pressures in Hong Kong weighed on last quarter's earnings. Competition in China's market has intensified, which some say may threaten iPhone market share there. Meanwhile, regulators have tried legal maneuvers to ban certain iPhones in Beijing.

Sales in China were down 33 percent year over year to $8.8 billion in the third quarter, but Cook said that their underlying business in China is stronger than results imply, and that he's "very optimistic" about long-term growth opportunities in China.