Outside Podcast Theme: From Outside Magazine and PRX, this is the Outside Podcast.
Tim Cook: How are you?
Michael Roberts (Host): I’m good.
Cook: Great to meet you.
Roberts: Thank you so much for making the time this morning.
Tim Cook: My pleasure. I love what you do. Good to meet you.
Roberts: Thank you so much. You too. I appreciate you hosting me here. This is my kind of assignment.
Cook: It’s pretty spectacular. It’s like working in a park.
Roberts: Yeah. Literally, it is like working in a park.
Roberts (narrating): This is Michael Roberts, host of the Outside Podcast. And today, we’re going to take a walk around Apple Park with Tim Cook.
Earlier in the fall, Apple had invited me to their headquarters in Cupertino, California, to speak with Cook, the CEO since 2011. Our conversation took place several weeks after the Apple product event where they introduced Series 6 of the Apple Watch. The headline news was the addition of a blood-oxygen sensor. The slogan for the device, according to one promotional video: “The future of health is on your wrist.”
The other big announcement at the event was the launch of Fitness+, a subscription-based service that will offer guided studio workouts streamed to Apple devices by mid-December. It marked a significant step for the company: they are jumping into the rapidly expanding online training space in a major way.
Tim Cook—who is a fitness obsessive and bit of a nature nerd, who regularly reads Outside magazine—was interested in speaking with me about Apple’s commitment to creating products that improve our health, as well as Apple’s environmental initiatives, his love for America’s national parks, and even how we can all learn to put away our devices and just be outside.
Apple Park, which is more than 80 greenspace and has some 9,000 trees, is in fact a really good place to talk about all this.
Roberts: I mean, we were sitting — you missed it a few minutes ago. There was — there he is. There’s a red-tail hawk sitting on the top of a tree there.
Tim Cook: Yeah. Yeah.
Roberts: So obviously, it’s working. We were joking if you’ve staged some deer to run out on the path as we walk along. [laughter] But is that kind of the way to think of it as a—
Cook: It’s sort of to bring the outside in and the inside out. So people can — many people do. They work outside. And they find places where — maybe for solitude at some times and maybe for group kind of things in our pre-pandemic world anyway.
Cook: It’ll be fairly quiet today when we walk in because we only have about 15 percent, give or take, of the folks working. Everybody else is remote. But the idea of having a home like this in the valley was just unheard of. You know, most people did the skyscraper kind of thing or the typical corporate campus of all these buildings where people never left their building so to speak.
Roberts: With some vision there of efficiency, right? Let’s work. [laughs]
Cook: Yeah. I mean, it is very much — that old mindset was not around collaboration at all. So we wanted to build a place where people would sort of run into each other. And in a circle, that is the design point.
Roberts: Right. As far as the park goes — and you were speaking about how people engage with — and I’d be curious to hear like how — let’s pretend it’s not 2020 COVID times.
Roberts: What does it look like normally if I’m standing here or walking around? What am I seeing? How is the community of Apple employees engaging with this outdoor space?
Cook: You would see people riding bikes along here to get to one meeting to another. You would see people walking. You would see some people exercising, you know, running and so forth because it’s a two-and-a-half-mile track around the place.
Cook: So you put in a couple of laps in, and you’ve got a good workout for the day. And you would see people sitting — as we get into the inner circle, you would see people sort of spread out and working along tables and over near the pond, some people alone, some people with groups.
Roberts: What about you? Because you’re a sort of — I think I’ll say notoriously busy CEO, [laughter] someone who gets up early and maybe the last guy to turn out the lights every night. This space — it’s 150 acres. It really is — it’s pretty incredible just starting at it. What does this like literally and personally mean to you? And how do you use this space?
Cook: This is like working in a national park for me. And it provides that kind of feeling. So you know, we all operate on inspiration and motivation. And you find your somewhere. And the only difference between people is generally what level of ins—of how inspired they are and how motivated they are to do different things.So nature really inspires me and motivates me as it does the bulk of the people here. If you were to go inside the offices, you would see conference rooms named after national parks. Right.
Roberts: Right. Yeah.
Cook: I’m right around the corner from the Grand Canyon room.
Roberts: Which follows what you do with operating system names too —
Cook: Yeah. Absolutely.
Roberts: — in recent history.
Roberts: So here’s the question then.
Roberts: You have this incredible outdoor space. You have people who are inspired by nature. I wonder if Apple — I don’t know if it’s official or unofficial policy — how you encourage your employees to spend time here whether it’s — you know, because it’s one thing to go for a bike ride, and you’re staring at your watch. And you’re closing some activity loops.
Roberts: And it’s another thing to take an outdoor conference call or meet with a group of people. And it’s another thing to say, hey, everyone. Make sure you spend some time out there. And just like don’t bring any devices.
Roberts: Like leave — is that something that Apple consciously does? Or is it something that you think people are just choosing to do here on their own?
Cook: It’s a combination the two. I mean, we even have monthly activity challenges across the whole of the company to try to get people outside, get people moving, get people exercising. They form teams informally. And they compete.
Cook: So we do little things like that that plant the seed. We have one café essentially in the building. So everybody — you have a certain amount of activity just to get to the café.We have a couple of outdoor kind of cafes. But the big café — there’s one. Everybody goes to the same place. The restrooms are a reasonable distance from people’s area —
Roberts: Force them to walk.
Cook: — of working. We force them to walk.
