Apple's Tim Cook hints at new medical product and declares end of PC
It is striking how little has changed in the average office over the past decade.
There are more beards, fewer ties and the internet is even more central, but workers still sit in front of computers of one kind or other. Some use laptops; most others are wedded to their desktops, especially among the corporate rank and file. Unlike in the consumer world, where phones and tablets have revolutionised consumption habits, PCs remain kings of the workplace.
But time may finally be running out for the traditional computer. Looking at the shiny new super-sized iPad Pros tucked away in a special room on the third floor of Apple’s flagship Covent Garden store, complete with detachable keyboards, split view functionality and Apple Pencil stylus, it is clear that the world’s largest company has radical plans to change the way we work.
“I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?”, asks Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, who has just flown into Britain for the launch of the iPad Pro. Cook, whose spotless tailored suit and red poppy belies the fact that he spent the night in a plane, is clearly in ebullient mood. Wall Street and the City are obsessed with the iPhone, the company’s dominant product, but Apple appears quietly confident that its new tablet and TV device are going to help power the company’s continuing growth.
“Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones,” Cook argues in his distinctly Southern accent (he was born in Alabama). He highlights two other markets for his 12.9 inch devices, which go on sale online on Wednesday. The first are creatives: “if you sketch then it’s unbelievable..you don’t want to use a pad anymore," Cook says.
The second is music and movie consumers: the sound system and speakers are so powerful that the iPad appears to pulsate in one’s hands when one plays a video.
With the launch of larger iPhones 6 and 6S Plus on the one hand and now the larger iPads on the other, some analysts have argued that Apple’s smaller-screened iPad minis are going to get squeezed. Cook is refreshingly frank about the impact. “I think if you have the larger phone, you’re less likely to have the iPad mini”, he says, though he insists that the demand won’t fall to zero.
Some consumers use the iPad mini to read in bed, he says, finding it more relaxing than using a phone and the busyness that goes with it. That won’t change, he believes. “But I think it clearly created some cannibalisation - which we knew would occur - but we don’t really spend any time worrying about that, because as long as we cannibalise [ourselves], it’s fine," Cook laughs.
The company hasn’t published a breakdown of the sales of the Apple Watch, but Cook says that “I think we will set a new [sales] record this quarter; so things are going well.” He is keen to highlight its health benefits - it contains sensors which allow people to monitor activity levels and heart rates -- and recounts how it saved a schoolboy. “He is an [American] football player, a senior in high school. He learnt from his watch that his heart rate was elevated; he mentioned it to his trainer who became very worried about it. He sent him to the doctor and the doctor told him he would have died the following day had he not come in. Basically his organs were shutting down.”
Cook hints that Apple may have more plans for the health sphere, in a revelation which will intrigue Wall Street, but he doesn’t want the watch itself to become a regulated, government-licensed health product. “We don’t want to put the watch through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process. I wouldn’t mind putting something adjacent to the watch through it, but not the watch, because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long. But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it -- maybe an app, maybe something else.”
"Any backdoor is a backdoor for everyone. Opening a backdoor can have very dire consequences"
The other real excitement - apart from the iPad - lies with the new Apple TV, which has just been launched. You can talk to it, and search for your favourite programme. Early sales are exceptional, he intimates: “We got out of the shoot extremely strong; very strong in the first few days.” A key gauge of the success for such products is the number of apps being developed; Cook says that “it’s much larger than we would have predicted.” He also says that the apps being developed envisage a much wider variety of activities being conducted via the TV, which is another good sign as to the device’s future success and “will really change the living room entirely”. The apps already on offer include games, of course, but also property, home rentals, yoga and health.
Is Apple set to launch its own content subscription streaming service? “We will see. The key question for us is: can we do something better, that acts as a catalyst? If we conclude that we can, then we would. But I wouldn’t do something just to do something.” Cook believes that Chinese consumer demand for its iPhones remains strong. As to India, where the firm is in its “ early, early, early days”: it’s “the next huge market for us”, he says.
One area there is clearly of big concern to Apple, a company that has been unusually passionate in its defence of privacy, is the prospect of any legislation that could make it harder for it to encrypt consumers’ communications end to end - in a way that even it cannot read -- or that would create loopholes that could be hacked.
Theresa May's Investigatory Powers Bill - the Snoopers’ Charter - wouldn’t ban encryption but would enforce a requirement on tech firms and service providers to help provide unencrypted communications to the police or spy agencies if requested through a warrant. There are fears that it could be used to demand that firms terminate end to end encryption, allowing them to read people’s communications and pass them onto the authorities.
"To protect people who use any products, you have to encrypt. You can just look around and see all the data breaches that are going on. These things are becoming more frequent. They can not only result in privacy breaches but also security issues. We believe very strongly in end to end encryption and no back doors," Cook warns. “We don’t think people want us to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails.”
“Any backdoor is a backdoor for everyone. Everybody wants to crack down on terrorists. Everybody wants to be secure. The question is how. Opening a backdoor can have very dire consequences.”
The Apple boss doesn’t believe that it is possible or sensible for a country to go it alone; technology and systems have become too globalised. “We are all connected, whether we like it or not”.
It would also be wrong to pick on a few big players, he says. “It’s not the case that encryption is a rare thing that only two or three rich companies own and you can regulate them in some way. Encryption is widely available. It may make someone feel good for a moment but it’s not really of benefit. If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go.”
Data and identity theft has a very real human cost, he argues. By jeopardising “people’s financial security, it can affect their psychology and health.” Worse, cybercriminals and cyberterrorists could hack into the IT systems that control our infrastructure and transport systems, with potentially devastating effects, “including our trains.”
He is confident that May and the government will do the right thing. “I’m optimistic. When the public gets engaged, the press gets engaged deeply, it will become clear to people what needs to occur. You can't weaken cryptography. You need to strengthen it. You need to stay ahead of the folks that want to break it.”
On that note, Cook is off; but here the battle between libertarians and authoritarians has only just commenced.