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Notes of Interest From Tim Cook’s Fast Company Interview

When Apple was honored as the most innovative company on the planet by Fast Company, many of you no doubt assumed it was a national development. How could it be otherwise for the company with the highest market cap? But it’s not as if that would be a universal decision, although I wouldn’t disagree.

So Apple has been attacked for buggy software, such as an issue with macOS in which you could gain root access without a password. The late delivery of promised features, such as AirPlay 2, is yet another example. It’s a reason why you can’t pair two HomePods, and don’t forget Apple’s smart speaker shipped late. Some feel that even the original promised delivery date was itself very late.

In connection with the award from Fast Company, the publication interviewed Tim Cook. It was a fascinating discussion, but sadly limited by an open acceptance of everything he said, with few followups. Clearly Cook had his spiel down pat. Every sales pitch was expressed with precision, believability.

Now I’m not saying he lied or exaggerated about anything, but it did come across as a little too perfect.

So Cook minimized the importance of Wall Street, saying, “Stock price is a result, not an achievement by itself. For me, it’s about products and people. Did we make the best product, and did we enrich people’s lives? If you’re doing both of those things–and obviously those things are incredibly connected because one leads to the other—then you have a good year.”

His comments about Apple Music were especially interesting, particularly in light of that recent overwrought Macworld commentary suggesting Apple was missing the boat in not having a free, ad-driven tier. Cook claimed that, “we’re not in it for the money. I think it’s important for artists. If we’re going to continue to have a great creative community, [artists] have to be funded.”

He evidently wasn’t asked whether Apple Music was also designed to serve the goal of tethering customers to the platform, thus convincing them to keep buying Apple gear. Remember that, when iTunes debuted, Apple said they didn’t earn profits from that either, though you can’t exactly say that today.

When asked why Apple seems to release new products in new categories later than others, thus sometimes following the crowd, Cook had a ready response:

I wouldn’t say ‘follow.’ I wouldn’t use that word because that implies we waited for somebody to see what they were doing. That’s actually not what’s happening. What’s happening if you look under the sheets, which we probably don’t let people do, is that we start projects years before they come out. You could take every one of our products–iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch–they weren’t the first, but they were the first modern one, right?

In each case, if you look at when we started, I would guess that we started much before other people did, but we took our time to get it right. Because we don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have patience to wait until something is great before we ship it.

But does Apple always get the first version of a new product right? Can you be assured that you are not a paid beta tester?

Take the first iPhone, which didn’t support 3G networking or native apps. Should Apple have worked out cellular networking support earlier? What about Steve Jobs’ contention that Web apps would be sufficient? He reportedly had to be persuaded by his team that the iPhone needed its own apps. True or not, the arrival of iPhone apps in 2008 really helped jump start the platform. These days, even though the quantity of apps at Google Play is larger, the ones for iOS are generally better designed, more reliable and, just as important, provide far more revenue to developers.

There are certain criticisms that are made about arbitrary review policies, the inability to create apps in certain categories, and the occasional difficulty in finding the ones you want. By and large, however, the App Store is a smashing success.

You could also criticize the first Apple Watch as being buggy and feature limited, but there are also millions of people who are still using them. Clearly the experience was good enough for people to take a chance on the Series 2 and Series 3.

Were there any other products that needed more work before being released?

One strong possibility is the HomePod, which hasn’t always received top marks. Listener tests have had mixed results, Siri needs a lot of help, and the curious problem of leaving white rings on a polished or waxed wood surface should have been discovered before the product was released. It’s just too obvious. Apple didn’t release a support document about the problem until after it was discovered and publicized. And even though competing products, such as the Sonos One, appear to have similar shortcomings, was it something Apple could have avoided?

Sure, it’s creating a market for mats and coasters to protect a wood service, although it doesn’t appear to cause permanent damage. But it leaves you with the impression that it may be better to wait for HomePod 2, and perhaps some software fixes.

But that’s been the shortcoming for a number of Apple products. Cook’s claims about holding off releasing them till they’re ready for prime time are not very credible.