Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke with Brian Williams on the NBC program Rock Center Dec. 6, giving his first television interview since taking the lead role at Apple in August 2011, weeks ahead of the Oct. 5 death of his friend and Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs.
Cook, in the tradition of Jobs, revealed nothing more than he cared to, speaking amiably but lightly on the topics of Apple’s plans to bring more of its production to the United States, Apple’s interest in the television market and how it’s fighting to resist the seemingly inevitable downhill that should follow its long time on the top of the industry.
Under Cook’s leadership, much has gone well—Apple’s stock is up “about 45 percent during [Cook’s] tenure,” according to NBC. But there have also been un-Apple-like missteps, “starting with Siri, the small woman who lives in your iPhone,” as Williams put it. While Siri amazed at first, ultimately it wasn’t “as consistently amazing as Steve Jobs wanted it to be.”
Then there was the Maps app in iOS 6, which led to the dismissal of two Apple executives and a public apology from Cook.
“In those early days, God help you if you went anywhere near the Brooklyn Bridge or Hoover Dam,” Williams said over footage of Maps’ cataclysmic treatment of those sites, which seemed to melt in on themselves.
Williams, lightly insinuating that the perfect Apple was showing a few blemishes, asked Cook—”with respect to Sony”—how not to become Sony, a company that was once an icon of high tech but was unable to stay on top.
“Maybe they decided that they could do everything,” said Cook. “We have to stay laser focused. We can only do a few great things.”
That said, Williams pointed out that Apple is expected to have another industry—another screen—in its future. Analysts have for months been forecasting a first-quarter 2013 release of an Apple TV. But Cook, with a smile, conceded only that “television is a market that has been left behind. … It’s an area of intense interest to us.”
Bringing up Apple’s culture of intense secrecy—”People love surprises,” said Cook, in a simplified explanation of Apple’s treatment of its product plans—Williams turned the idea around, saying that one surprise Apple couldn’t have enjoyed was Samsung’s ad campaign for the Galaxy S III.
“They came along and tried to paint those with white earbuds, Apple users, as losers,” said Williams. “They’re trying to paint their product as cool and your product as not cool. Is this thermo-nuclear war?”
Cook used the question as an opportunity to portray Samsung as stealing Apple’s ideas—the day the interview ran, the two companies returned to court. A jury this summer had ruled that Samsung had infringed on Apple patents and owed the iPhone maker more than $1 billion. Samsung was arguing to reduce the sum, if not have the ruling dismissed, while Apple was pushing to have the fine increased.
“We love competition at Apple. We think it makes us all better,” said Cook. “But we want people to make their own stuff.”
Regarding where Apple makes its own stuff, Cook said more production is coming to the United States. The “engine” of the iPhone 5 is already made here, he said, and the glass on the device is made in Kentucky. Next year, an existing Mac will also be made here. Given Apple’s ecosystem of products, Cook estimated that Apple has created 600,000 jobs in the United States.
President Obama once asked Steve Jobs what it would take to make iPhones in the United States, and Jobs’ response has been well-reported: “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”
Williams posed a similar question to Cook, asking him how much more the iPhone would cost if it were made in the United States. Cook answered that it wasn’t about cost but worker skill sets.
“Over time there are skills that are associated with manufacturing that have left the U.S.—not necessarily people, but the education that’s producing them,” said Cook.
“That’s sad,” said Williams. “How do we get that back?”
“It’s a concerted effort to get them back. And with this project that I’ve talked about, where we’ll do a Mac in the United States next year, I think this is a really good [next] step for us. And the consumer electronics world was really never here. So it’s not a matter of bringing it back; it’s a matter of starting it here.”
When Williams asked about Apple’s plan to “buck the trend” and become the first company to reverse hundreds of years of business history and become “the one company that never fades away into irrelevance,” Cook answered, “Don’t bet against us, Brian. Don’t bet against us.”