CEO: Apple will ‘double down’ on product secrecy

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. – Tim Cook shares at least one thing in common with the late Steve Jobs, the man he replaced last year as Apple’s CEO: a strong belief in keeping product development to close to the vest. At the D10 conference, where Cook took the stage for his first in-depth public interview since taking the helm, he announced that Apple would “double-down” on (product) secrecy.

Indeed, Cook stayed true to his word during the interview conducted by All Things D’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher— he wouldn’t spill the beans on any of the products Apple might introduce in a couple of weeks at its World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).

But Cook did weigh in on a number of topics, from what he learned from his predecessor to his thoughts on Apple TV.

And in the very definition of understatement, Cook said of Apple, “we’ve had a few decent quarters.” (Apple reported record quarterly profits in March. Net profit for the quarter rose 94% year over year.)

Here are edited highlights from Cook’s appearance:

On being CEO. “It’s an absolute incredible time to be at Apple. I’m loving every minute of it…Never have I seen the things I can’t talk about today — the juices are flowing and we have some incredible things coming out.” Working at Apple, Cook said, is “my oxygen.”

On the iPad and tablets. “I’ve never seen a product in technology that consumers loved pretty instantly and business loved and education loved and people of all ages loved. I think we’re in the first inning on the iPad. It’s only been two years.

I really believe that the tablet market will eventually surpass the PC market. Everybody at the beginning kind of laughed that off and said no way. Today I think there’s a lot more believers. I would guess there’s a lot of people in this audience that use their iPads a lot more than they use their computers. And I know I do that. And I love the Mac. We didn’t invent the tablet market. We invented the modern tablet. In my view the tablet and the PC are different. Products are about tradeoffs. The more you look at a tablet as a PC the more the baggage of the past affects the product (negatively).

I don’t see the tablet replacing the need for all PCs or all Macs. What I see is the tablet for some people takes over what the PC was about for them.

On the death of Jobs and his impact. “I learned a lot from Steve. It was absolutely the saddest days of my life (when he passed away.)

As some point late last year somebody shook me and said, ‘it’s time to get on.’ That sadness was replaced by this intense determination to continue the journey. I learned that focus is the key not just in running a company but in your personal life as well. He also taught me that the joy is in the journey. And he taught all of us that life is fragile.

Another thing that Steve taught us was not to focus on the past. Steve told me when he called me to his home to talk about being CEO…he told me (he) witnessed what happened at Disney when Walt passed away. He said people would go to meetings and all sit around and talk about what Walt would have done. And he looked at me with those intense eyes and he told me to never do that, to never ask what he would do — just do what’s right.”

Steve was a genius and a visionary. I never really viewed my role was to replace him. He was irreplaceable. Steve was an original and I don’t think there’s another one of those being made. I never felt the weight of trying to be Steve. I am who I am…and focused on being a great CEO at Apple.

If (Steve) were sitting here he would tell you that one person can’t do it all. You could have an “S” on your chest and a cape on your back and not be able to do everything. He brought in great people and set a standard. His legacy was in leaving that foundation.

Patent wars among Apple, Samsung, Google: Is it a problem for innovation? “It’s a pain in the ass. We can’t take all of our energy, all of our care, and finish the painting and have someone else’s name on it. We can’t have that. The worst thing in the world that can happen to you if you’re an engineer and you’ve given your life to something is for someone to rip it off and put their name on it. ”

The TV business. It’s not a fifth leg of the stool. It’s not the same market size as the phone business or the Mac business or the music business or the tablet business. But last year we sold 2.8 million Apple TVs. This year just in the first six months we sold 2.7 million. This is an area of intense interest for us. And so we’re going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us. I think many people would say this is an area in their life they’re not really pleased with. It’s an interesting area.

Right now our contribution is Apple TV.

(When asked about whether Apple is making a TV set.) “You were right, I’m not going to tell you.”

“We would look not just at this (TV) area but other areas (and) we would ask can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? We think we’re reasonably good proxies for others. Those are things we would ask about any new product category.”

Among other subjects Cook touched on: he said he didn’t think Apple has to own a content business. He said Apple didn’t look at buying Instagram before Facebook’s acquisition. And while he wouldn’t rule anything out, Cook says he is not looking at any big acquisitions right now.

Cook said Apple has to be social but doesn’t have to own a social network. Twitter is deeply integrated into its iOS mobile operating system and OS X Mountain Lion, the newer version of the Mac software that is coming this summer.

He named Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luthor King as two of his heroes, and said Disney’s Bob Iger, who sits on Apple’s board, is one of the CEOs that he admires.

And he recalled the time in 1998 when Jobs tried to woo him to Apple from Compaq, he had no intention of joining. Cook fielded a number of calls from recruiters and finally agreed to meet with Jobs. He flew out on the redeye on a Friday night for a meeting the next morning. “The honest to God truth is that five minutes into the conversation I wanted to join Apple…He painted a story, a strategy that he was taking Apple deep into consumer at a time that I knew that other people were doing the exact opposite. I never thought following the herd was a good strategy. You’re destined to be average at best. I saw brilliance in that.”

Cook resigned from Compaq immediately.


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