All posts in “Tim Cook”

Apple’s Tim Cook slams Silicon Valley over ‘false promises’ and ‘chaos’

Apple CEO Tim Cook had a few words of wisdom for Stanford’s 2019 graduating class.

During his commencement speech at Stanford University on Sunday, Cook praised technology’s role in “remaking society,” but also warned about letting it go unchecked. He urged graduates to be fearless in building things, but to also take responsibility for their effects on society.

Without naming any specific companies, Cook threw shade at Silicon Valley for thinking “good intensions excuse away horrible outcomes.” 

The Apple CEO indirectly called out companies such as Facebook and Theranos for abusing their positions of power without first considering the consequences.

“Lately it seems, this industry is becoming known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility,” said Cook. “We see it every day now, with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind-eye-turned-to-hate-speech. Fake news poisoning our national conversation. The false miracles in exchange of a drop of your blood.”

Several times, Cook reiterated the importance of tech companies thinking thoroughly about what they’re building before unleashing it onto the world. “If you build a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos; taking responsibility means having the courage to think things through,” he said.

“Our problems in technology, in politics, wherever are human problems,” Cook said. “From the Garden of Eden to today, it’s our humanity that got us into this mess and it’s our humanity that’s going to have to get us out.”

“If you build a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos.”

Cook also dedicated a good chunk of his speech to the importance of privacy in the face of increasing digital surveillance. Again, without calling out specific companies (hello Facebook!), Cook said ignoring privacy will lead to a world of self censorship.

“If we accept it as normal and unavoidable, that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in a hack, then we lose so much more than data,” said Cook. “We lose the freedom to be human.”

“Think about what’s at stake. Everything you write, everything you say, every topic of curiosity, every stray thought, every impulsive purchase, every moment of frustration or weakness, every gripe or complaint, every secret shared in confidence,” said Cook. “In a world without digital privacy, even if you’ve done nothing wrong other than think differently, you begin to censor yourself. Not entirely at first — just a little, bit by bit. To risk less, to hope less, to imagine less, to dare less, to create less, to try less, to talk less, to think less.”

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Cook warned the “chilling effect of digital surveillance” would be profound and that it “touches everything.”

Cook’s Stanford speech echoes the many he’s given over the years, where he’s championed the importance of privacy. 

At WWDC, Apple stressed it’s making privacy a core foundation of its products and services, as opposed to a feature enabled by consumers. One such new privacy service is “Sign in with Apple,” an alternative social login to Facebook and Google that doesn’t track you across the internet.

Though Cook’s speech largely focused on advising graduates to take responsibility for their creations, he also briefly touched on the bravery of those in the Stonewall riots as well as what Steve Jobs’ death taught him. “When the dust settled, all I knew was that I was going to have to be the best version of myself that I could be.”

Oh, and fun fact: Cook spent four years on the sailing team at his alma mater, Auburn University. “Tying knots is hard,” he said. The more you know…

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Tim Cook says ‘we don’t want people using their phone all the time.’ That’s total BS.

Grandpa might not know best.
Grandpa might not know best.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

With his spectacles and kindly smile, Tim Cook is just one of those guys who sounds like he means well. Maybe he does — but he also means business.

Cook spoke at the Time 100 Summit in New York City on Tuesday. The Apple CEO covered a range of topics, including regulations, political donations, and a somewhat clumsily dodged question about President Donald Trump. Cook also stressed how Apple really is different from other tech companies: namely, in its approach to privacy, and screen time.

“We don’t want people using their phones all the time,” Cook said. “This has never been an objective for us.”

In the talk, Cook claimed that Apple’s goal was not to stretch the amount of time people spend looking at their Apple devices. He bemoaned the “thousands” of notifications he gets, and pointed out that every moment you spend looking at your screen is time you don’t spend looking into the face of another human being. 

“Apple has never wanted to maximize user time,” Cook said. “We’re not motivated to do that from a business point of view, and we’re certainly not from a values point of view.”

This is, quite frankly, pretty dang rich. Apple invented the device and ecosystem that delivers all those notifications Cook dislikes so much. And that system makes Apple money. A lot of money. The company increasingly depends on app purchases and in-app payments. In 2018, Apple’s services revenue grew 24 percent from 2017, up to $37.2 billion.

That slice of the pie is only likely to grow. In March, Apple held its first event dedicated to its services business, instead of devices. At the event, it announced new subscription gaming, entertainment, and news programs, which all depend — guess what — on consumers spending more time looking at their screens. 

Analysts predict, with increasing competition in the hardware space, the future of Apple lies in services. In other words, its bottom line is more dependent than ever on keeping you engaged with the content on your screen. One source even told Bloomberg that revenue from Apple’s new gaming service, Arcade, might even be determined by “divid[ing] up the revenue between developers based on how much time users spend playing their games.”