Cook: You have little coffee bars where people congregate. And these things not only get people moving, but they provide that serendipitous kind of discussion and collision of ideas that bring out innovation.
Roberts: Yeah. And I was just asking about the idea of encouraging people to maybe not take devices with them on a walk because we all know what it’s like —
Roberts: — whether you’re on the street or even in a park where it just changes the relationship to the space. And this is really special. I mean, the investment here by Apple in the natural landscaping is extraordinary.
Cook: It is.
Roberts: So you think about like, okay. This is here. How are we choosing to engage with it? And how are we encouraging, you know, even just your office community here to engage with it?
Cook: Last month — or actually, this month — it’s going on right now — we have a meditation challenge where people are being motivated to meditate. There’s no better meditation than, in my view, walking out in nature.
Cook: You know, it’s the ultimate meditation for me. So again, lots of small things like that that get people thinking — and hopefully, they’re applying that in their own lives too, not just while they’re at work but when they’re away as well.
Roberts: What about, if we expand it from you and the employees here to the users of your products —because I think we all know one of the great challenges of our time is finding ways to really escape, to step away from it all.
Cook: Yeah. Yeah.
Roberts: And a lot of that has to do because, if you have an iPhone with you, it’s like the whole world is in your hand, you know.
Roberts: It’s all there.
Cook: It’s a window to the world.
Roberts: It is. And it’s a portal to the world. So you can be just about anywhere, and the world comes and grabs you. Or you are drawn by this force to engage with it.
Roberts: So as the CEO of a tech company, which people depend on your products to engage with that world, do you feel a responsibility to those users just like you do to your employees to help them learn how and when to disconnect?
Cook: Very much so. We think very deeply about all the things that we create, about how they’re going to be used, how they’re going to be used in scale — the great ways they’ll be used but also the not-so-great ways that they can be used. So an example of that would be screen time. Right. We do not want people using our products too much. We want to create them in such a way people get the most out of them in short periods of time to free themselves up to do whatever it is that they want to do. And so screen time was a way of making all of us aware of how much time we’re spending in our technology. And I think — including for me personally — it was my estimates versus the reality were very different. And I —
Roberts: Do you have any numbers you remember?
Cook: They were high. [laughter] They were high. I was — but what I did though — so the action I took was I started asking myself, why do I need all these notifications?
Tim Cook: Why do I really need this? Do I really need to understand things in the moment that they’re happening? And you know — and I started taking a meat ax out to some of these things that would grab my attention but didn’t need to in the moment —
Cook: — to free me up to do other things. So — yeah. I learned — like I think like probably most people underestimate how much they’re using it.
Cook: And we’ve never designed our products to dominate people’s lives. That’s never been our purpose. It’s not our business.
Cook: Our business is to give people tools that enrich their lives and allow them to create something that they couldn’t create or do something or, you know, sort of transform themselves in some sort of way. We’ve never been into this, How long is somebody spending on our property? And let’s try to figure out a way to make that as high as possible?”
Cook: How many clicks can we get? We’re not into that business model.
Roberts: Right. But it is — the thing is the tool is so impressive, and the design is so alluring. And so that’s one part of it. You know, we’re naturally sort of — people pick it up.
Roberts: It’s why we see people have — you know, you find that moment of boredom. And what do people do? They lean into a device. So that challenge of helping your users have that healthy relationship — I would suggest that we are still figuring that out and not just Apple.
Cook: I think there’s more to do. I think there’s more to do. And you know, another example of things that we do is we give parental controls.
Cook: So for those people that are helping address their kids, it’s a proactive way for them to have not only a conversation but also to put some rules of the road in. So we have thought deeply about each of these. And we continue to do it. We’re not saying we’ve arrived, and we’ve got all the answers today. We innovate there just like we innovate with the latest camera system and the latest watch and so forth.
Roberts: Sometimes, I feel like th — because I use Screen Time too.
Roberts: And I noticed right away. I was like, man, you know, I’m doom-scrolling a little on the New York Times here. Like I’ve got to stop this. And — I just got pulled into another random evening of Instagram. Get me out of here. But I had an experience recently that I think got to me the challenge of this which is I was hiking with my family in Point Reyes National Seashore. But it was like three weeks ago.
Cook: It’s beautiful.
Roberts: It’s beautiful.
Roberts: Took the phone, threw it in the pack. We’re just with the kids, my wife and I. I forgot to put do not disturb on. So like a few hours into the hike — there’s not a lot of connectivity out there. But all of a sudden, I got some reception. And I heard and felt the buzz in my pack. And it was like, in that moment, everything I had been escaping, work concerns, the news, it was all just — I was carrying it emotionally and psychologically. And I was upset with myself for forgetting. And I had that challenge we all have where — I didn’t grab the phone. I didn’t take it out. But there was this gnawing feeling in my head of like, what is that? Did I forget to do something for work? You know, is something the matter? And it took a real effort to quell that.
Roberts: And to me, that just gets at this challenge and my sense of how early we are on that part of this. I mean, the iPhone has been around since — it’s relatively new in our relationship to techno —
Roberts: Yeah. Thirteen years.
Roberts: So it’s — we’re still babies in terms of dealing with this. But to me, that punctuated just how challenging it is because here I had the best intentions. I was out in nature. I hid the phone away. But I just forgot. And I was like, someone should help me solve this. You know, Apple help. Like, where is the app that senses that I’m in a wild place and automatically turns off everything but emergency? You know, I don’t know. But —
Roberts: It just gets at the real difficulty of that challenge. And how much of that is a technological challenge and a design challenge? And how much is that a like social/cultural/psychol — and where Apple fits into all that.
