Apple CEO Tim Cook on secret products, Steve Jobs, IBM deal, Google rivalry, and the 'screw ups'

The usually tight-lipped chief executive of Apple opened up to PBS' Charlie Rose in a two-part interview. Here's the first part.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET/CBS Interactive

Like his predecessor, Apple chief executive Tim Cook remains tight-lipped, and doesn't let anything slip he doesn't want out there.

Apple remains one of the most secretive companies in the world, let alone in the U.S. technology scene. And taking a leaf out of Steve Jobs' book, he very rarely talks on camera — and even then, he seems guarded about what his company is up to.

In a two-part interview with PBS' Charlie Rose — airing Friday, with the second-part landing Monday, the Apple boss spoke about Jobs, the company's products, secrecy, rivalries, and when things don't always go as planned.

PBS shared a copy of the interview's transcript with ZDNet.

Here's what we learned:

On building a larger iPhone

Many thought Apple building a larger iPhone was a response to the company's patent spat with Samsung, its long-time rival.

According to Cook: 

"We could have done a larger iPhone years ago. It’s never been about just making a larger phone. It’s been making — it’s been about making a better phone in every single way. And so we ship things when they’re ready, and we think that both the display technology here, the battery technology, but all — but everything else and the software... 

And so the ingenuity here and the fact that we’ve integrated software, hardware, and services which I think only Apple can do — this phone — now is the time for it."

He went on to explain that, as with the iPod and the iPad — two products which weren't first but in one case pushed the music industry to a new level and the other carving out the mainstream tablet market — Apple's philosophy’s always been "to be the best, not the first."

On building a health-based service

Cook suggested the thread that ties together its new health platform, dubbed HealthKit, is the products it launched on Tuesday — the two new larger iPhones, and its new wearable.

For Apple, the monetary factor comes with "enrich[ing] people's lives," Cook said. "Neither one is sufficient by itself. We want to do both," he said. 

"Now, all of a sudden, we've also got a device that gathers certain fitness data about you. And yet — so, this is yet another way to begin to build a comprehensive view of your life, which should empower you to take care of yourself over time. And when you need help, it empowers you to take certain data to your doctor to get help from them. All while guarding your privacy so that nobody getting the data — if you don't want them to have the data, nobody sharing the data, if you don't want them to share the data. 

On Steve Jobs and his immortalized office

It may seem corny to some, or heartfelt to others. Jobs, who died the day after Apple launched the iPhone 4s and iCloud in October 2011, is "in my heart," Cook said. "And he's deep in Apple's DNA."

Many Apple watchers have kept a close eye on the company over the years. Jobs, the innovator, compared to Cook, the business man — thanks to his roots as Apple's former chief operating officer — couldn't be more different. And yet, Jobs trusted Cook to run the company after he knew he would not recover from his illness. 

Cook said Jobs' office, on the fourth floor of Apple's headquarters, "is still left as it was," immortalized long after he died.

"His name is still on the door. And we still — if you think about the things that Steve stood for, at a macro level, he stood for innovation," Cook said. 

Just three months before Jobs died, Cook recounted how the conversation went when Cook heard he would become the company's chief.

"...He called me one weekend in August 2011. And he said, 'I'd like to talk.' And I said, 'Oh, okay.' And I go "When?" And he goes, 'Now.' I go, 'Yeah, I'll be right over.'

And he told me — he said, 'I've been thinking a lot. Apple has never had a professional transition at CEO. I'm determined that we will have one now. I want you to be the CEO.'

And honestly, I didn't see it coming.

I felt Steve was getting better. He was still at home, but I felt he was getting better. I was seeing him regularly. And I guess, at the end of the day, I always thought he would bounce. He always had. He had some incredible lows in his health, and it had always bounced. And I always believed he would. And so, it took me a little by surprise for that.

On the Apple-IBM deal

Another surprise under the Cook leadership was the announced collaboration between Apple and IBM.

A deal that could have only happened under Cook, partly since Jobs' had a long-standing grudge against his former archrival, it would see the two companies extend into the enterprise market — one Apple had never purposefully set foot in and needed help with.

Cook said: 

"I think, IBM is, that’s a great one to talk about for mine because I think it will give you an insight into how we look at things and we — this is probably different than the past. We look at these products and the iPads that aren’t here and we think we can change the way people work.

But when you get to the working environment, the change that we’ve made, to us, isn’t significant enough. And so we begin to ask ourselves why. Why haven’t we done more?

