Tim Cook on Maps, Android, Steve Jobs, More

| Analysis

Apple CEO gave an amazing interview to Bloomberg—a separate interview from the one NBC will air Thursday night—offering insights we've never had before. The 11 page interview discusses Apple Maps ("We screwed up"), the importance of products, Android (it's a Windows PC model), Steve Jobs, crossing a Newton protest line his first day at work at Apple, how the management team works, and much, much more.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook

We've gathered some of our favorite parts of the interview, but if you're interested in Apple, its products, or its future, we recommend the full article at Bloomberg's BusinessWeek.

Apple Maps

The interviewer, Josh Tyrangiel, said point blank that Apple's decision to dump Google Maps for its own Apple Maps service was "a very rare instance of Apple thinking about corporate strategy before thinking about the customer experience."

Apple's rollout of Maps included mapping errors, navigational issues, and other problems, and it was widely criticized. Mr. Cook, however, said that Apple made the change because it wanted to offer features it couldn't as long as it was reliant on a third party, Google in this case.

"The reason we did Maps is we looked at this, and we said, 'What does the customer want? What would be great for the customer?' We wanted to provide the customer turn-by-turn directions. We wanted to provide the customer voice integration. We wanted to provide the customer flyover. And so we had a list of things that we thought would be a great customer experience, and we couldn’t do it any other way than to do it ourselves.

"We set on a course some years ago and began to do that. So it wasn’t a matter of saying, 'Strategically it’s important that we not work with company X.' We set out to give the customer something to provide a better experience. And the truth is it didn’t live up to our expectations. We screwed up."

He emphasize that his company is working hard to make Maps better, saying, "So what are we doing? We’re putting all of our energy into making it right. And we have already had several software updates. We’ve got a huge plan to make it even better. It will get better and better over time. But it wasn’t a matter that we […] decided strategy over customers. We screwed up. That’s the fact."

The Newton

One of Steve Jobs early moves at Apple was to kill the Newton, one of the first handheld computers. It was a product championed by former CEO John Scully, and while it was much-loved by the small group of people who bought them, it was never a commercial success.

In the interview, Mr. Cook talked extensively about how amazing it is to work at a company where customers actually care about the products, and his first introduction to this was the Newton. From the interview:

"My first day at work I crossed a picket line to get in the building! There was a picket line of customers who were protesting, because Steve had decided to kill the Newton device. And it was because they cared so deeply about it.

"And I thought, 'This is amazing.' I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking to the lift that day and thinking, 'Oh my God, my life is different.' It was so great. It was so great.

"You know, I have been involved in hundreds of new product announcements, hundreds of product withdrawals. At one of the companies I worked at, not to mention any names, we’d put [new products] in the lobby. We’d get on the employee intercom system and say, 'Come look at them,' and nobody came. They didn’t even care."

Out with the Old...

Something Apple does better than any other technology company is having the will to dump popular products or services when it can make something better. Mr. Cook said that this was an asset unique to Apple, and he hinted that there were more new products and services to come. From the interview:

"It’s clear that we can do more. At the right time, we’ll keep disrupting and keep discovering new things that people didn’t know they wanted.

"There is no other company like that anymore. I mean, no company would have done what we did this year. Think about it. We changed the vast majority of our iPhone in a day. We didn’t kind of—you know, change a little bit here or there. iPad, we changed the entire lineup in a day. The most successful product in consumer electronics history, and we change it all in a day and go with an iPad mini and a fourth-generation iPad. Who else is doing this?"

He then offered a rather profound thought, saying, "Eighty percent of our revenues are from products that didn’t exist 60 days ago. Is there any other company that would do that?" [Emphasis added]

How Apple's Executives Work

Those of on the outside of Apple don't often get a glimpse of how decisions are made, and how its top executives work, but Mr. Cook also spoke about that:

"We have an executive team meeting. It’s every Monday at 9 a.m. Religiously, all of us are in that meeting. We spend four hours together. We talk about everything in the company that’s important—everything. We go through every product that’s shipping, how it’s doing. We go through every new product that’s on the road map—what’s going on, how the teams are doing, and any key issues there are. We might argue and debate current issues. We might argue and debate future road maps. We may get to a point where we say, 'You know, this one we’ve got to go off site and really brainstorm about it in a bigger way.'