Cook: I know, when I’m out in nature, I feel so small in the scheme of things that my issues of the day or whatever become fractions.
Cook: And then, the beauty of nature takes over and is so dominant in my thinking that it’s like a palate cleanser for the mind. Right. It’s the ultimate meditation for me.
Roberts: Where — I’d love to hear — I mean, obviously, you can do that. We could see here, right, and have that experience especially with your relatively empty office. This is the national park.
Cook: [laughs] It is.
Roberts: Besides here, I don’t know how much time — we can start walking —
Cook: Yeah. Okay.
Roberts: You know, again, you’re a very busy individual and, clearly, you’re expressing an appreciation for being outside and being in natural places. It’s rejuvenating, mind-clearing. But like how often do you actually get to do that? And where do you go? And what do you do, if you’re able to share?
Cook: I love to go to national parks. That is my go-to. I religiously go to some every year. This year has been a bad exception to that. I had reservations at Glacier for the end of June. And obviously, that didn’t happen. They actually even closed the hotel there and closed that section of the park. I think they are, as someone really smart said, America’s best idea. And who was that? Wallace Stegner, I think.
Roberts: I actually — boy, I should really know that.
Roberts: [laughs] I’m freezing in the moment.
Cook: It wasn’t Ken Burns who —
Roberts: No. He used it. [laughter]
Cook: He used it and used it effectively, I might add.
Roberts: Yeah. Let’s at least not credit him. So you have a personal relationship to national parks and a real —
Roberts: — you know, passion point there. And Apple has been supporting national parks through the National Parks Foundation youth programs for I think it’s four years now.
Roberts: And —
Cook: Sounds right. We do this thing with Apple Pay every year.
Roberts: Right. Right. Yeah. It’s like $10 for every purchase.
Roberts: It raises a significant sum of money. And of course, you named an operating system after Yosemite, which —
Roberts: — as I understand it, may have sent a surge of people to Yosemite that year. [laughter] But to get back to what we were talking about before —
Roberts: — one of the issues the national parks faces right now is people taking their cell phones and going to the edges of cliffs and the tops of mountains and the sides of raging rivers so that they can get selfies for Instagram and Facebook. And this is something that people are concerned about these days. I mean, this is — the Netflix documentation, Social Dilemma, that everyone is talking about right now —
Roberts: — gets at the mental-health issues of social media. And Apple is not a social media company.
Roberts: But a lot of those people going to national parks and taking those photos — you know, they’re using iPhones. So I don’t know if you feel that’s an issue that Apple can address? Should address? Have the capability to address?
Cook: Well, my advice to everyone that goes to a national park is to leave your selfie stick behind and leave your desire to get that perfect selfie behind and just soak in the beauty of the park itself because that will stay with you a lot longer than this selfie kind of mode will.
I worry about that and other things that particularly come out of social media like bullying and the misinformation and — the list is long — and even violence that are coming out. And we do try to do things to get at this, you know, from the way we review apps and put some curation in in our properties so that we are not feeding this kind of environment whether that’s Apple News, where you can get information from trusted sources, or curating the App Store where we’re not allowing on there certain apps that totally are trafficking in those sorts of things.
Cook: But I agree. But it’s a difficult — it is a difficult issue. And the way that we’ve always viewed our responsibility is that, as a platform owner, that we have the responsibility of how the product is used and not just to throw something out there and see how it’s used and see what the implications of it are. But everybody doesn’t have that frame of mind, unfortunately. But we definitely advocate for the world to move closer to where we are.
Roberts: Right. Where it gets is what I was suggesting before is the nature of the challenge. The question to me is what Apple does so well. How do you address that challenge? Because it’s not an easy one. I mean, you know, I don’t know if there’s — the ecosystem around the iPhone and all the other devices — maybe there’s ways to alter that that you’ve spoken of.
Roberts: But I have another question too —
Roberts: — which is —
Cook: — by the way, these are fruit trees.
Cook: As we start getting closer here, you’ll see plums moving — or pears rather moving into apples. There are plums in another area. And —
Roberts: Okay. And —
Cook: These are for the employees.
Roberts: Right. I was going to ask.
Cook: We take them to our café and give them away. We have about 800 fruit trees on the campus. And they’re like — from May to January, they are constantly harvesting going on.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. You were talking before about telling people they should leave the selfie sticks at home. How often do you — something tells me you may not even use a selfie stick.
Cook: I don’t. [laughter] I’ve never used one.
Roberts: But how often are you able in your life — and maybe it only happens when you go to national parks. But I’d be curious if there are other moments where you are really able to just completely disconnect and make that conscious choice as something you do for yourself?
Cook: I’m religious about exercising. For me, it’s the thing that keeps stress at bay because I can’t go to a national park every day unfortunately. Although, this is as close as I get on a daily basis. But when I exercise, the only thing I’m using is the Watch to record my workout. So I’m off grid for that period of time. And I am religious about doing that regardless of what may be going on at the time.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. How often are you — because you reportedly exercise — I don’t know — everyday, most days. How integral is Watch and activity and the workouts to that exercise? And how has that played out for you?
Cook: It’s significant for me because I like a true north —
Cook: — so to speak. I want to know what I’m doing, not what I think I’m doing —
Cook: — because I can always convince myself I’m doing more than I really am just like I can convince myself I’m using the products less.
