Feb. 12, 2013 at 6:17 PM ET
A year after President Barack Obama gave a shout-out to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and a nod to his widow Laurene, Apple CEO Tim Cook will have a place of honor at Tuesday's State of the Union address. Cook will join NASA's "Mohawk Guy" and 22 others in special box seats set aside for the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden.
But why is Cook there? (Spoiler alert: The answer's at the bottom.) Is Obama flashing his fanboy credentials? Maybe hoping this will score him an early glimpse of the iPhone 6? The Obama administration does show more than its fair share of respect to Apple, and the fate of the company rests on Cook's shoulders. That still doesn't explain his presence amid the distinguished soldiers, civic heroes, survivors of tragedy and rising-star politicians.
Or better yet, how does Apple fit into the president's priorities? Those who are seated are honored, but they remain silent. In fact, when we asked Apple why Cook would be there, a spokesman referred us to the White House, which of course told us to just watch the speech.
So until that begins, we have to guess a bit.
During last year's State of the Union address, President Obama invoked the late Jobs when he sang the praises of American entrepreneurialism:
… An economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs. After all, innovation is what America has always been about.
Despite the fact that he was inseparable from his BlackBerry at the beginning of his first term, we know Obama is an avid fan of iPods, iPhones and iPads.
We also know Obama sought out Jobs while the tech icon was alive. In one instance, in February, 2011, the president paid a visit to Silicon Valley, and sat between Steve Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during dinner. The topic of that discussion? Applying the success of the tech industry to other fields, according to coverage in the New York Times.
Sure, Cook could represent a thriving economy and a sterling American brand, but given the past few months the Cupertino, Calif., company wouldn't exactly be a top choice at the moment, having experienced a significant drop in stock price and a loss in brand-related customer loyalty.
Maybe the clues lie with Cook's fellow honored members of the audience.
The only other CEO in the box will be Peter Hudson, who founded a health care smartphone app startup called iTriage. If Obama's second-term goals include seeing his health care initiative through, perhaps he is signaling that personal technology will play a key role. (The other health care reformer in the crowd is Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who according to the White House press statement, has worked "to show how government can do more with less.")
And then there's Bobak Ferdowsi, better known outside NASA as "Mohawk Guy." NASA's Mars Curiosity flight director lit up the Internet when the rover landed on the Red Planet back in August, 2012. He is a proponent of science and technology education, and despite any recent setbacks, Apple is indisputably once again a key player in education technology. Perhaps that's the connection.
We may never know. Until the speech, that is. Here's how we plan to watch the State of the Union via NBC News.
Update,9:35 p.m. ET: And the answer is ... "This year this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again," the president said.