What Apple product launches say about Tim Cook’s leadership

Tim Cook Apple March 21 event
Under Tim Cook's leadership, Apple is innovating in a new way.
Photo: Apple

A cynic would call it greenwashing, but the most surprising thing about Tim Cook’s “Loop you in” event was what it said about how he’s running Apple.

When Steve Jobs was around, Apple’s product events were about the products, and little else. Yeah, Jobs would often start with corporate issues, but he usually boasted about how the company was absolutely crushing it.

By contrast, the first 25 minutes of Monday’s event — almost half of the hour-long presentation — focused on things only tangentially related to Apple products. Cook and his lieutenants discussed government snooping, privacy, recycling, the environment, renewable energy, creating platforms for sustaining customers’ health — and even protecting Chinese yaks.

Jobs used to touch on issues like these, but under Cook, they’ve taken center stage. Cook has turned Apple’s product events into showcases for corporate responsibility.

Cook kicked off with privacy Monday, pledging that Apple “won’t shrink from the fight” with the FBI over the creation of an insecure “GovtOS” to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Cook didn’t make the case for privacy as well as he might have — it’s about commerce, and hacking, and health, and a million other things — but he’s clearly resolute that Apple will fight the good fight.

Apple’s environmentally friendly approach

Then he introduced Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives. Jackson, a woman of color, talked at length about Apple’s considerable advances in recycling and renewable energy. She reported that Apple is approaching 100 percent renewable energy worldwide and is close to using 100 percent environment-friendly packaging.

She introduced a recycling robot called Liam that strips obsolete iPhones of their valuable materials. Liam is not perfect — there’s still a lot of waste — but it’s a step in the right direction.

Recycling and using environmentally friendly materials are clearly high priorities for the company. When the products were introduced, their recyclability was one of the talking points, along with the usual feeds and speeds. So is diversity. There were lots of people of different ethnicities in the glossy PR photos of hypothetical users. Yeah, it looks phony, but it sends an important message about inclusivity.

Cynics would say this is all corporate bullshit and greenwashing. After all, without giant corporations like Apple selling us all millions of products, these problems wouldn’t exist. It’s like a fossil fuel behemoth touting solar and wind energy while a giant oil spill befouls the planet. Apple isn’t in the same league, but yeah, on the face of it — it can seem kind of phony.

But I disagree. Apple is making all these shiny new gadgets, but it’s also making them better. This is important. Apple is trying to move to a different era, one in which the environment and inclusivity are as important as the fastest chips.

The Cook Doctrine

At an event last year, Cook said big companies like Apple need to lead on climate change. In the absence of government leadership, corporations need to act on their own. “This is one of the areas where we could step up and lead,” he said, “especially when there’s a void from government.”

As the world’s biggest company, with 1 billion devices in active use, it’s gratifying that companies like Apple remain good corporate citizens.

It’s clear that this is personal for Tim Cook. These are initiatives that are “incredibly important to us,” he said yesterday. This is the Cook Doctrine, and he’s passionate about it. He’s a crusader for good corporate citizenship.

Now he needs to tackle exploitation of Chinese workers and offshore tax havens.

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  • imtough

    The environmental and healthcare portion of the keynote was a filler for the lack of new and exciting product/software/service offerings. Incrementally refreshed/5S, smaller iPad Pro, an incrementally refreshed iOS/TVOS and new/different color watch bands ZZZzzzzz. The September keynote will be an iPhone “7” (6SE) sans an antenna line and an overly expensive 6SE Plus Pro with dual cameras and a smart connector. Equally boring. They are seeking to string and stretch out profits as long as possible to compensate for lack of new and innovative products, which, in itself, I don’t take issue with. The issue are these sensationalized “product launch” keynotes that prompt consumers to through their money at Apple for half-assed upgrades and last year’s technology.

  • Martie

    I think the “coincidence” of the FBI, this morning, announcing that they ‘may be able to unlock San Bernardino iPhone’ is a bit too convenient.

    Tim Cook in my opinion deliberately pushed the security and privacy message in yesterday’s media event in order to further highlight the importance of privacy not just in terms of bank details and finance, but in terms of health care, research and all the other areas where data can be usefully used to make huge advances.

    It is only with assured privacy that individuals will open up their useful data for the general public good. What he demonstrated was the power of properly anonymised data. That’s not what the FBI are wanting, and if the FBI were to get what they want then that would critically damage peoples confidence and sabotage all the great stuff that can be done with this anonymised data.

    My view therefore is that the Media Event was used by Tim to put further pressure on the FBI to drop the case and thus protect our privacy. This was done at the expense of pushing new Apple products and I think that is something to be admired and applauded.