Skip to main content

Tim Cook speaks at length about Steve Jobs and how Apple has moved on

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Recent revelations about Steve Jobs are coming out from a variety of sources lately, including a new biography, documentary, and upcoming film. Apple guards Jobs’ legacy like a fiercely protective dragon. Everyone from Jony Ive, Eddy Cue, and Tim Cook has repudiated claims that Jobs was an unfeeling perfectionist. The most recent, and perhaps most touching, defense of Jobs’ legacy came from an interview between Fast Company and Tim Cook.

Apple’s current CEO discussed a variety of topics, including the Apple Watch, Google’s fragmentation problems, and Apple’s role in the world of technology.

Don’t put Steve Jobs in a box — He won’t accept it

Depending on who you ask, Jobs was either a messianistic visionary or an ice-cold perfectionist, who was prone to bursts of fury. Cook says that he was much more complex than that, and people shouldn’t try to put him into a neat category.

“Steve felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that,” Cook said. “He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world.”

Cook believes that Jobs “embedded this nonacceptance of the status quo into the company,” and that it’s one of the reasons why Apple is always pushing the envelope and moving ahead without sacrificing quality. Too many companies focus on putting out the most phones, grabbing the most users, and end up losing creating generic things that nobody wants.

“There’s this thing in technology, almost a disease, where the definition of success is making the most. How many clicks did you get, how many active users do you have, how many units did you sell? Everybody in technology seems to want big numbers,” Cook said. “Steve never got carried away with that. He focused on making the best.”

Apple worked hard to make the smartwatch its own

One of the main criticisms of the Apple Watch is that it isn’t all that different from every other smartwatch out there. Cook argues that the key thing with the Watch is its user interface, which is dramatically different from Android Wear, Tizen, WebOS, and others.

“There’s this thing in technology, almost a disease, where the definition of success is making the most.”

“You’re working with a small screen, so you have to invent new ways for input. The inputs that work for a phone, a tablet, or a Mac don’t work as well on a smaller screen,” Cook explained. “Most of the companies who have done smartwatches haven’t thought that through, so they’re still using pinch-to-zoom and other gestures that we created for the iPhone.”

Cook believes that the other main issue that smartwatches suffer is the same problem that Android phones have: One company makes the software, another makes the hardware, and that inevitably creates friction. Indeed, Huawei recently complained that Android Wear isn’t customizable enough, and Samsung, Asus, HTC, LG, and others have all either made smartwatches with their own operating systems onboard, or have plans to do so soon.

“Steve recognized early on that being vertical gave us the power to produce great customer experience. For a long while, that was viewed as crazy logic,” Cook said. “More and more people have opened their eyes to the fact that he was right, that you need all those things working together.”

Cook also stated that “the magic of Apple, from a product point of view, happens at this intersection of hardware, software, and services,” adding that, “without collaboration, you get a Windows product. There’s a company that pumps out an operating system, another that does some hardware, and yet another that does something else. That’s what’s now happening in Android land. Put it all together and it doesn’t score high on the user experience.”

Next page: Why the Apple Watch is necessary

You’ll understand why the Apple Watch is necessary

During the interview, Cook dismissed naysayers who claim the Apple Watch is pointless, saying that at first, “people didn’t realize they had to have an iPod, and they really didn’t realize they had to have the iPhone. And the iPad was totally panned.” Cook argued that revolutionary products are rarely expected to succeed, but when Apple makes them, they do because they’re made with such care.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Don’t ship something before it’s ready. Have the patience to get it right,” Cook explained. “And that is exactly what’s happened to us with the watch. We are not the first. … But we were arguably the first modern smartphone, and we will be the first modern smartwatch —the first one that matters.”

Whether the Apple Watch blows customers away is yet to be seen, of course, and early hands on reviews were only cautiously optimistic about its chances. However, most agreed that Apple’s entry into the market could generate interest in smartwatches.

Steve created a culture that thrives on change

The vast majority of the interview focused on Jobs and his impact on everything Apple does. Cook seconded Eddy Cue’s statements against the most recent documentary on Jobs.

“We changed every day when he was here, and we’ve been changing every day since he’s not been here.”

“You hear these stories of him walking down a hallway and going crazy over something he sees, and yeah, those things happened,” Cook said candidly. “But extending that story to imagine that he did everything at Apple is selling him way short. What he did more than anything was build a culture and pick a great team, that would then pick another great team, that would then pick another team, and so on.”

Cook’s reflections on Jobs quickly turned personal, with Cook crediting Jobs as “the best teacher I ever had by far,” adding that his approach was not traditional in any respect, “but he was the best. He was the absolute best.”

While many initially criticized Cook for being too cautious or sticking too closely to Jobs’ institutionalized views, Cook says that he never tried to be Jobs, he simply stuck by Apple’s core values.

“We change every day. We changed every day when he was here, and we’ve been changing every day since he’s not been here,” Cook said. “But the core, the values in the core remain the same as they were in ’98, as they were in ’05, as they were in ’10. I don’t think the values should change. But everything else can change.”

One thing that Cook still hasn’t touched, for example, is the name plaque on one particular door at Apple’s headquarters. Steve Jobs’ name is still on his office, which remains almost exactly as he left it.

“I wanted to keep his office exactly like it was,” Cook said, adding that, “In the beginning I really didn’t personally want to go in there. It was just too much. Now I get a lot more appreciation out of going in there, even though I don’t go in very often.”

“I don’t know. His name should still be on the door. That’s just the way it should be,” Cook concluded. “That’s what felt right to me.”

To read the full interview with Fast Company, head on over to the site.

Editors' Recommendations

Malarie Gokey
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Mobile Editor, Malarie runs the Mobile and Wearables sections, which cover smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and…
Here’s how Tim Cook and Bill Gates hope to give graduates a boost
wwdc 2017 news tim cook how to watch

The annual commencement speech is a chance for new graduates to pick up a few pearls of wisdom from high achievers as they enter the next chapter of their lives, but like everything else in recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted such events this time around.

All is not lost, however, as iHeartMedia has persuaded a bunch of famous folks to record commencement speech podcasts for everyone to enjoy. Those taking part include Apple boss Tim Cook, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, songwriter and actor Becky G, actor and gender equality ambassador Freida Pinto, stand-up comedian George Lopez, director and actor Henry Winkler, and New York Times bestselling author John Green, among many others.

Read more
Trump asks Apple to build out 5G in U.S. That’s not how it works
President Trump Tours the Apple Manufacturing Plant

In a recent visit to Apple’s Mac Pro manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, President Donald Trump asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to help build 5G in the U.S. -- even though Apple is not a cellular carrier. 

Trump’s visit to the Apple location on November 20 was meant to “introduce” the “new” facility (even though it’s been open and operating since 2013), but Trump also apparently talked to Cook about the race for 5G connection. 

Read more
Bob Iger says Disney and Apple would have merged if Steve Jobs was still alive
Disney CEO Bob Iger and Apple CEO Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs (R) shares a laugh with Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger in 2006. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed Wednesday that Apple and Disney likely could have merged if Steve Jobs had not died in 2011.

Read more