Tim Cook: Nice Guy, But Still a Businessman

With his unassuming spectacles and warm smile, Apple CEO Tim Cook plays the grandpa role well. He comes across as one of those guys who mean well, and he probably does, but he also definitely means business. 

Speaking at the Time 100 Summit in New York City last month, Cook covered a range of topics: from regulations, political donations, and a rather clumsily crafted response to a question about President Trump. He was also careful to push the message that Apple was different; “we’re not like those other tech guys,” he seemed to be saying, especially when it comes to privacy and screen time. 

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

Throughout his talk, Cook asserted that Apple’s goal was never to drag out the amount of time people spend looking down at their Apple devices. He himself loathes the “thousands” of notifications he gets and waxed lyrical about the fact that every moment spent looking at a screen is the time you don’t spend looking into the face of another human being. 

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

From a PR perspective, Cook is playing an interesting game. After all, Apple invented the very device and ecosystem that is responsible for delivering those apparently undesired notifications to Cook’s phone. And that ecosystem has made Apple a substantial sum of money, with the technology giant increasingly relying on app purchases and in-app payments. Last year, Apple’s services revenue grew 24 percent year-on-year, to $37.2 billion. 

That share of the technology pie is only set to grow. Earlier this year, Apple held its first event dedicated to its services business, rather than one dedicated to devices. At the event, Apple announced new subscription gaming, entertainment, and news programs. So much for reducing screen time, Cook. 

Part of the reason for the shift is rapidly increasing competition in the hardware space, meaning Apple’s future increasingly lies in services. In other words, Apple’s bottom line, more than ever, relies on making sure more people are spending more time looking at their screens. According to some sources, revenue from Apple’s new gaming service, Arcade, could be determined by “divid[ing] up the revenue between developers based on how much time users spend playing their games.” 

While Apple looked to be heading in a more wholesome direction with the release of Screen Time, the reporting feature that tells users how much time they spend on their phones, the reality is still one made up of dollars and cents. Cook can insist that screen addiction comes from the apps themselves, but considering Apple’s own services push, his speech comes across as little more than an empty PR bid. 

Ronn Torossian is CEO of PR agency 5WPR.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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