And the real answer is in the applications. There are not enough apps that have been written for verticals, for very deep verticals, like what the airline pilot does. What the bank teller does. Down at the level of the job and so we begin to ask ourselves should we do this or should we partner or should we just forget it?"

Apple is set to bring out more than one hundred custom-built apps with IBM later this year, extending into next, built on IBM's software and cloud stacks.

IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty previously said mobility, data, and cloud is "transforming business and our industry in historic ways," and changing how the workplace operates. Cook reiterated this:

"I mean, most of our life is spent working. And certainly our apps are changing the way I work, but I’m not seeing it as much in other places. And so we begin looking out and thinking about, 'Well, who could we partner with?' And Ginni and I have been talking about some other things for a while. I have great respect for her, great trust of her."

He also expanded a little on how the deal would work. Apple brings the user experience and device support, while IBM offers the enterprise app goodness with the 'sponsored' on-site AppleCare for their customers. 

Cook called the deal a "perfect marriage," but didn't underplay how much Apple needs IBM to engage with its new-found customer base.

"IBM brings significant enterprise knowledge to the table. We bring the products that enterprise want, and so we have something they don’t have. We also don’t compete on anything. To me, this is the perfect marriage. There’s no friction.

And so this is an area where I think that everybody’s going to win. We’re going to win, IBM’s going to win, and more importantly than both of us, the customer’s going to win."

On competition and rivalries

IBM used to be a major rival, and now Apple's working with the company. Microsoft and Apple have had a long-standing fractious relationship, but are now closer than ever. 

And while everyone is looking at the Apple v. Samsung court cases, you would think the new rival in Apple's world was clear.

Not so much, Cook explained. "Google," he said, and not directly Samsung. He said Google supplies Samsung with Android, likening it to a food-chain diagram.

"Google is the — it would be the top. And then they enable many people in the hardware business — like Samsung. And Samsung is the best of the hardware companies in the Android sphere."

He said in respect to other Silicon Valley technology giants, "We partner with both Facebook and Twitter," adding that Apple was "not in the social networking business." That's a far cry away from Apple's only real failure in recent history, its iTunes-based Ping social network, which shut down two years ago.

"We like both companies," Cook said.

But regarding Amazon, which recently launched its own Fire smartphone, ramping up its competition efforts with Apple, Cook noted the "little relationship" between the two companies.

"You know? Amazon, we don't work with that much. We have little relationship there. They sell — as you know... they've come up with a phone. You don't see it in a lot of places. They have some tablets. But they're not a product company. Apple is a product company. And so, in the long term, will they become a bigger product company? I don't know. You would have to ask Jeff [Bezos] what his plans are. But when I think of competitor, I would think of Google... much above anyone else."

On screwing up and eating humble pie

During Cook's first year as chief executive, he maintained much of the same quality in the company's products and services as Jobs did during his tenure.

But there was one problem that derailed Cook's short, but unbroken record. Apple Maps, which he personally apologized for, after it fell significantly short of expectations. In some cases, Apple's homebrewed mapping service was just wrong, underdeveloped, or would direct cars into oceans.

"Oh, we screwed up," he said, putting it bluntly.

"There are many screw ups in that one. There's just not one. There's many. And we've learned and corrected and are continuing to invest in Maps, because our fundamental premise that maps were really key to Apple is the same is when that — when we made that call many years ago.

But we did screw up on the release. It should not have happened like it did. It shouldn't have come out. And you know, sometimes, when you're running fast, you slip and you fall. And I think the best thing you can do is get back up and say, 'I'm sorry.'

And you try to remedy the situation, and you work like hell to make the product right. If you're probably never making a mistake, you're probably not doing enough."

On secrecy and doubling-down on new products

Apple wasn't first with its wearable Apple Watch effort. But it hopes to be the best, as Cook has said previously. The company has been dining out on its iPhone effort while its iPad revenue stream begins to slow down. Its software and services, thanks in part to iTunes, is getting stronger every quarter.

What's next?

According to Cook, there are new products in the pipeline that even the best Apple reporters and fans haven't even considered yet. But it's not to say they will all see the light of day.

He said:

"There are products that we're working on that no one knows about, yes. That haven't been rumored about yet. Yes. And part of some of those are going to come out and be blow-away, probably.

And some of those we'll probably decide, 'You know, that one we're going to stop.' And so, we kick around a lot of things internally. And we might start something and get down the road a little bit, and have a different idea."

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