Juts a day after it named Apple the most innovative company of the year, Fast Company on Wednesday sat down with Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss topics like competition, innovation and the culture and approach that led to iPhone X, AirPods, Apple Watch 3 and HomePod.
Cook explained how he prioritizes what Apple is going to spend its time on:
There is more noise in the world than change. One of my roles is to try to block the noise from the people who are really doing the work. That’s tougher and tougher in this environment. The priorities are about saying ‘no’ to a bunch of great ideas. We can do more things than we used to do because we’re a bit bigger.
But in the scheme of things versus our revenue, we’re doing very few things. I mean, you could put every product we’re making on this table, to put it in perspective. I doubt anybody that is anywhere near our revenue could say that.
You have to make sure that you’re focused on the thing that matters. And we do that fairly well. I worked at a company a while back, many years ago, where every hallway you go in, you would see their stock price being monitored. You will not find that here. And not because you can get it on your iPhone.
On how he decides if it’s OK to follow as opposed to being first:
I wouldn’t say “follow.” I wouldn’t use that word because that implies we waited for somebody to see what they were doing. That’s actually not what’s happening. What’s happening if you look under the sheets, which we probably don’t let people do, is that we start projects years before they come out.
You could take every one of our products–iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch–they weren’t the first, but they were the first modern one, right?
In each case, if you look at when we started, I would guess that we started much before other people did, but we took our time to get it right. Because we don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have patience to wait until something is great before we ship it.
On meeting deadlines:
A product is like a train–the train leaves the station, and if you have a great idea after that, it’s going on the next train. You’re not going to call this one back to the station.
We have events, other things, that give us goals, shipping by a certain time. But ultimately the question is, Is the product great? Is it ready? And if it’s not, we delay.
Asked whether Apple’s leadership considers the stock price when analyzing business success, Cook responded by saying that the stock price “is a result, not an achievement by itself.”
To Cook, it’s about making the best products that enrich people’s lives. “If you’re doing both of those things–and obviously those things are incredibly connected because one leads to the other—then you have a good year,” he said.
On Apple’s vertical integration and approach to product development:
We’re a group of people who are trying to change the world for the better, that’s who we are. For us, technology is a background thing. We don’t want people to have to focus on bits and bytes and feeds and speeds. We don’t want people to have to go to multiple systems or live with a device that’s not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system.
We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into it. We take our values very seriously, and we want to make sure all of our products reflect those values. There are things like making sure that we’re running our US operations on 100% renewable energy, because we don’t want to leave the earth worse than we found it.
We make sure that we treat well all the people who are in our supply chain. We have incredible diversity, not as good as we want, but great diversity, and it’s that diversity that yields products like this.
People said it could never work because it didn’t have a physical keyboard. With each of our products there’s that kind of story. Over the long haul, you just have to have faith that the strategy itself leads to financial results and not get distracted and focus on them. Because focusing on them doesn’t really do anything. It probably makes the results worse because you take your eye off what really matters.
On iPod and iPhone development:
With iPod, before it came out, we didn’t really know that it would become as big. But it was clear it was changing things in an incredibly good way. Of course with iPhone it was clear that that was a huge change, a category definer, but who would’ve thought it would have impact to the degree that it did.
In naming Apple the most innovative company of the year (the company came in at number four on the list last year), the publication wrote that innovations like iPhone X, ARKit and AirPods propelled Apple ahead of the competition.
For a company slagged for not having had a hit since the 2010 iPad, Apple had a notable 2017: its wireless AirPods became ubiquitous around the country; Apple Watch Series 3 is a bestseller; developers embraced ARKit, its augmented reality framework; and even skeptics were blown away by iPhone X.
Fast Company specifically praised Apple for making major inroads in virtual reality and augmented reality amid strong competition from the likes of Microsoft, Google and Samsung.
Apple uses artificial intelligence techniques for many things, including wringing as much life as possible out of the battery in your iPhone. “Because of Apple’s privacy-driven decision to limit the amount of information it aggregates and analyzes in the cloud, it also does much of its AI right on the devices rather than using massive server farms,” noted Fast Company.
Tim Cook photograph courtesy of ioulex