Tim Cook on all things Apple and the challenge of replacing Steve Jobs

by Brad Spirrison

As the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook runs arguably the most important company in the world.

But while investors and Apple fanatics know a lot about Cook, the rest of the world is finally getting to know the man now walking in Steve Jobs’ footsteps. Cook was the guest of honor at the opening of the 10th annual All Things Digital Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on May 29.

Grilled by hosts Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, Cook talked as much as he could about Apple’s upcoming products (new iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs are all rumored to be in the works), and why he “never felt the weight of trying to be Steve” after Jobs passed away last fall.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

On whether the iPad will replace the personal computer

“In my view the tablet and the PC are different. You can do things with the tablet if you are not encumbered by the legacy of the PC... We didn’t invent the tablet market. It was there. We invented the modern tablet.

“I don’t see the tablet replacing the need for all PCs.”

How he views the competition in the smartphone market

“I wouldn’t say we dominate it. I’d say we have the best phone... There are two big ones, Android and iOS. Windows Phone is just really coming to the market. We’ll see how they do.

“Our North Star is to make the best product.”

What he has to say about the Siri personal assistant

“Customers love it. It’s one of the most popular features of iPhone 4S. But there’s more that it can do and we have a lot of people working on this. And I think you will be really pleased with some of the things you see over the coming months on this. We have some cool ideas about what Siri can do. We have a lot going on on this.

“I think Siri has proven to us that people want to relate to the phone in a different way... This is something that people dreamed of for years, I think, and it is here. Yes, it can be broader and so forth, but we see unbelievable potential here... We’re doubling down on it.”

Stay tuned to what’s in store for Apple TV

“We’re not a hobby kind of company,” said Tim Cook, adding that Apple sold 2.8 million set-top boxes last year, an amount the company has nearly matched in 2012. “It’s not a fifth leg of the stool. It’s not of the same market size of the phone business or the Mac business or the music business or the tablet business. We are going to keep pulling the string and see where this takes us.”

On Apple playing nice with Hollywood to get content on its devices

“We have very good relationships with the content owners. We don’t want their stuff to be ripped off... These guys have been buying Macs forever. There is a level of trust in those relationships. Steve brought us even closer because he also owned a content business for a while [referring to the Pixar animation studio].

“I don’t think Apple has to own a content business. We haven’t had an issue for the most part getting content. This is an area where Apple partnering well is the right approach. The consumer loves it because they can get it where they want it, when they want it.”

Describing Apple's rocky relationship with Facebook

“Facebook is a great company. And the relationship is solid. I saw [Chief Operating Officer] Sheryl [Sandberg] earlier outside. We have great respect for each other... They have their way of doing things, but people say that about us as well. Just because they have a point of view doesn’t mean we can’t work with each other."

Shedding light on Apple’s approach to acquisitions

“We continue to buy companies,” Cook said. “They are not ones we seek to make public... We’re not looking at a big one right now, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” adding that Apple did not consider acquiring photo-sharing app Instagram before it was snapped up by Facebook for $1 billion earlier this year.

Explaining why Apple outsources much of its manufacturing to China

“We decided a decade ago there were things Apple could do best and that there were other things that somebody else can do as well or better. Manufacturing was one of those. I think that’s still true.”

As for perceived extreme working conditions offshore?

“Some people want to work a lot. They want to move and work for a year or two and then move back to their village and bring back as much money as they can.

“We should make more semiconductors in [the] U.S. Even though it doesn't say ‘made in U.S.’ on Apple products, some day it may.”

On Steve Jobs

“I learned a lot from Steve. It was absolutely the saddest days of my life when he passed away... At some point late last year, somebody kind of shook me and said, it’s time to get on. That sadness was replaced by his intense determination to continue the journey.

“He also taught me the joy is in the journey and that was a revelation for me... I love museums but I don’t want to live in one.

“Steve was a genius and a visionary… He’s an irreplaceable person. Steve was an original and I don’t think there is another one of those being made. I’ve never felt the weight of trying to be Steve. It’s not who I am and it’s not my goal in life.”

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