Even if Cook says he wants the time you spend on your device to be meaningful and empowering, that’s still time you spend on your screen. And, as Cook himself said, that’s time spent away from engaging with other people.

When Apple first unveiled Screen Time, the reporting feature that tells users how much time they spend on their phones, I wondered whether it should be up to the people who created the problem of screen addiction to attempt to find a solution. Now, Apple is attempting to pass that buck to the apps (like Facebook) that enable “mindless scrolling,” as Cook called out in his Time 100 speech. Apple didn’t create the problem after all, according to Cook.

This is a public relations spin that’s hard to swallow. Cook insists that screen addiction comes from the apps, not the screen itself. But considering Apple’s own push into services, as well as the fact that the iPhone delivers those addictive apps, Cook’s claims ring hollow. 

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Tim Cook wants you to put down your iPhone

Tim Cook thinks people should get off their iPhones and decrease their engagement with apps. The Apple CEO, speaking at the TIME 100 Summit today, was discussing the addictive nature of our mobile devices and Apple’s role in the matter when he made these comments. He said the company hadn’t intended for people to be constantly using their iPhones, and noted he himself has silenced his push notifications in recent months.

“Apple never wanted to maximize user time. We’ve never been about that,” Cook explained.

It’s certainly an interesting claim, given that Apple designed a platform that allowed app developers to constantly ping their users with the most inane notifications — from getting a new follower on a social app to a sale in a shopping app to a new level added to a game and so much more.

The very idea behind the notification platform, opt-in as it may be, is that developers should actively — and in real-time — try to capture users’ attention and redirect them back to their apps.

This is not how such an alert mechanism had to be designed.

An app notification platform could have instead been crafted to allow app developers to notify users in batches, at designed intervals within users’ control. For example, users could have specified that every day at noon they’d like to check in on the latest from their apps.

Or, in building out the iOS App Store, Apple could have implemented a “news feed” of sorts — somewhere users could opt to check in on all the latest news from their installed apps in a dedicated channel.

Or perhaps Apple could have structured a notification platform that would have allowed users to pick between different classes of notifications. Urgent messages — like alerts about a security breach — could have been a top-level tier; while general information could have been sent as a different type of notification. Users could have selected which types of alerts they wanted, depending on how important the app was to them.

These are just a few of many possible iterations. A company like Apple could have easily come up with even more ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that Apple’s notification platform was built with the idea of increasing engagement in mind. It’s disingenuous to say it was not.

At the very least, Apple could admit that it was a different era back then, and didn’t realize the potential damage to our collective psyche that a continually buzzing iPhone would cause. It could point out how it’s now working to fix this problem by putting users back in control, and how it plans to do more in the future.

Instead, it created a situation where users had to turn to the only defense left to them: switching off push notifications entirely. Today, when users install new apps they often say “No” to push notifications. And with Apple’s new tools to control notifications, users are now actively triaging which apps can get in touch.

In fact, that’s what Tim Cook says he did, too.

“If you guys aren’t doing this — if you have an iPhone and you’re not doing it, I would encourage you to really do this —  monitor these [push notifications],” the CEO suggested to the audience.

“What it what has done for me personally is I’ve gone in and gutted the number of notifications,” Cook said. “Because I asked myself: do I really need to be getting thousands of notifications a day? It’s not something that is adding value to my life, or is making me a better person. And so I went in and chopped that.”

Yep. Even Apple’s CEO is done with all the spam and noise from iPhone apps.

The comment, of course, was supposed to be a veiled reference to the addictive nature of some apps — social media apps in particular, and especially Facebook. Today, Apple throws barbs at Facebook any time it can, now that the company has fallen out of public favor due to its ongoing data privacy violations and constant scandals.

But a more truthful telling of the iPhone’s past would recall that Facebook’s app — and all its many notifications — was originally a big selling point for Apple’s mobile device.

When the App Store first launched in 2008, Facebook proudly sat in the top row in a featured position. It was heavily promoted to users because it was a prime example of the iPhone’s utility: here was this popular social network you could now get to right from your phone. Amazing! 

The fact that Facebook — and every other app — later leveraged the iOS push notification platform to better its own business without regard to how that would impact users, isn’t entirely app developers’ collective fault. The notification platform itself had left the door wide open for that sort of psychological abuse, simply due to its lack of user-configured, user-friendly controls.

A decade after the App Store launched, Apple finally started to dial back on the free-for-all on user attention.

It announced its suite of digital wellness tools at WWDC 2018, which included Screen Time (a dashboard for tracking and limiting usage); increased parental controls; and finally a way to silence the barrage of notifications, without having to dig around in iOS Settings.

