Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, spoke at the Utah Tech Tour yesterday with other industry leaders. Members of the audience had the rare chance to submit questions to Tim. As always, Tim is very thoughtful, articulate and clearly brilliant. I feel lucky to have been there and heard his insights into encryption, being a successful entrepreneur, AR vs. VR, and embracing Steve Jobs’ vision at Apple. These are the highlights from Tim:
What can students do to be competitive in a rapidly changing tech industry, and what attributes or skills do entry-level employees need to develop in your opinion?
“This is a really good question. We look for wicked smart people, but put that aside for a second. There’s a lot of wicked smart people. We look for grit and determination. We look for people that are curious, because many times you really don’t know what to do, but you are curious enough to start pulling the string to see where it takes you. And we look for people that are very collaborative, because even somebody who has an ‘S’ on their chest and a cape on their back can’t do everything alone. So we look for people who believe that by working others they can amplify what they can do. And we look for people that won’t accept the status quo – people that aren’t satisfied with the way things are, that really want to change the world and sort of put all of themselves into doing it. And for all those reasons it makes Apple a really great company.”
How did you become the CEO of Apple?
“That was an interesting journey. The real answer to that is I always believed in this old saying from President Lincoln. He used to say, ‘I will prepare and someday my chance will come,’ and I’ve always believed that. If you have faith that whatever you’re doing today, you’re not sure necessarily what it will become tomorrow, but eventually if you have faith something great will happen, and I’ve always been of that mindset. I never dreamed of being a CEO of Apple is the truth – I never thought it possible. I got the call of a lifetime in early 1998 from Steve and I decided to talk to him, and five minutes into the discussion with him I wanted to throw caution to the wind and join Apple, and it was the best decision I ever made. And so, study hard – that’s very important, do great work, and have faith that those things add up and will lead you on a journey that will be a most incredible journey.”
What is the future of capturing and enjoying our memories, and how soon is the future here?
“The future is now. I’m glad you asked this question because I think photos are one of the most important media of our time and of the future. And so we have placed an unbelievable amount of engineering in making the camera, and not from a spec point of view because tech specs are not that important in terms of the camera. We put a lot of effort into integrating the hardware and software together to produce unbelievable photos. Our most recent iPhone 7 announcement and launch, it will take unbelievable photos in low light, you have the ability to zoom. It’s amazing that in your pocket, in your pocket, you have a camera that is so much better than the separate digital camera that you had two years ago – it’s unbelievable. It’s what used to be called ‘pro,’ it used to cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce that kind of photo. And so that’s part of it, but not all of it.
We have a new app called ‘Memories,’ has anyone heard of this in here? (applause) I’m glad you’ve heard of it but actually few people have. They’re going to be delighted when they discover it. It’s in the Photos app on your iPhone, and what it does for you on your behalf is take your life as defined by your photos and it organizes them for you and places music on those. And it’s the most incredible feeling when you just open that and see these great memories. If you have kids it’s unbelievable – it just warms your heart. Maybe it’s your vacation, your parents, your friends, your spouse, whoever. But that’s the big difference from the iLife days you were asking about. In there you actually had to do some level of work, and we tried to make it really simple, and I think at the time it was really great. But now what we’ve discovered is people’s lives are so busy they really don’t have time to do it. So through use of AI, we can begin to do unbelievable things for you on your behalf that you can take out and enjoy and it will really make your heart sing. It really will. So the future is now.”
Current encryption methods like SSL are based on a small number of really hard to solve math problems. If and when these are solved, current methods will be useless. What will the next step be in protecting the privacy of digital communications, and can we still have a reasonable expectation to privacy?
“The answer to the last question is yes you do if you’re an Apple customer. I can’t say that about everybody. It’s a really good question, because the encryption is a set of algorithms, very complex math, and all complex things over time are solvable. It’s not that encryption can’t be solved and can’t be broken. So the question is some sharp mathematician with some really fast computers with great processing speed…could they begin to break encryption? And here’s the way we look at that is: The longer the key becomes, the more complex it is, even with modern supercomputers it gets incredibly complex – billions or trillions of times harder, the longer that it gets. And so we clearly have that to play with there. The other thing is that there are many different kinds of algorithms, and it’s unlikely that somebody is going to figure out all of those. So whether it’s logarithmic, elliptical… there’s so many different types, so I think that between the length and the different algorithms we can throw at it, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. And in the meantime, you can bet that we’re working, as many companies are, on finding new ways to make people safer and safer.
