Steve Jobs was not only Apple's co-founder, he was a visionary, futurist, and one of the most important cultural influencers of our time.
Apple. Mac. NeXT. Pixar. iMac. iPod. iTunes. iPhone. iPad. Any one of those would be the achievement of a lifetime. All of them, an unequaled achievement in any of our lifetimes.
Yet, seven years ago today, Steve Jobs stepped aside and recommended his then-COO to Apple's board as the next CEO.
Tim Cook wasn't and isn't a product person, not like Jobs. He didn't dream up the next world-changing device. What he did was make those dreams a reality. Famously, he didn't invent the iPad. He figured out how to make it for $500.
It would have been easy for Cook and his cool, steady Southern charm, to have continued as CEO much as he had as COO — running things by the numbers. But, even early on, Cook showed signs of something more.
Apple has never simply been a technology company. Jobs was clear on that: Apple stood at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Slowly, inexorably, Cook has added a third pillar to that foundation: Civil responsibillity,
Cook himself said it best in a 2014 memo:
Technology is more pervasive than ever. It's in our lives, in our homes, and even on and in our bodies. Artificial Intelligence is eating the world, often without any apparent thought to how we're all being ingested along the way.
We've come to depend on our devices and connections in ways previously unimaginable outside science-fiction. Perhaps we've become entirely dependant on them.
At the same time our trust has be challenged and maybe even shattered like never before: We've been spied on, watched, listened to, read, and invaded in ways also previously unimaginable outside science-fiction. As much as we love technology, we've had to realize many of the company's and agencies using it don't love us one bit.
Apple currently makes the vast majority of its money off hardware margins — the profits they accrue on the sale of iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs. They currently make very little money off advertising and have very little interest in harvesting, aggregating, using, or abusing our data for profit. One day that might change, but for now it paints them in stark contrast to almost all their major competitors.
That belief was Steve Jobs. Making that belief manifest has been Tim Cook: Privacy is a human right
Cook has also championed charity, civil rights and equality, opportunity, accessibility, the environment, and numerous other causes not just privately but with the full public weight and power being CEO of Apple provides. He's realized the opportunity and responsibility of not just trying to do the right thing but, through doing it openly and loudly, trying to inspire others to do the right thing as well.
Not everything has gone perfectly over the last 7 years. Cook apologized for Apple Maps and the company for iPhone performance throttling. Services and software quality have been criticized. The Mac line got lost for a few years and under the man famous for logistics, several cutting-edge products have failed to ship on time.
Scaling, it turns out, is hard. Even for a company that recently broke the trillion dollar market cap.
At the same time, under Cook, Apple has shipped its best products ever: Watch Series 3, iPad Pro, iPhone X, AirPods, Apple News, Apple Music, and more, and has set itself up for the future with everything from augmented reality to ethical artificial intelligence to autonomous technologies.
And, yes, under Cook, Apple has stood up for privacy rights against the FBI, Facebook, and others, and for civil rights across the country.
Given where both society and technology is going next, it's hard to imagine anything else so important.
Congratulations on the first seven years, Tim Cook. Here's to many more.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.