Roberts: Yeah. Right.
Cook: And so for me, it’s a motivator. You know, the idea of closing these rings — we all know intuitively and now with research that physical activity and exercise is like a key part of your longevity or quality of life and so forth. So I really want that for myself. And having the Watch there to motivate me — I can choose whatever — pretty much every workout known to man is in there now. We’ve got a Fitness+ product that’s coming.
Cook: So it democratizes personal training in a way that people can have access to some of the world’s best trainers. That’ll be coming out later in the year. We’re really excited about doing that. And then, in addition, what the Watch provides is this sort of a guardian of your health as well because it’s constantly monitoring your heart.
Cook: You can do an ECG at a moment’s notice. It sort of democratized this thing that maybe people had once every many years. But most people never had an ECG, you know. So we’ve done — step by step, we’ve added increasing function to it. And we’re continuing to sort of push the boundaries there of what can happen. And we’ve got — also, many people were enrolled in different research projects. And we had to democratize research in a way as well by having much larger constituents that are able to participate because a lot of people do want to help. But they don’t know how.
Cook: And now, they can opt in, make conscious decisions to take part in that. There’s 400,000 people in a heart study — 400,000. These numbers are just —
Cook:— blow away. It used to be, for research, you would go to the bulletin board and pick a number off of. And they were lucky to get 10 to 20 kind of participants.
Roberts: Yeah. So there’s two sides of that. One is the opportunity for the researchers, which is —
Roberts:— mass data sets. And maybe the metrics, you know, compared to a clinical setting — people could make some choice about precision. But that’s overwhelmed by the numbers and the participation rates.
Roberts: The other side is actually your users. And I wonder if you think that that’s actually an attraction to your users, that they have a chance to contribute and trust Apple’s privacy and security but to contribute to these s — do you see that as actually something that you’re offering your users?
Cook: I think it is because I think, inherently, we all do want to help other people and regardless if we think it’s going to accrue to ourselves or not. And this is a way for people to do that, a way for them to participate in something bigger than themselves and somehow push forward humanity in some kind of way.
Cook: You know, I started getting — years ago when we first came out with the Watch, surprisingly — it’s not something we predicted — I started getting notes from somebody saying, “I found out I have a major problem with my heard. And I wouldn’t have known to go to the doctor had it not been for the Watch.” And these started first trickling in. And then, it was like a faucet of coming in. So we wound up adding AFib detection. Right. We added the ECG function. And all of these things are democratizing and allowing someone to own their health in a way that they were not able to do before. You know, you probably used a chest strap —
Roberts: Yeah. I did.
Cook: — for — right. We all —
Roberts: For triathlon training like 15 years ago.
Cook: Right. We put those gross things on. You know, they would get nasty and all the rest of it. But very few people would do that. And you’d never do it for your whole day. You know, you just wouldn’t even think about it. And now, all the sudden, there’s a heart — you’re being monitored continually. This is huge.
Roberts: Yeah. The way you describe that process of a few messages and then the flood —
Roberts: — it begs a question about your design and innovation process —
Roberts: — which is creating tools because you believe you know what people are going to need. And then, on the other side, creating tools that have capabilities and you have a sense of what people need, but you’re not sure what’s going to come of it. Which best describes what’s played out with Watch in particular?
Cook: It’s a combination. We thought it was a big idea to continually monitor the heart. What we didn’t necessarily predict was it was — all of these cases were going to come out of it where the person told us, “I would have not been here any longer. Do you get that, you know? Do you understand this has been life changing for me?” And so after the first few of those, you realize that there’s something here. And you start pulling that string further then. And pulling that string further led to AFib. It led to ECG. It led to putting essentially control limits around your heart where, if it gets too low, you get a notification. If it gets too high, you get a notification. So all of these things in service of the user, the customer so that they can own their health in a way that they haven’t been able to in the past.
Roberts: Yeah. Now, you have blood oxygen sensor at a time when this is an issue because of COVID.
Cook: Yeah. I’m already getting notes on that as well that one more predictably because of what’s going on —
Cook: — at the moment. But it’s been an interesting journey. And I’ve said this before. And I really believe that, if you sort of zoom out to the future and you look back and you ask, “What has Apple’s greatest contribution been?” it will be in the health area, the wellness-and-health area.
Roberts: Fascinating. Fascinating. Okay. So if we look at where we’re at now with health, if you just go by the new Series 6 Apple Watch commercial —
Roberts: — the theme of that commercial is it already does that. [laughter] That’s what we learn watching — it does all these things. The future is now. But what it suggests is that, in terms of sensors and tracking and metrics, that it really already does that and that perhaps the great challenge ahead is not adding some new sensing capability to the Watch, that maybe we’re getting close to maxing out there, that the challenge ahead is figuring out exactly what we can really get out of this information and how to look at this data and how to process it and how to use all of it to continue to make this an instrument to improve people’s lives. Is that right on the trajectory? Or are you like, no, there’s a bunch of sensors coming?
Cook: No. I would say never discount the amount of innovation that can be in the future. We’ve got things going on in our labs that are mind blowing that — and some that we know will change, some that we are still pulling that string on to try to figure out how to do certain things. So there’s a ton of innovation left to go there. I would say — to use a baseball analogy since we’re in the World Series or about to be — we are in the early innings. I think we’re in the early innings. Think about the amount of sensors in your car.