This is one of the biggest issues that we face. You hear and read in the media about mainly email and photo attacks and you might hear about credit card attacks. Those are very serious and now they are affecting hundreds of millions of people in the United States. But in addition to these, encryption is what makes the public safe is well. As you know, there are people kept alive because the grid is up. If our grid goes down, if there was a grid was attacked, the public safety is at risk. You can imagine defense systems need encryption because there are a few bad actors in the world that might like to attack those. And so I realize that in some cases encryption has been….some people have tried to make it out to be bad. Encryption is inherently great. We would not be a safe society without it. This is an area that is very very important for us, and as you can tell by our actions this year, we throw all of ourselves into this. We are very much standing on principle here.”
Can we get some business and entrepreneurial advice? With a new product or service, how should we view being first to market versus waiting and observing the industry, either succeed or fail, before venturing into the same space?
“I think it is very important to think about three objectives: being the best, being the first, making the most. For Apple, being the best is the most important and trumps the other two by far. However, for other companies, some companies might look at that and say, “No, for me being the first is the most important.” I think the key thing is to decide so that you have a North Star. For us, some people have forgotten this now, but Apple didn’t have the first MP3 player. The iPod was not the first one – it was the first modern one. Apple didn’t have the first smartphone – it was the first modern one. And Apple didn’t have the first tablet. As a matter of fact, Microsoft was shipping tablets decades before – nobody used them because they weren’t any good, but they did it. And so for us, our North Star is making the best products that really enrich people’s lives, and if we can’t do those we pass. And it doesn’t bother us that we’re second, third, fourth or fifth if we still have the best. We don’t feel embarrassed because it took us longer to get it right. Now sometimes the Sun and the Moon line up and you can be the best, the first, and have the most – but rarely does that happen. And you should never ever base success or failure on hitting all three of those, in my view. So as an entrepreneur I would encourage you to pick one and then go for it, whatever it is.”
How soon do you see Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality becoming more fully integrated into our daily lives? Specifically in the operating systems and mobile devices? How will that change how we interact with both people and businesses?
“I think there’s two different questions there. It will be enabled in the operating systems first, because it’s a precursor for that to happen for there to be mass adoption of it. I’d look for that to happen in the not too distant future. But in terms of it becoming a mass adoption, so that say everyone in here would have an AR experience. The reality to do that is that it has to be something that everybody in here views as an acceptable thing, but few people in here will think it’s acceptable to be tethered to a computer, walking in here and sitting down. And few people in here will view it as acceptable to be enclosed in something, because we’re all social people at heart, even those of us introverts are social people – we like people and we want to interact. And so I think it is likely that AR, of the two, is the one that the largest number of people will engage with. I do think that a significant portion of the population of developed countries, and eventually all countries, will have AR experiences every day. And it will be almost like eating three meals a day, because it will become that much a part of you. A lot of us live on our smartphones – they are very important. The iPhone is very important I hope for everyone. So AR I think is going to become really big.
VR I think is not going to be that big compared to AR. I’m not saying it’s not important – it is important and I’m very excited about VR from an education point of view, because I think that it can be really big in education. I think it can be really big for games. But I can’t imagine everyone in here getting in an enclosed VR experience while you’re sitting here with me. But I could imagine everybody in here in an AR experience right now, if the technology were there, which it’s not today. How long will it take? AR is going to take a little while, because there are some really hard technology challenges there, but it will happen. It will happen in a big way, and we will wonder when it does how we lived without it. Kind of like how we wonder how we lived without our phone today, so it will definitely happen.”
At Apple, how do you maintain Steve Jobs spirit and motivation?
“I loved Steve. From my point of view, Steve’s spirit will always be the DNA of the company. He embodied who we are. It was his vision that Apple should make the best products, and it was his vision that they should enrich people’s lives. Lots of other things will change with Apple, but that will never change. There is so much noise in the world everyday, and people want us to do this, or that, or the other thing. We keep our eye on that and it is amazing doing that – and that’s his spirit. It makes a lot of decisions easy, because it becomes easy to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that one. That’s not the best that it doesn’t enrich anybody’s life.’ Or, ‘Yeah, that’s a cool product, but nobody’s going to get anything out of it, so let’s not do that one.’ That spirit of him and that feeling that he always had of not accepting the status quo – sort of the rebel – that is still very much the heartbeat of the company. And the feeling that good isn’t good enough. That it has to be great… that it has to be insanely great. That spirit still permeates and you can still feel him in there. As I showed you when you were out, I’ve kept his office with all of his stuff, and he still has an office there. And I think that’s important because I really want his legacy to be with Apple 10 years from now, 100 years from now, 1000 years from now. Not for Apple to be constrained by it. So we’re not thinking, ‘What would Steve do?’ – we’re not thinking that. But we are very much married to his vision of making the best products that enrich people’s lives, and that doesn’t change.”