Tim Cook interview: Apple boss talks trillion-dollar transformation and ushering in new era of computing

Exclusive: Apple boss on the latest iPhone, next-generation apps, and why he ‘really believes one plus one equals three’

David Phelan
Friday 29 September 2023 18:58 BST
Related video: Tim Cook visits Apple store in Madrid, Spain

Tim Cook describes his first experience with Apple’s forthcoming Vision Pro headset as an “aha moment”. The mixed reality device, he claims, has the potential to usher in an entirely new era of computing, having a profound impact on the way we work, communicate and experience the world – just like the iPhone did 16 years ago. And for it to succeed, just like the iPhone, it’s going to need apps.

The Apple CEO is in London at the end of a whirlwind European tour to meet with app developers that he hopes will be among the first to realise his ambitions for the Vision Pro. The UK has the largest developer community in Europe, and as he meets three of them, he is clearly curious about their apps.

It is a common sight with Cook: app developers on their best behaviour, nervous with anticipation, instantly relaxing as he focuses on them, genuinely interested, warming to his encouragement and questioning.

“I think the apps today are outstanding,” he says. “It’s a reminder of the empowerment of the App Store. I’m still amazed that an entrepreneur in any country in the world in a basement can start a company and it can be global,” he snaps his fingers, “like that.”

Cook likes to talk about Apple’s app developers because he takes pride in the jobs created by the Apple ecosystem. Estimates suggest that half a million jobs are now directly connected to the iOS app economy, which is up nearly 70 per cent compared to 2019. UK app developers have earned nearly £7.5 billion from their apps, Apple says.

When Cook took over from Steve Jobs as CEO in 2011, the app economy was still in its infancy: Instagram was less than a year old and apps like Deliveroo and Tinder did not even exist yet. Just over a decade later Apple’s App Store is now facilitating more than $1 trillion in billings and sales annually, helping the company to become the richest in the world.

Among the app developers showing off their creations at Apple’s Battersea Power Station headquarters is Joseph Mambwe, whose fitness app Gym Streak aims to manage your workout for you. Mambwe says that, at the app’s core is a demonstration that “resilience is a superpower that is available to everyone, along with persistence and the will to keep going.” The app uses augmented reality (AR) to create videos where the animated figure demonstrating the exercises appears to be working out in your living room.

Also in attendance is Andy Weekes, the creator of Night Sky, which also uses AR to make stars, planets and even the International Space Station appear onscreen as you point your iPhone at the place they are in the sky. It can send reminders and messages so you can share what you see – and even what you can’t – with friends and family.

There is a regular refrain from the developers about the Apple Vision Pro, which is set to launch early next year: Something like Night Sky could be jaw-droppingly good on the spatial computing headset, with its immersive, wraparound display. Cook says they’re looking forward to it. “We have developer labs in London and Munich, and we’re seeing some incredible work. There’s so much excitement out there.”

The tech boss says Vision Pro has become part of his nightly routine, helping him understand how it could become an industry-defining product. “There are huge differences in how people look at it, depending on if they’re read about it or actually tried it,” he says. “I believe even more about how profound spatial computing is. When you’ve tried it, it’s an aha moment, and you only have a few of those in a lifetime.”

Tim Cook unveiled Apple’s Vision Pro headset on 5 June, 2023 (Reuters)

Throughout the app demonstrations, the developers talk about the support they receive from Apple. “These apps,” Cook says afterwards, “allow developers to make people more sustainable, give somebody educational knowhow about space or even democratise personal training. These are big ideas. These apps are great collaborations, but our whole company is based on collaboration.We really believe one plus one equals three.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as tool makers,” he adds. “So to make tools that allow other people to change the world in their own way and for us to have a role in that makes my heart sing. We’ve always believed our tools should be as easy to use as our products, so we try to make the developer tools simple. It’s the developer’s idea that’s the big lift, not the act of doing it themselves. It’s great to see the validation of that playing out.”

Through the powerful processors in the latest iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, Cook believes Apple iOS is now “the best gaming platform out there”. Games also form a major part of Vision Pro’s appeal, allowing users to interact and compete within an entirely new dimension. “There’s significant excitement about our role in gaming, and we’re very serious about it,” he says. “This is not a hobby for us. We’re putting all of ourselves out there.”

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