Cook: And arguably, your body is much more important than your car.
Roberts: Yeah. Arguably. Yeah. [laughs]
Cook: And so I think there’s many, many other things. This is so cool. When I do something like our quarterly earnings call, after the earnings call, I come out here.
Roberts: Okay. So this is a pond. I’m forgetting — does it have a title? Like the Ripple Pond? Is that right?.
Roberts: It’s a pond.
Cook: You can call it what you want. You can call it what you want. But the sound of it and the look is unbelievable. And in a normal day — you were asking me about a normal day — you would see people scattered all around on these benches here. Yeah. Just the sound itself makes these big problems and big challenges of the day seem so small.
Roberts: No throwing coins. [laughter]
Cook: No. You won’t see any coins in there. Well, nobody has any money here. We use Apple Pay.
Roberts: That’s right. [laughter] What are you talking about money? Yeah. Who uses cash and coins?
Cook: It’s all digital.
Roberts: (narrating) After the break, Tim Cook talks about Apple’s entrance into online fitness coaching, as well as the company’s responses to the pandemic and its environmental initiatives. We also dig back into the challenge of learning how to have better relationships with our devices.
Roberts: So more on fitness here —
Roberts: Obviously, you mentioned Fitness+ coming later this year. To me, I see there a pretty fundamental step being taken by Apple in that you’re really getting in the business of fitness content. And what I mean by that is you’re actually — you have real-life coaches and trainers. And their personalities and their approach to fitness is — you know, this is a representation of Apple now. And to me, that creates a — it’s a different relationship with your users. You know, these are the people you’re putting forward. You’re actually leading people through training sessions in a different way. Do you see that as as big a step as I think it is? And how excited are you about having Apple trainers and coaches that are able to reach millions of people?
Cook: In a way, we’ve been in this business of coaching. It’s just we’ve been coaching about something else because retail is very much like that. Right. If you go in a retail store, the thing that you’re most likely to be looking for is help, help to create something, help to learn something. Maybe you even have an issue. But the last thing you’re probably doing is buying something. So retail is probably not the right name for what it is we’ve built there because there’s so much learning that goes on and discovery and exploration that is going on. So in a way, what Fitness is doing is taking that into the wellness space, right, that same sort of coaching, of learning, of exploration and providing — just like — my view is we have the best people in the world working in our retail store interfacing with our customers. We’re going to try to do the same thing with Fitness.
Cook: So for — we’ve had workouts on the Watch. But you’ve had to invent them yourself.
Cook: Now, we’re taking it — we’re extending that to helping you create and helping you explore. You may — you know, hopefully, we’ll get people to get out of their genre and look at other alternate things because they can do it so simply. And then, maybe they go back. Maybe they expand their universe a bit.
Roberts: Yeah. But you’re also really humanizing it.
Cook: We are.
Roberts: It’s different.
Cook: We are.
Roberts: You know, if you look back at where some of these trends and arcs have been charted, you look at something like SoulCycle, and now the movement of that kind of thing to digital platforms. And people get obsessed with their trainers. We all know what that’s like when you find someone who can help make a difference in your life.
Roberts: So that’s what I was saying before. I feel like it’s a real deepening and transitioning of a relationship that takes it to — you know, honestly, it feels like a more intimate level.
Cook: It’s a broadening.
Cook: It’s a broadening because that — what you’re describing we have through our stores today with many, many users. I mean, I’ve told you about notes I get about people’s health and finding out something there. The other very popular thing I get is notes describing how a person made them feel that they had met in retail, how someone was able to demonstrate a way to do something that they didn’t know before, you know, to learn something that they didn’t know before. So in a way, this personal touch is now expanded or will expand into Fitness+ as well.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. You’re talking about retail and that personal one-on-one action —
Roberts: — which here we are in 2020. You know, you have to talk about COVID and its impact.
Cook: Yeah. Yeah.
Roberts: So obviously, one of the impacts on your business has been, you know, retail. And like so many companies, Apple had to make a number of sudden changes to the way you run your entire company. I wonder though if, over this period of time that we’ve been living with this crisis now, if there’s also been, you know, maybe a larger reckoning where it makes you step back and think about what your products and what Apple can just do for its users and how it maybe even as hopefully — and you know, over the next year as we begin to emerge from the crisis, if there’s been any big shifts and thinking, wait. This made us step back and think more about how we relate to our users and what our role is in their lives.
Cook: With COVID, we ask ourselves continually, how could we help? Right. Not just, how can we continue working and so forth? We had to reinvent ourselves there too. But how can we help? And we did things like — we designed a face shield. We designed a face shield because we knew that we’re pretty good at design. And we’re pretty good at manufacturing and scale. And we’d never done a face shield before. But we thought, you know, we can take some folks that are curious about this. And we can do something really cool. So we did that. And we donated tens of millions of them.
We took our supply-chain folks and said, let’s go source some masks because PPE was a crisis at the beginning if you remember. We were in crisis mode. And we have people in so many countries in the world. And we were able to cobble together a supply chain for masks. And we wound up donating almost 40 million of them, sourcing and donating, logistically moving them with the knowledge that we had in the supply chain.
We didn’t know anything about masks. So we had to learn in a hurry. So we just kept doing that. We asked ourselves what we could do on contact tracing and sort of exposure notification and decided, you know, we should work with Google on this because the sum of both of us touch so many more people. And it would make the end product much better. So we went and worked with Google on this. And that contact tracing now is in the process of rolling out to most states in the United States and is in the heart of contact tracing in many countries.
