Apple CEO Tim Cook: patent wars are ‘a pain in the ass’

30 May 2012

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

During an in-depth interview, Apple’s CEO kept new developments under wraps, instead sharing his thoughts on transparency, manufacturing in the US and ongoing patent wars.

Yesterday, Tim Cook followed in Steve Jobs’ footsteps and took to the stage at the D: All Things Digital conference in California for the first time, and excited gadget geeks with comments on “incredible” new products in development. Unfortunately, Cook proved as secretive as his late predecessor and was not willing to divulge specifics on future products apart from the promise that good things are coming.

TV an intense area of interest

Fanboys hoping for an Apple television revelation will be encouraged, though, as Cook referred to the Apple TV set-top box as “an area of intense interest”, adding that the company plans to “keep pulling this string and see where it takes us”.

It seems Apple’s hesitation in diving into the TV market lies with control. “We would look not just at this area, but other areas, and ask, can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? … Those are all the things we would ask about any new product category,” said Cook.

When challenged by one interviewer that Apple is not solving every problem with the current Apple TV, Cook agreed this was the case. However, dismissing the idea that Apple needs its own content business to support the Apple TV service, Cook said: “The best thing Apple can do is make a great vehicle for selling content.”

The best phones, PCs and tablets

Cook was similarly tight-lipped on speculation about new sizes for the iPhone and iPad, saying the company’s approach is to avoid fragmentation with one screen size, one App Store and one policy but, if more can be done, they will do it.

When asked about competition in the smartphone market, Cook admitted Apple is not the dominant player but added: “I’d say we have the best phone.”

He was equally as confident regarding Apple’s personal computers, conceding that they don’t make the most, but that they will continue to make the best. Referring to the growth of the tablet market, he said: “I don’t see the tablet replacing the need for all PCs,” but noted it may slow the replacement cycle for computers.

Discussing Microsoft’s approach of a single operating system for tablets, PCs and hybrid devices, Cook summed up his thoughts with an analogy, saying that if you merge a toaster and a refrigerator, neither will be as good as it can be. “You can do things with the tablet if you are not encumbered by the legacy of the PC,” he said.

Siri has more to offer

One service Cook was willing to discuss was Siri, the much-maligned iPhone voice assistant. He assured that Siri has more to offer and that the service will be developed over the coming months, though what will be added was not made clear.

Asked if voice was critical for the phone, Cook answered, “Voice, where it understands the context, is powerful.” The popularity of Siri, Cook reckons, proves that people want to use their phones in a different way and what makes the Apple product stand out is ‘her’ personality.

Leading the way with transparency

Though the company is keeping schtum on product development, Cook revealed that Apple would now be more transparent in relation to issues around supplier responsibility, environmental issues, and labour rights in China, and hopes other companies will follow its lead in this respect.

While the company is working to reduce overtime in Chinese factories manufacturing Apple products, tracking 700,000 workers and achieving 95pc compliance, Cook said he wants to see more components made in the US.

A little-known fact is that the engines for the iPhone and iPad are built in Austin, Texas, and the glass is made in Kentucky. Though assembly happens elsewhere, it may someday be homegrown, but not before the indigenous industry sharpens up. “We should do more semiconductor things in the US,” Cook declared.

Becoming more social

Cook also dispelled rumours of a feud with Facebook, which were sparked by Apple’s decision to integrate Twitter but not the world’s biggest social network. “I think the relationship is very solid,” he said. “We have great respect for them. I think we can do more with them. Just stay tuned on this one.”

While Cook claimed Apple has no ambition to own a social network, he recognised the importance of being social. “You’ll see us integrate Twitter into the Mac OS as we introduce Mountain Lion,” he said. “Game Center and iMessage could be thought of as social.”

Broken patent system

However, not all contentious company relations were rebuffed as Cook deemed the ongoing patent wars “a pain in the ass”.

“We just want other people to invent their own stuff,” he said, and, when asked about cases other companies have brought against Apple, retorted that these are based on standards-essential patents, an area where he claimed the patent system is “broken”.

“No one should be able to get an injunction off a standards-essential patent,” said Cook, claiming Apple has not sued anyone over this kind of patent as it is detrimental to innovation.

Only the best will do

Cook would divulge no details on the upcoming WWDC other than a promise it will be an enjoyable week.

Though the interview and Q&A was more teasing than revealing, Apple fans can at least be assured by Cook’s commitment to upholding the company’s reputation, as he stated that Apple’s ethos of accepting only the best would continue under his helm.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.