Apple Post-COVID: the nexus of technology and social change

Apple CEO Tim Cook is a man, “60 Minutes” correspondent John Dickerson said, who is “full of secrets.”

“I’m full of secrets and it’s hard not to overflow right now. But I’ve been trained well!” Cook laughed.

He will finally get to share those secrets tomorrow, when he kicks off Apple’s 31st annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC).  It’s a gathering of programmers from around the world who create the content that fuels what Apple calculates is a half-trillion-dollar app-based economy.

“If you’re a consumer, you find out some of your most favorite software features are announced there,” Cook said. “If you’re a developer, you get some new technology that you can incorporate in your app and make your app even better. And if you’re somebody like me that sort of steps back and looks at it all, you see the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, and it really makes your heart sing.”

“So, are you among your people there when this happens?” Dickerson asked.

“Oh yes. Oh yes. I’m among everyone. If it were physical, I’d be right there with everybody else!”

Tim Cook

But the conference will not be physical this year, for the same reason Dickerson and Cook are conducting their interview 2,500 miles apart, as a consequence of COVID-19.  Apple will host a virtual conference, promising more than just a grainy workaround: they’re promising to innovate the form.

Apple’s iPhone, introduced in 2007, has transformed not just communication, but nearly every aspect of our lives. And the iPhone has helped make Apple one of the wealthiest companies in the world, with a market capitalization comparable to the gross domestic products of Australia, Spain, or even Saudi Arabia.

Dickerson said, “Apple has a market cap of about $1.4 trillion. What is the role of the CEO in a socially-responsible company that has that kind of size in the world?”

“You know, there was a time back many years ago where CEOs were just supposed to focus on profits only, and not so much the constituencies. And that’s never been my view. I’ve never subscribed to that,’ Cook replied.

Cook recently posted a statement on Apple’s home page addressing the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police – an incident that may very well have gone unnoticed if not for cellphone video.

Dickerson asked, “Do you ever reflect on the role the iPhone has played in being able to record moments like the nearly nine minutes that George Floyd had an officer’s knee on his neck?”

“We are humbled by it, we are humbled by it,” Cook said. “If you look back in time, some of the most dramatic societal changes have occurred because someone captured video. This is true about things that happened in Birmingham; it was true about things that happened in Selma.

“The thing that has changed, though, and we’re very proud of this, is that we put a camera in everybody’s pocket. And so, it becomes much tougher as a society, I believe, to convince themselves that it didn’t happen, or that it happened in a different manner or whatever it might be.

Of the George Floyd video, which has sparked global protests, Cook said, “I think fundamentally, this one will change the world.”

Cook has been Apple’s CEO for nearly a decade now, and he is the product of a very different world. He was born in 1960 in small-town Robertsdale, Alabama.

Six years ago, Cook became the first openly-gay Fortune 500 CEO.