Now Tim Cook wants to have us believe that Apple had never wanted to cause any of this addiction and distraction.

But isn’t it telling that the exec has had to silence his own iPhone using these new tools? Isn’t that something of an admission of culpability here?

“Every time you pick up your phone, it means you’re taking your eyes off whoever you’re dealing with are talking with, right?,” Cook continued. “And if you’re if you’re looking at your phone more than you’re looking at somebody else’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing,” he said.  “We want to educate people on what they’re doing. This thing will improve through time, just like everything else that we do. We’ll innovate there as we do in other areas.”

“But basically, we don’t want people using their phones all the time. This has never been an objective for us,” said Cook.

Except, of course, for those 10 years when it was.

Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

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You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.

Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia shows off a warmer, water-saving shower head

I’m not in the habit of getting naked during meetings at startup offices, but this time it felt appropriate.

Nebia, a shower startup that has attracted investments from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s foundation is back with some new cash (though it won’t divulge how much) and a new generation of its thoughtfully designed shower heads that aim to dramatically reduce the amount of water people use while cleaning up.

After a lengthy chat with Nebia CEO Philip Winter, who discussed all of the nuances of the Nebia’s second-gen “Spa Shower” for which they just launched a crowdfunding campaign today, he asked whether I’d like to try it out. With a couple hours of empty space in my calendar, I said “Why not?” and wandered over to the startup office’s shower showroom.

Shower thoughts

This was probably the most analytical thinking I’ve done in the shower about the process of showering itself.

The shower head in my bathroom at home is pretty standard and basically concentrates the water into a couple dozen streams organized in a circle that are firing at an even pace. It’s nothing fancy, and I couldn’t tell you the brand, but I can say that I spend at least 20-30 minutes in there everyday without exception.

Nebia’s shower is wildly more complicated — as a $499 shower should be — but it’s the combination of different techniques that leads to a shower that feels full and refreshing but is using significantly less water than you’re used to. The customer for this is probably placing a healthier premium on the fact that it’s great for the environment rather than that it’s a spa-type experience; the shower head uses 65 percent less water than your average shower head, the company says.

The Nebia shower is all a very strange feat of engineering and involves the water being “atomized” as they called it, with water droplets being significantly smaller when it exits some nozzles, leading to an enveloping mist, and larger and warmer jets being shot out of the shower head’s center. The big improvement in this generation is that the water is about 29 percent warmer.

How does the shower head even control warmth? Isn’t all the water coming from the same heater? As Winter explained to me, things are a lot more complicated when it comes to how Nebia handles thermodynamics. Smaller water droplets means increased surface area exposed to the room temperature, which means greatly sped up heat dissipation. In practice, this means that the distance the water can travel from the shower head before getting chilly is a much shorter journey than your current shower. To adjust that, Nebia fires the water droplets three times quicker and maintains some larger droplet streams to maintain the heat for longer.

Nebia does a bit of cheating by also having a second shower head firing from the hip. The wand adds to the water being used but still keeps the system using about half of the amount of water that the average shower head uses.

Thankfully, there was also room for a side-by-side comparison as I was able to try out both the gen-1 and gen-2 Spa Shower in the same bathroom. The shower experience didn’t feel wildly distinct, but the difference in water heat when cranked to full blast was notable; my own temperature sensing isn’t quite finely tuned enough to confirm the 29 percent figure, but that doesn’t seem off.

Ultimately, it was the best shower I’ve had in a startup’s office to date, but it was also a shower that didn’t feel as though I was resting my head under a light trickle of cold water like other low-flow showers. It’s a real product, though at this point it’s also a decidedly premium product, even with the $100 crowdfunding discount of the $499 retail price. Beyond the warmer water, the new shower’s easy-install system is now compatible with about 95 percent of American homes, the company says. There’s also a new matte black color option and a little matching shower shelf you can add to keep that high-design look.

The company, which launched out of Y Combinator, has attracted some top investors who seem to be intrigued by the water-saving impact. The company says they’ve already shipped more than 16,000 shower heads and that more than 100 million gallons of water have been saved.

This Series A investment was led by Moen, the faucet and shower head maker that also announced a partnership with the startup. The latest round also boasts follow-on investment from Tim Cook and The Schmidt Family Foundation, as well as some new investors like Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Starwood Hotels co-founder Barry Sternlicht, Fitbit co-founder James Park and Stanford StartX.

The crowdfunding campaign kicked off today and has already blown past $300,000 in pre-orders (they’ve already sold most of the $349 early-bird deals); the company hopes to ship the first 2.0 shower heads in June.