Roberts: So how do some of those lessons and initiatives and choices like working with Google —
Roberts: — how much do you, you know, take that with you as you march forward? And again, as we begin to move potentially past this crisis over the next year hopefully, what kind of value and what specific lessons do you hold on to and say this is — we learned something from this crisis as Apple?
Cook: We are learners. We never — we are very humble and have a great deal of humility and never think we’ve arrived at anything. So we’re always taking in both how the world is changing and, you know, things that we’ve learned about ourselves that we didn’t know about. So we’re going to take all these things forward.
You know, one thing that has come out in a negative way that we’ve reacted to is climate change. You know, I saw that you live in the wine country. And of course —
Roberts: Well, in that direction.
Cook: In that direction. So I mean, all the fires that have been here —
Cook:— and in the south, where I’m from, the hurricanes have just been terrible.
Cook: And you see these, once-in-a-hundred-year things happening now annually or even more so than annually. So we looked at this and said, so what can we do? And lots of users want to do things.
We looked at this and said, what we need to do — we’ve been running Apple on 100 percent renewable energy for a couple years or so. This whole site is run on solar and fuel cell. And we looked at this and said, you know, we need to take responsibility for the electricity usage that our products use after they’re sold. And we need to take responsibility over the whole of our supply chain regardless of whether we’re doing it ourselves or somebody else is doing it. And we’re going to take the sum of all of this to carbon neutral by 2030. This is like 20 years faster than the Paris agreement set targets and so forth. And we couldn’t be more excited to do that. And we’re doing it not only for us but for our users as well.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. Well, it is — you know, you shifted crises on me. But I was going to talk about that one too.
Roberts: No. That’s okay.
Cook: Sorry about that.
Roberts: Because that’s the reality of our world right now is we are facing multiple crises converging to making things really challenging. And climate change and the health of our planet is a massive crisis. And you spoke about the energy-usage piece of that. But one of the challenges I would think for Apple is just —you know, because, again, there is clearly an environmental ethos here. It’s huge.
Cook: Yeah. Yeah.
Roberts: And there’s been a number of investments and green initiatives. And in the making of your products, I know that there’s an effort to use or a real commitment to using recycled source materials, reclaiming source materials and used devices. But at the end of the day, these are still devices that people hold on to for what I would argue is a relatively short period of time. You know, if you have a phone and you want to get the new one — I don’t know. You know, you can put years on it, two years, four years, something like that. And you wonder just on that level like — as you’ve said, you’re pretty good at design. And I wonder, is it possible to reach for something like the 15-year iPhone, you know, one that you buy —
Roberts: — because sometimes you think of — and I think about with the Watch too where there’s the kind of watch you inherit from grandma or grandpa. And then, there’s the kind of watch we use now. And obviously, grandpa’s watch just told time. So it’s a different product. But that — it’s kind of the ultimate design challenge, I feel like, is creating a product with all these capabilities but is somehow engineered so that it has a much longer endurance for the user. I’m just curious if that’s something you talk about or —
Cook: We design the products to last a long time. But we know that some people do want the latest —
Cook: — or want the latest every two years or four years or five years or whatever it might be. So the thing that, in addition to that that we do, is we have built just a huge recyclability and trade-in kind of business where somebody can, both from an environmental point of view feel good, that their unit is going to be refurbished and then resold and reused to extend the life of it even further. Or in the case that the phone is not working anymore and it can’t be refurbished, you can recycle the parts so recycle the material in it. Like this latest iPhone, carbon-free aluminum — it wasn’t too long ago that people said this is not doable. Using rare earths that have been recycled — our objective longer term is to not take anything from the earth at all to build a product. So we have several of these — I called them person-on-the-moon kind of objectives — that are really hard. But we’re making progress with them and that they’re essential to do in order to meet this 2030 objective.
Cook: So design them to last a very long time but recognize that people are in different categories in terms of whether they want to use it — whether they want the latest technology or not but, if they do, provide the system by which that product can continue to be used by someone else who doesn’t necessarily value the latest, greatest thing. So we’re trying to recognize that there’s both and give that person sort of peace of mind, if you will, that that phone can be used by somebody else. And they can still enjoy the latest stuff.
Cook: Now, there’s some things that you need the latest processor for. And there’s some software kind of innovations that are only possible on the latest hardware. So there’s always tradeoffs that people make on these.But think about 10 years ago. We were shipping the iPhone 4. I still see iPhone 4s out there, 4 and 4Ss. I still see them. they can’t run the latest software, right, because the latest software needs the hardware to push it. But these things are designed with really high-quality bars.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. We’re talking about sort of higher-purpose issues here —
Roberts: COVID —
Roberts: — the environment.
Cook: The environment.
Roberts: You’ve spoken in the past with a lot of passion about why Apple has meant so much to you and coming here and feeling that this was a home for you because it was a place that had a higher purpose —
Roberts: — to serve humanity. I wonder if you look at recent history maybe during your tenure as CEO but even much more recent. If you were to pinpoint moments or a singular moment where you said this is us doing that, living up to that higher purpose, I don’t know what stands out the most for you.
