Like millions of people, Tim Cook stopped wearing a watch awhile back. The Apple boss no longer needed one: his iPhone told the time just fine.
However, without hesitation, he confessed that there is one problem: glancing at one's wrist can be a very useful way to find out information. It is less rude and less intrusive than if you take your iPhone from your pocket in the middle of a meeting with the same intention.So Apple now wants to pull off something that no company has ever managed before: it wants to reverse a cultural trend that it created itself. It wants us to start wearing a watch again.The big event on 9 March showcased the Apple Watch. Cook, needless to say, was already wearing his new Apple Watch. He couldn't even contemplate living without it anymore, he says. "I'm now so used to getting all my notifications and all my messages," he says. "It's so incredible just to do this."
Reinventing the Wrist Watch
We had a peek at two watches, one with a white wristband worn by Cook, and the other with a dark wristband, worn by another senior member of staff. Three versions will be available to consumers. The two we saw seemed to be the Sport edition. A classic Watch and the Watch Edition will also be available.The watch's screen boasts all of the usual Apple interface, but the icons are rounder than those of an iPhone, presumably to match the watches' shape. The first reason to buy the watch will be as a fashion statement, and for its striking design, Cook believes. He is full of praise for Sir Jony Ive, Apple's British creative genius. "He did such a great job with the design. It's beautiful." The watch has also been designed and engineered to be a great time-keeper: it will be correct to 50 milliseconds, he promises. But when consumers witness the Apple Watch's full potential for themselves, Cook says, they will understand just how different it is from a traditional watch.
"This will be just like the iPhone: people wanted it and bought for a particular reason, perhaps for browsing, but then found out that they loved it for all sorts of other reasons."
Cook expects an explosion of new apps for the Apple Watch. One of the Apple Watch's great missions will be to harness new technology to help improve users' health. The Apple Watch will, of course, be able to monitor heart rates, Cook says, but it will be far more sophisticated than that. It is bad for people's health to sit too much, so the watch will gently tap your wrist every hour, to remind you to stand up and go for a walk, if they haven't had enough exercise. Even more intriguingly, the Watch will operate a special rewards system. Users will get credits if they exercise enough. They will also be encouraged to increase their metabolic targets, if they meet their exercise targets consistently. Consumers will clearly have an incentive to wear the watch for as much of the day as possible, and even in the shower.
There will be numerous other potentially revolutionary uses. The watch is designed to be able to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used by many vehicles, Cook told us. This could be a major development, and will reinforce the view that Apple is circling the automotive market. Another major application will be for paying. The Watch will be able to serve as a very usable credit card, courtesy of Apple Pay. The system will be ultra-safe, Cook says, certainly more so than the plastic cards currently in use in the US (where credit cards with chips are very rare). It will also respect users' privacy: Apple won't know what consumers are buying, where they are purchasing their goods and how much they are paying for them.
Connectivity and the Future of Technology
The Apple Watch will allow the filtering of messages, Cook says. It will make it much easier to prioritize, spot and react to urgent messages, such as a family emergency. These notifications will be much easier to deal with via one's wrist than through an iPhone, especially in meetings. The watch's battery life will last the whole day, Cook says, in another revelation that will please potential users, and it won't take as long to charge as an iPhone. He praises Ive again, when it comes to watch's "incredible" charger, which will use a special magnet technology (similarly to Apple chargers MagSafe, that are in use in most laptops). The British designer has created for efficiency as well as beauty.
The launch of the watch will undoubtedly pose a challenge for Apple's stores. "We've never sold anything as a company that people could try on before," he says. This may require "tweaking the experience in the store," he told his staff at the Covent Garden store. He speaks extremely highly of Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry boss who now runs the stores, and has been tasked with making the online and bricks and mortar elements work seamlessly.
Crucially, Cook believes that the Apple Watch will help create a new blockbuster product category. There are already smartwatches on the market, just as there were MP3 players before the iPod, and smartphones before the iPhone. But he believes that the Apple Watch will revolutionize the market, and become "the modern smartwatch:" the only one anybody wants to buy. We shall soon find out whether he gets his way - though on past form, Apple could well be sitting on yet another huge success story.
Apple's Big Small Happy Family
Staff rarely choose to leave Apple of their own volition. In many cases, they work there for years. The company enjoys extremely high levels of employee retention and loyalty. From the scene in the Covent Garden store in London on one Friday morning, the last stop on a whirlwind tour of Europe and Israel by the Apple boss, it's not difficult to see why.
Cook entered via a rear entrance. Nobody expected our visit. I have witnessed many shop, office and factory visits before, with bosses received in a variety of ways. In some cases, they were welcome, but often they were met with indifference or, of course, outright hostility. But the reaction at the Covent Garden store was off the charts: the staff gasped, and then burst into spontaneous, loud applause as soon as they spotted Cook, who walked in behind them. Around 50 of them, wearing their blue T-shirts and jeans, were grouped together, taking part in what the company calls its "Morning Download." Within seconds, somebody asked about the watch.
Cook, who was wearing a smartly-tailored dark suit, an open-necked shirt and brown shoes, showed them his wrist, and they cheered. The Australian team-leader was left speechless, at least for a few seconds. He subsequently regained his composure, asking Cook what made him most proud in the past year. "I'm proud we stayed true to our North Star," Cook replied. "We are pro-privacy, pro-environment and pro-human rights." He added, for good measure, that this was "one of my favorite stores in the world," and praised to the skies the contribution of the retail staff to Apple's overall success.
Cook, who has piercing blue eyes, was born in 1960 in Alabama. During our talk, it soon becomes apparent when talking to him that he retains a little Southern twang, which adds to his charisma. In other companies or industries, these sorts of questions or answers might trigger cynicism, or be obviously affected. Not at Apple, where Cook and the senior management team are evidently held in extraordinary regard.
In the case of Friday's visit, shop floor staff treated their CEO like a visiting guru. It could have been embarrassing or cringe-inducing but, for some reason, it wasn't. One member of the sales staff put his hand up: he wouldn't ask a question, he said, but wanted to deliver a short statement. He thanked Cook for coming, and for his hard work, and that of the senior staff in California. The staff then mobbed their hero, taking selfies with him and shaking him by the hand.
"It's a day we will never forget," one said. It was a scene that any other business leader, let alone a politician, could only dream of. Waking Up at 3.45am, a Day in the Life of the Apple CEO Chief executives sometimes seem to be waging a race to see who can get up earliest in the morning. The days when 8am meant an early start are long since gone. The world's corporate elite needn't bother: not only does Tim Cook run the most valuable company in the world, but he is clearly also the earliest bird of them all. He gets up at 3:45 every morning, puts on his brand new Apple Watch, which he charges overnight. "I want to make sure I measure all my activity," he explains, which means that he wants his wrist to be full during all his waking hours. He begins to check his email.
He then goes to the gym at 5am, and to work at 6:30am, already fully-briefed, and with the day ahead planned out. The downside is that he goes to bed early: by 9:30pm or sometimes 10pm. "I miss the late night shows," he jokes, but adds that he "loves the quiet" and the sense of "control," at that time in the morning. As he points out, for a global giant like Apple, the world doesn't stop just because it's night-time in California. There is Asia, in particular, to think about, where Apple manufactures most of its products, as well as the rest of the world.