Interpreting Apple's scriptMarch 20, 2012: 4:00 PM ET
True, Apple will not able to grow over the next 15 years as much as it has grown over the last 15. But CEO Tim Cook has listed several reasons why the tech giant still has plenty of room left to run.
FORTUNE -- Apple doesn't waste time. Its own, or anyone else's. That's what I thought when I disconnected my phone Monday at 6:23 a.m., at the conclusion of the Apple teleconference to discuss its new dividend-payment plans.
In 23 minutes, the company got out all its facts, answered some questions, prepared financial markets for its news and wrapped things up -- all while sticking to a carefully prepared script to explain the dividend and share buyback news.
Speaking of the script, and given how efficient Apple (AAPL) is with time, it's worthwhile to pause a day later to reflect on some of the elements of the message. Near the beginning of the call, in his prepared remarks, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a short homily on why implementing a dividend does not mean Apple will quit investing in its future or that it doesn't see growth opportunities. These are the reasons many tech companies give for not paying a dividend. Because we know the list is scripted, we know Cook and his communications team thought about each item on the list. So let's consider each item, why Cook mentioned it, and how he rank-ordered them.
"We are innovating at an incredible pace," Cook began, immediately launching into his list, which I will number and annotate:
1. "Building a tremendous ecosystem with apps and content." We all know about Apple's App Store ecosystem by now. The choice of the word "content" was interesting. Apple reportedly is discussing content deals with film and TV studios -- who, gloriously, leak more than the record companies did when iTunes was getting started. Apple also is building its e-book business, the subject of a Justice Department anti-trust investigation. It's noteworthy that Cook led here.
2. "Providing great services such as iCloud, which has already eclipsed over 100 million users within just a few months of its launch." For what it's worth, the people who like to chatter about this sort of thing don't consider iCloud a "great" service yet. It is clearly important to Apple, however.
3. "And we're delivering incredible developments like Siri, a profound new way to interface with the iPhone." Love it or hate it -- I don't love Siri yet -- the success of the iPhone 4S makes a mockery of those who were disappointed that it wasn't the iPhone 5. (I also don't love the use of "interface" as a verb. But I digress.)
4. "We are also investing in distribution around the world." Oh? More would have been great about this.
5. "We continue to open our own stores, including 40 this fiscal year alone." The Apple retail juggernaut continues, with or without Ron Johnson, now CEO at J.C. Penney (JCP).
6. "We are expanding our footprint with new carrier partners and other third-party resellers." Ho-hum. Boring business stuff. But wowza, more telecom partners than you've already got? And more retailers in addition to the likes of Best Buy (BBY), Walmart (WMT), and so on? Okay, good.
7. "And we are investing in our direct enterprise sales force." What was that? Calling out for all to hear that Apple is paying attention to "the enterprise," also known as business customers, also known as the kind of IT buyers Steve Jobs despised? This part was truly interesting. It's not news, by the way. Apple has been quietly building its enterprise sales force for years now. But emphasizing it in the context of how and why Apple is investing for growth was extremely telling.
And then Cook summed up:
Simply stated, we don't see ceilings to our opportunities. All of this innovation and success have led to the generation of substantial amounts of cash, both domestically and abroad. We have used some of our cash to make great investments in our business to increase research and development, acquisitions, new retail store openings, strategic prepayments in capital expenditures in our supply chain, and building out of our infrastructure, and you will see more of all of these in the future.
There's no question about it: Apple will not be able to grow over the next 15 years as much as it has grown over the last 15 years. Yet reading this list -- and reading between the lines of why Tim Cook chose what he chose to list -- it's hard to challenge the argument that this half-a-trillion-dollar company has plenty of room left to run.
Fortune Senior Editor at Large Adam Lashinsky is author of Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired--and Secretive--Company Really Works, which is full of witty analysis similar to the contents of this post.