Cook: Fortunately, I can do that a lot. You know, some examples: receiving the notes on the heart ailments from people who’ve said I would have died if not for this; getting notes from amateur photographers who all of a sudden felt they were a professional photographer because of the iPhone; democratizing these huge rigs that people would have — and there’s still a need for some of those in some places. But you’ve now got a professional camera in your pocket. It’s also the how we conduct ourselves. So it’s not just the what but the how, the how meaning things like the environmental challenge that I just talked about. We care deeply about the people who assemble our products. So we put an enormous focus on workers’ rights and so forth.
We believe that education is a great equalizer of people. So we put a lot of energy in education and trying to deliver technology and sort of a digital classroom instruction to kids that would not otherwise receive that. We saw privacy as a key issue in the digital age way back decades ago and began to build out tools and so forth where people could protect themselves from the data industrial complex if you will, right?
The how to us is really important. And then, there’s the —Steve used to say we’re as proud of the things we don’t do as we are of the things we do. And what he meant by that was, in order to do things at this kind of quality level and this quality level, you can only do a few of those. We can only do a few of those anyway. And we’ve always been about making the best, not the most. And so if you look at it, it’s not because we don’t have other ideas of products. It’s because we say no a lot.
Cook: We’re not going to work on that. We’re not going to work on that so that we can throw all of ourselves into the things that we are going to work on and not only the what but the how as well and the why, the most important question of all is y —We’re always doing it to enrich somebody’s life. It’s not about enriching ourselves. It’s about enriching somebody else. And we think, if we do that right, then the company will do fine. And we’ll be able to take what we earn and invest in another round.
Roberts: I would think that there’s a challenge that you have faced in your time in leadership here. If you were to step back and look at the arc of the narrative of Silicon Valley where — I think there was a point when maybe the world point of view was — this is world-changing stuff. It’s going to make the world great and easy. And we’re all going to be enriched. And everything is going to work out peachy — to a stage we feel now, which is kind of deep into a backlash and, you know, a belief by many people that these things that Silicon Valley are creating are divisive, destructive, not healthy.
You know, they think they’re doing one thing. But really, this isn’t working out so well, which goes, of course, counter to everything you just discussed. And I don’t know if you feel that achieving that higher purpose is maybe harder now than it’s ever been because of that larger environment or not.
Cook: The challenge that we face is that some people see Silicon Valley as monolithic. And so in particular, the larger companies they sort of put in one bucket, if you will — not everyone. But there’s a fair number of people that do lop them together, Silicon Valley. It’s done both internationally in places. And it’s done in the U.S. in places. So the challenge that we have is to tell our story and to say what we are doing and how we’re different. If you look at it, some of the big issues that are surrounding tech today are the lack of responsibility taken on a platform about what happens. We clearly take responsibility. We make tough decisions. We make tough decisions to exclude things because, just like you decide what it is going to be in your magazine — and you don’t take everything. Right. You make really tough decisions. And you have to say no. We have to do the same thing on our platform because we know that a platform is a great amplifier.
So you can be a great amplifier of misinformation, of violence, of a lot of different things out there. We don’t want to be a part of any of this. We don’t want to be a part of the hate at all. And I feel, by and large, that we’ve avoided that. Right. So that puts us in a different category.
Privacy — huge issue — maybe next to climate change the most important topic of the 21st century. And we’re arguably in a very, very different place there. You know, we provide not only tools, but we go through extreme engineering in order not to collect a bunch of data, not to give the excuse of I’ve got to have all of this to do my job. So we just have to tell that story. And it is a challenge because the simplistic thinking just sort of categories everybody together. But fortunately, it’s not what we’re doing or how we’re doing it or why we’re doing it. It’s the separation from others who may not be answering those questions.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. Well, I want to circle back because I —
Roberts:— I sort of come to the sort of main topic of my interest and sort of where Outside Magazine gets particularly invested in some of this, which is that issue of disconnecting because, you know, you talked about the main issues of the 21st century. I would say one of the things that really pops up for me is that question. And it makes me think about — you know, I’ve heard you speak about your early days at Apple. And you arrived here at a very interesting time —
Roberts: — you know, mid to late ’90s, you know, Steve Jobs just back at the company.
Roberts: They company’s in a bit of turmoil business wise. And the Think Different campaign is going on. So the most radical people of the company with the boldest ideas — they’re the ones that Steve Jobs is trying to spur, to push their ideas forward. And some amazing things have come out of that, really just incredible. There’s a part of me that feels like perhaps the most radical bold thing you can do is make that commitment to disconnecting just an absolute top priority because I think there are so many wonderful benefits of these technologies.And you spoke to them. I mean, they literally save people’s lives. And they do — during COVID, they have helped us connect in ways. Thank God for them really, you know.
But there is this flip side, which is these technologies pull us out of these moments when we could be in a beautiful national park. Or they pull us out of these moments when we’re with the people we love. And somehow, we’re drawn to this device because the device is so well made. And it’s a platform for these incredible apps that really have a way of grabbing our attention like nothing we’ve experienced before. So I wonder what you think of that proposal, that that commitment could be top commitment among everything else because, at least from the user point of view, clearly with Screen Time and other developments —
Roberts: — you are very aware of it. And you personally are very aware of it. But it’s such a challenge for so many millions of your users that I wonder if that’s something that could rise even higher.
Cook: Well, we take the challenge to continue innovating in that space just like we take the challenge to keep innovating in each of the product categories that we’re in. My simple rule is, if you’re looking at your device more than you’re looking in somebody’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing — just very simple.