"By keeping that cadence and being religious about it—people don’t travel during that time; everyone is there, and they’re not delegating—it makes the company run a lot smoother. You don’t get out of sync because you’re constantly coming together.

"Now that’s just one thing. Here’s another example. Every Wednesday we’re meeting with product divisions. So a subset of the [executive team] will meet with the Mac division and spend several hours going through Mac. The following Wednesday we’ll spend several hours going through iPhone, and then we’ll go tick-tock, tick-tock again. And so you have meetings like this not just for yourself, although it’s critical for yourself, but you do it because it helps the company run."

Android & iPad

Mr. Cook has always been quite direct when it comes to the merits—or lack thereof—of competing products and models. In the interview, Mr. Cook was fairly blunt about Android, saying:

"If you look at our North Star, we’re focused on making the best products, so ours is very product-centric. We care about every detail. We’re also marrying hardware, software, and services. If you think about Android, it’s more like the Windows PC model. The operating system comes from company A. Company B is doing some integration work, and maybe the services come from yet somewhere else. I think we know the kind of customer experience that produces."

On iPad mini Pricing

Many, including our own John Martellaro (but not this author), were critical of Apple's iPad mini pricing, which starts at US$329. While not directly asked why Apple didn't try to compete with cheap Android tablets, he explained that Apple built the iPad mini that it wanted to use. From the interview:

"A great product doesn’t mean an expensive product. It means a fair price. The iPad mini is all the way down to $329. This isn’t an expensive product. So when we can do great products and achieve a great price, we feel great. But what we wouldn’t do is say, 'We’ve got to have something for this price, and then let’s see what we can do for it.'

"That’s not how we think. We think about the product and making a great product that we want to use. When we can do that and achieve another price point, that’s great. But our customers have a high expectation, and we’re not going to try to pass off something—we would never do that. That’s not how we think."

What Would Steve Do?

The last tidbit we'll mention is the terrific story of how and why Steve Jobs urged Mr. Cook to never worry about what he would do, but to instead focus on doing what was right:

"One weekend he called me, and he said, 'I’d like to talk to you.' This was in summer of ’11.

"I said, 'Fine. When?'

"In typical Steve fashion he said, 'Now.'

“Great. I’ll be right over. (Laughs.)

"So I go over to his house, and—I still remember how he started this discussion. He said, 'There has never been a professional transition at the CEO level in Apple.' He said, 'Our company has done a lot of great things, but has never done this one.' The last guy is always fired, and then somebody new comes in.

"And [Steve] goes, 'I want there to be a professional CEO transition, and I have decided, and I am recommending to the board that you be the CEO, and I’m going to be the chairman.'

"Of course, we had talked about me being a successor before, so it wasn’t the first time I had heard that, but the conversation occurred at a period of time when I felt Steve was getting better, and I think he felt this way as well. So from that point of view, I was a little surprised. I asked again, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes.' I would go, 'Are you sure,' and he said, 'Yes. Don’t ask me anymore.'

"I asked him about different scenarios to understand how he wanted to be involved as chairman. He said, 'I want to make this clear. I saw what happened when Walt Disney passed away. People looked around, and they kept asking what Walt would have done.' He goes, 'The business was paralyzed, and people just sat around in meetings and talked about what Walt would have done.' He goes, 'I never want you to ask what I would have done. Just do what’s right.' He was very clear.

As we said at the top, there is much, much more in the full article, and it's a great read.

Comments

vbroido

Great picks, thanks Bryan, I’m jumping to the whole piece right on.

Lee Dronick

Well that was an interesting read.

wab95

Thanks, Bryan.

I think the critical piece was that neither Tim Cook, nor anyone else by extension, should obsess over what they think SJ would do gong forward. I surmise that even SJ himself would know what he would do in advance. This only leads to self doubt, recrimination over every minute detail with which someone or another disagrees, orthodoxy with an unwillingness then later inability to change (lest one is accused of heresy - then there’s all the inquisition and burning at the stake that follows - a messy affair), soon overtaken by paralysis, missed opportunities for exciting innovations, and that nose dive into irrelevance that is the end stage of corporate death that has seen off so many companies through time.

This is not a minor, nor even major point, but the critical point to successful leadership change if a company is to have any future at all.

Critics would do well to take note.

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