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.