Apple CEO Tim Cook, for many obvious reasons, has never attracted the cult of personality that surrounded his predecessor, nor does the iPhone maker’s current chief executive possess the same kind of pop culture cachet that made Steve Jobs a household name. Cook’s mild-mannered demeanor and low-key personality have always set him apart from the Apple co-founder who hand-picked him for the job back in 1998. Moreover, as CEO, Cook has been dogged by doubters and naysayers from the get-go who’ve claimed that Apple under his leadership doesn’t innovate anymore.
A newly released documentary, Apple — The House that Tim Cook Built, makes clear how misguided such sentiments are, especially once the Apple Watch started saving people’s lives and is now a fixture on millions of wrists around the world. You could also points to tons of other milestones like that under Cook, such as Apple TV+ winning boatloads of awards and even becoming the first streaming service to win a Best Picture Oscar — as well as Cook turning Apple into the most valuable company in the world on the basis of market cap.
Moreover, Cook’s Apple is about to take at least one more huge swing before he makes way for his own successor. Vision Pro, part of an entirely new product category for the company, is Apple’s new spatial computer headset — the first units of which are expected to hit the market in just a few weeks’ time. I’m obviously not thrilled about the initial price tag ($3,499), but I can see myself eventually getting one of these if for no other reason than to treat it as a kind of big screen TV. Albeit, one that you wear on your face.
“When people count all the good that Steve Jobs left us with,” host Jon Prosser opines at one point in the new Cook documentary, “we always hear about the products and the innovation. But, really, his greatest move — the best thing Steve Jobs could have ever given Apple, could have ever given us — is Tim Cook.”
The documentary, which you can watch for free on YouTube below, walks through the CEO’s backstory and traces how Cook came to Apple in the first place. We’re also reminded of Cook’s brilliance at logistics and efficiency, two qualities that didn’t necessarily make him an obvious choice for the top job one day. The documentary goes on to revisit the September 2014 keynote during which Cook seemed to finally come into his own — firing up the Apple faithful in the audience with a dazzling presentation that included unveiling the first Apple Watch.
The documentary also shows how Cook, in his time, has gone against seemingly ironclad Apple orthodoxies established by Jobs, such as the notion that the iPhone had to be sized so that anybody could use it with just one hand. From there, Cook also supercharged Apple’s services category, with the launch of everything from Apple Pay and Apple Card to Apple Music, while new hardware launched under his tenure has included products like the AirPods and AirPods Max.
Of course, the critics kept sniping: AirPods are just iPhone earbuds with the wires chopped off! Apple Watch is just an iPhone screen on your wrist! Apple TV+ is too small to compete with Netflix! Fine, Apple is the most valuable company, but no way can it keep this up! On and on and on. And yet, Apple’s market cap today, as I write these words? $2.83 trillion.
Suffice it to say: The rocket had certainly already left the launch pad by the time Cook sat down at the control panel, but he certainly steered it higher than anyone believed it could go.
“Tim Cook’s time, his tenure as CEO of Apple, is coming to an end — sooner, probably than you’d think,” Prosser continues, before going on to note that Cook has been at Apple for a staggering 25 years now. The company’s services category alone now makes more money than half of the countries on the planet.
“Whether you realize it or not, we are entering the last stage of this journey, of Tim Cook’s journey at Apple.”
To a certain extent, Cook seems to be betting it all on the Vision Pro. A bold move, because the last thing that someone this high-profile does tends to take on an outsized importance in their story. You’re especially remembered for that last thing you do, especially if it turns out to be a flop, a misfire, or even merely a disappointment. Cook has been such a consequential American business figure, though, that his legacy is arguably assured, no matter what happens. The documentary, for example, barely touches on some of the other important episodes from his leadership, such as staring down the federal government in a fight over privacy and, for better or worse, his deft navigation of the always tricky relationship with China.
We could add so much more to that list, like pushing Apple deeper into health and wellness; Cook’s handling of the ever-mercurial Elon Musk, who seemed at one point poised to go to war with Apple over App Store fees; and, honestly, it still boggles my mind that Apple has a bigger market cap than a company like Exxon. The iPhone maker is literally more valuable than oil.
All of which is to say, whoever Cook chooses to succeed him will certainly have some massive Nike sneakers to fill.