Apple Without Steve Jobs: 9 Things CEO Tim Cook Is Doing To Move Forward

on May 31 2012 11:37 AM
Tim Cook At D10 In Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking at a technology forum in June 2012. Courtesy

It was strange not to see Steve Jobs fill one of the iconic red executive chairs at the D10 Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., hosted by All Things Digital's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, but current Apple CEO Tim Cook did his best to fill the massive vacancy left by Jobs with some heartwarming stories about Steve, his life at Apple, and some encouraging signs that the world's most valuable technology company is moving in the right direction. 

It's an absolutely incredible time to be with Apple, Cook began. I'm loving every minute of it.

Cook's speech was filled with juicy tidbits about the company, but since you likely weren't at the conference and reading through transcripts isn't your cup of tea, we've provided the highlights from Cook's discussion with Mossberg and Swisher from AllThingsD. Here are 10 things we learned about the company from the current face of Apple, Tim Cook. (You can view the full transcript of the discussion here.)

1. There are big things coming. And something's coming out next week -- or at least being unveiled -- at the 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), starting June 11.

Cook: Never have I seen the things I can't talk about today, Cook said. The juices are flowing. We have some incredible things coming out.

Then, a brief exchange between Mossberg and the Apple CEO.

Mossberg: What's coming out next week?

Cook That's a great question, but I'm not going to answer it.

Mossberg: But what's coming out?

Cook: Some great stuff!

For the sake of context, Apple lead designer Jony Ive recently told The Telegraph that Apple's next project is quite possibly the most important and best work we've done.

2. Cook wants to spread Apple's wealth, but more importantly, give back.

Cook: My belief on philanthropy is... the Kennedys believed this, and I believe it... 'to whom much is given, much is expected.' Our policy allows us to give to many charities, and avoids bureaucracy. We let the employee decide and yes, we participate in other things, and I believe we can do even more. We'll talk about those things when we're ready. Steve knew about the matching gift thing when he was alive and he was for it. Do I feel strongly about it? Yes, I do. I think it's impossible to say what he would or would not have done. The dividend thing, some people have talked about this. I think we did the right thing. The company has been very successful, cash in the company has built up, and when we think about the things we want to do, we want to invest like crazy in R&D, invest in stores, other things I'm not going to talk about. But we've got some money left over and we should share it.

3. Cook wants to make some areas of the company more secretive, while others more open.

We're going to double down on secrecy on products. I'm serious, Cook said. However we're going to be the most transparent company in the world on some other things. Social change. Supplier responsibility. What we're doing for the environment. We're going to be so transparent in these areas because if we are, other people will copy what we're doing. People will copy us on that and that's one area I want to be copied. In the past we've had an annual report, and we've done more than others. But our communication was once per year. Now we're putting out monthly reports. We want everyone to know what we're doing.

4. While the working conditions in China aren't perfect, Apple is willing to be honest about its development.

Cook: The operational expertise and the engineering around it and the whole supply chain management stuff, Apple is doing all of that. Manufacturing, we looked at that and said somebody else can do that as good as we can. We put a ton of effort into taking overtime down. This probably sounds easy but it's hard because it's complex. Some people want to work a lot. Some people want to work a whole lot and work for a year or two and take as much money as they can back to their village. We're at 95% compliance with overtime. We're measuring working hours for 700,000 people. I don't know anyone else doing this. And we're reporting this.

5. Apple products may be made (piece-by-piece) in the USA, but will they ever be assembled here? Cook hopes so, but change needs to happen first.

There's an intense focus on the final assembly, Cook said. They don't think about all of the parts underneath, where the significant value of the buildable material is. Can this be done in the US? I hope so, one day.... Maybe someday. It is important.

Cook emphasized that many of the components within Apple products are in fact made in the U.S.

The engines for the iPad and the iPhone are built in the US, Cook said. Not just for the US, but for the world. In Austin. The glass is made in a plant in Kentucky. Not just in the US but for other markets too. There are things that can be done in the US, not just for the US market, but can be exported.