And I recognize that there are people — many people who are doing that. And some number of those are unhappy that they’re doing it and some number of those that are not. And where we placed our energy thus far is on making people aware, not playing the heavy hand to tell them what’s good for them, right, but making them aware and, if they’re a parent, giving them tools to control. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we will go further here, that we’ll discover more, that we’ll innovate more. There’s no doubt.
Roberts: Mm-hmm. And again, I wonder if maybe your point of view and Apple’s point of view is changing on this. I think of a — there was a commercial for the — I think — believe it was the Series 3 Apple Watch that I remember well where a surfer was catching a wave —
Roberts: — a great commercial. Right. And she is dropping in. She gets a beautiful ride. And right at this wonderful moment of the wave, her Watch rings with a phone call.
Roberts: And the advertisement was like, “Look. Isn’t this amazing? You can get a phone call while catching a wave.” And of course, my reaction was like, that’s not amazing. Leave me alone. I’m catching a wave.
Roberts: So I wonder — again, there is an arc to this. There’s a moment where we’re early on. We’re so excited about the connectivity we have. And then, there’s the maturation of that. Our teenage years is where we are if you think of the iPhone of being 13 where you start to realize, okay, the connectivity is great. But boy, you better learn how to balance it. Or you’re going to be an irresponsible adult. So I just wonder if you see that as not only a technological and innovation challenge but one where there has been an ongoing shift of culture even here at Apple.
Cook: I think that we’ve learned that some of our users are not happy with the amount of time that they invest in their device. So our response was let’s figure out a way to help them. Let’s put all of our energy into figuring out how to help them. And out of that pops parental controls because some people are more anxious about their kids. The truth is they should also be anxious about themselves. So we gave them Screen Time as well. And Screen Time is for kids and for adults. And there’s no doubt that we will do more. There’s no doubt we’ll push forward for more.
We also — fundamentally different, we don’t design things to grab your attention. We don’t design things to become habitual in some kind of way. We don’t design things where we say our objective is to keep you X hours per day on our property. We design things so that they’re simple and elegant and easy to use and fast. Right. You want to take a photo? We can take your photo really quickly. Right. You know, and you want some information on your Watch that’s glanceable? Just put those in complications. And like this, you can see what it is that you need to see. You want to only get that phone call when you’re surfing from one individual or two individuals? You can do that.
Roberts: Yeah. Sometimes, I think the challenge is it’s on the user to get better at using that. And my example from earlier — like I forgot to turn off do not disturb.
Roberts: And I think that’s a challenge. Part of this is on all of us — a big part of it, you know.
Cook: Yes. But it’s on us to provide the tools. It’s on us to provide the tools because, again, we take responsibility for how people are using our products. And we want to help people use them in the best possible way for themselves. Right.
Roberts: So as we kind of wrap up here, I guess I’m curious to hear, when you look forward here at Apple, where your passions and excitement just raise to the highest level. When you think about what might be coming or — you know what’s coming. But when you think both near — and it could be farther out. When you see something you’re reaching for here where you go back to that idea of that higher purpose —
Roberts: — and the possibilities that are there that you can imagine coming to fruition in the years to come at this moment in time where we have a lot of challenges, are there any of those that really stand out as this is where I’m really excited?
Cook: There are so many to be honest with you. I think that we are on the front end of many things. We’re on the front end of AR. AR is exciting to me because, unlike VR that becomes all-encompassing, AR allows us to have a conversation. And it can become even a livelier conversation because you might be talking about something that was the magazine. And we could just pull it up and look at it. Right. So it enhances us. It doesn’t get in the way of us. I’m excited about the democratization of health because I see that one of the issues with healthcare is inherently we’ve all outsourced the way we feel to our doctor. And I don’t believe that model is going to get us to where we want to go. I think we have to take responsibility. But in order for us to take responsibility, we need information. And this is our current —
Roberts: The Watch.
Cook: — entry in doing that —
Cook: — the Watch. But that has a long future ahead of it. I’m excited about other things I don’t want to talk about. [laughter]
Roberts: That’s kind of what I thought you’d say. Well, I’ve really appreciated talking to you about all of this.
Cook: This has been great.
Roberts: It’s a really nice office you’ve got here that does look quite a bit like a national park. And I’m glad to hear that you, even as busy as you are, do make a commitment to get outside —
Cook: I do.
Roberts: — and to get away from it all because it’s hard.
Cook: It is hard, but it is the palate cleanser for the mind.
Cook: And it is the area — the thing that I can do to feel a part of something larger. You know, I feel that about working here. I even feel that more when I go out in nature.
Cook: And I’m still working through my national park list. You’ve probably gone to every one of them.
Roberts: Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately these days, I feel like I’m doing a lot of working inside for Outside. So —
Roberts: That’s how it goes.
Cook: But this too shall pass.
Roberts: I hope so.
Cook: It will pass.
Roberts: All right. Thank you so much.
Cook: Yeah. Great seeing you.
Roberts: I really appreciate it.
Cook: It’s a pleasure.
Roberts (narrating): You can read my feature story on Tim Cook’s ambitions for Apple’s future in health and fitness in the Winter Issue of Outside magazine, out early next year
By the way, a subscription to Outside Magazine makes a great holiday gift. Outside Podcast listeners can order gift subscriptions at a discounted rate for a limited time at outsideonline.com/holiday2020.
This episode was produced by me, Michael Roberts. Thanks to the team at Apple for logistical support and for recording this conversation.
We’ll be back next week.