This morning, Bloomberg Businessweek published an 11-page interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Tonight, he'll appear on NBC News' Rock Center with Brian Williams, perched over the trademark wood tables of the enormous Apple Store in New York City's Grand Central Station.
Outside of press events and the occasional low-key public appearance, Cook has largely avoided a media blitz since taking the reins in Cupertino after Steve Jobs' death in 2011. He participated in D: All Things Digital earlier this year, but so did his former boss. This is different. Apple's handlers are putting him out there.
But why? And why now?
"Apple has changed every day since I have been here."
"I think it's reflective of an Apple that's demonstrating it's still 'Apple' but being led in a different way by Tim Cook who's bringing his own style of leadership to the Apple culture," suggests Gartner's Michael Gartenberg, whose coverage of Apple included occasional run-ins with Jobs over the years. It's impossible to mistake the two: Cook, the tall, soft-spoken gentleman with the slight southern drawl who served as Chief Operating Officer in the Jobs regime, is a numbers guy. Steve Jobs was, well, Steve Jobs. "Apple has changed every day since I have been here," says Cook in his Bloomberg Businessweek sit-down.
Cook has had more than a year to assert himself, though, and a recent string of miscues could have Apple — which is used to delivering virtually unbounded black ink on Wall Street — on the defensive. In July, the company briefly pulled its products from the EPEAT environmental certification program before a backlash prompted it to backtrack and issue an apology penned by VP Bob Mansfield. Two months later, Apple's homegrown Maps app launched with a thud on iOS 6, prompting Cook himself to publish an apology and suggest third-party alternatives. And Scott Forstall, the longtime iOS boss, was pushed out the door just weeks afterwards, allegedly for failing to take the blame, while superstar industrial designer Jony Ive was given the keys to iOS's overripe (and deeply skeuomorphic) user experience. It's an unprecedented amount of humility, controversy, and upheaval for a company that has prided itself on massive growth and stability in the executive ranks, a team of loyal, experienced winners hand-picked by Jobs himself.
A recent string of miscues could have Apple on the defensive
Investors — almost invariably bullish on the goose that keeps laying golden eggs — have seemingly started to take notice, sending shares of AAPL to some of their lowest levels since the iPhone 5 launch in September. In light of that, a calculated plan to reassure Wall Street by showing Cook is real, capable, and fully in charge of a healthy organization could be just what the doctor ordered. Indeed, there were some fear-assuaging comments injected into today's blitz: he teased that television was on the verge of becoming a far more serious business for the company, and he noted that some Mac manufacturing will move to the US in a year that Apple has been battered by accusations of mistreatment of Chinese workers at Foxconn, where tens of millions of iPads and iPhones are feverishly made every year.
By most measures, Cook's first year at the helm has been an unqualified success: he's delivering record profits, new products, and hints of a roadmap for moving forward. But the shadow of the industry's greatest visionary looms large: is this Tim Cook's Apple, or a decaying silhouette of Steve Jobs' Apple? With a well-orchestrated press tour, Cupertino wants you to believe it's turned a new page.