Tim Cook’s Own (Slow) Innovation Brand
Apple whistleblowers point to a few factors, the main one being that the smartphone market is slowing down and becoming “saturated” – a term analysts use when they mean most people interested in buying of a new smartphone probably already have one. For Apple, which derives nearly two-thirds of its revenue from the iPhone, it looks like this could be a big deal.
Of course, Apple CEO Tim Cook is aware of this. It doesn’t really bother him.
“It’s actually a privilege, not a problem,” Cook said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade and bugs into features. Cook’s optimism – some might say denial – isn’t particularly popular, even among dedicated Apple watchers. Some even say that Apple has reached the top and is about to come back down.
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The bears continued to roar after the company announced that its revenue fell year-on-year for the second consecutive quarter. It just doesn’t happen at Apple, or at least not at the Apple we’ve come to know over the past decade.
Still, even that doesn’t seem to deter Cook. “I realize that people who focus on that 90-day clock say, ‘Oh my God, the smartphone industry is only up 1% or down 6%.’ You know, the global economy isn’t that great right now,” Cook told my Post colleague Jena McGregor. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s the best market in the world.”
He believes that over time, “every person in the world will have a smartphone.” And he is ready to wait.
In this way, Cook is an outlier in a go-go-go tech world. His achievements are long term. They take investments. It is about refinement, about maturity. As COO, Cook has been credited with what some might arguably call Apple’s greatest but most annoying achievement – the massive manufacturing and distribution chains that made it a household name in Beijing, Baltimore and everywhere in between.
Cook’s ears are therefore closed to the criticism Apple receives for not being as flashy or open about its moonshots as its competitors. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, for example, all talk very loudly about the spaghetti they throw at the wall. Sure, Apple might try a laptop here or a cheaper smartphone there, but it’s not going headlong into anything.
“Technology is one of those industries where every week there’s a shiny new object that people are skating on,” Cook told the Post.
Additionally, he said, “No matter who you are, there are only so many things you can do at a very high quality and deep level, personally and in business. And so we don’t “We’re not going to change that. It’s at the heart of our model and our way of thinking.”
There’s a touch (dare we say?) of Jobsian hubris in there. But it speaks to Cook’s own brand of innovation, which is about building foundations rather than innovating. It cements success. It’s no coincidence that while Apple’s hardware divisions see slower growth on the horizon, its services division is seeing more investment. In Cook’s mind, the addressable iPhone market is 7 billion – and he knows those people will constantly need things to watch, listen to and do on their phones.
That’s great for a business looking for stability. It’s great for a company to make sure it has enough money to fan the future flames of research and development, which have grown under Cook’s leadership.
But the philosophy of slow innovation can be difficult to reconcile with a corporate vocabulary and culture steeped in superlatives. Much of Apple’s appeal is due to its dramatic history, its deep lows that made its highs all the more jaw-dropping. The truth is, Tim Cook could probably keep Apple humming forever. The question is whether the rest of the world will ever be able to accept an Apple that is not led by one of the madmen.
© 2016 The Washington Post