Cook then defended his company's stance to assemble most Apple products abroad, explaining why the need to go abroad mirrors the need for specific skill-sets.

The tool and die makers in the US began to go down in the late 60's and 70's, Cook said. How many tool and die makers are there in the US now? I could call a meeting of all the tool and die makers into this room and we wouldn't fill it. In China you can fill cities with tool and die makers.

There needs to be a fundamental change in the educational system to bring back some of this -- but there are things we can do. The semiconductor industry is fantastic. The Corning deal with glass in Kentucky, it's fantastic. We will do as many of these as we can do. We will use the whole of our influence to do this.

6. Cook finds the recent success of the Apple TV very interesting.

We've stayed in the Apple TV business. That's unusual for us, Cook said. We're not a hobby kind of company. We put all our wood behind a few arrows. If something creeps in and isn't a big success we put our energies somewhere else.

Last year, we sold 2.8 million Apple TV's. This year, in the first 6 months, we've sold 2.7 million. We've almost equalled last year. The customer satisfaction with that product is incredible. We're going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us. Many people would say this is an area in their life that they aren't pleased with. They might not be pleased with many things about it. The whole TV experience. It's an interesting area. We'll have to see what we do. Right now our contribution is Apple TV.

Cook extrapolated the philosophy behind an iTV -- if there is, or would ever be such a product -- when asked about an Apple set-top TV directly.

We would look at this and say can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution beyond what others have made in this area? Can we make a product that we would all want? That's all thing we would ask about any new product category. It's the ones we ask about products within families we're thinking about now, Cook said.

7. Apple will stick to packaging and organizing content, rather than creating it.

Cook: I don't think Apple should be in the content business. We haven't had an issue for the most part in getting content. We have 30 million songs, virtually every song out there. Movies and TV shows get difficult because you have separate ownership in each country. For the most part, getting content isn't an issue. I think that there is a great art to doing content right. I have great appreciation for the content. This is an area where Apple partnering well is the right approach. Not making content. For funding, the greatest thing we can provide is to sell a lot of their stuff. If we can make an elegant solution with their content, that's the best thing we can do for all parties.

8. Siri isn't perfect yet, but she's getting some major improvements very soon:

Customers love it, Cook said. It's one of the most popular features of our most popular product -- the most popular phone in the world. But, there's more that it can do. We have a lot of people working on this. You'll be really pleased with the things you'll see over the coming months. The breadth that you're talking about -- we've got some cool ideas about what Siri can do. We have a lot going on on this.

Siri proves that people want to relate to the phone in a different way. There wasn't a lot of invention in the input. Then touch came along and was cool and new. I think voice -- particularly when it understands context not just voice recognition -- but what makes Siri cool is that she has a personality. She becomes many folks' best friends. I think it's profound. It's not voice recognition -- it's the AI. That's what's profound. This is something that people have dreamed of for years. Yes, it could be broader and so forth. But, we see unbelievable potential here and Siri as a feature has moved into the mainstream. People hear Siri and people know what you're talking about. It's amazing this has come since October. I think you'll be really happy with where it's going.

9. Apple is surviving without Steve, but also because of him.

Cook: [Steve] said that no one person could do it all. Look at what we're doing, it's not possible. You could have an 'S' on your chest and a cape and you couldn't do it all. He brought great people to the company and set a standard for who they brought in. That built an incredible company. He brought that foundation and his spirit will always be in the DNA of the company. I wouldn't get overly focused on who does what piece. The company doing all the things we're doing, there are a lot of key people. ... We have a privilege, because if I look around the executive team, many of the people are the people I've been working with for double digit years. We all know each other very well and have great respect for each other.

In the business we're in, own the technology. Steve was laser focused on that and that's ingrained in us. Do things great, don't accept good. That's ingrained. Apple has a culture of excellence that is so unique. I'm not going to witness or permit the change of it. He also taught me that the joy is in the journey. And he taught all of us that life is fragile. We're not guaranteed tomorrow, so give it everything you've got.