• Apple CEO Tim Cook participated in a video interview with a Chinese college student who’s also a tech influencer in the country.
  • The conversation touched on everything from Cook’s thoughts on innovation and new products like the iPhone 12 series to the importance of China and Chinese consumers to Apple.
  • Cook mentioned how features like Night Mode were influenced by Chinese consumers.

Fresh on the heels of Apple reporting its highest-ever revenue in China during the December quarter, and with Huawei continuing to suffer the residual effects of the Trump-led ban on its products, Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with a Chinese college student for an interview. One that was less a series of probing queries and more a bit of a chat between Cook and 22-year-old Chinese university student He Shijie.

The conversation ranged from the iPhone app that Cook uses the most (besides email, the Notes app), to Cook’s high-level thoughts about Apple at the moment (2020 was Apple’s “top year of innovation ever”). Cook’s questioner was clearly an Apple fan and didn’t try to hide how much he loves the iPhone maker’s products, but he still was able to garner some interesting insights from the CEO, including some details about the influence that Chinese consumers have on the company’s products.

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For example, when Cook was asked to name any features developed based on feedback from Chinese consumers, he responded:

“Oh, there’s a ton of features there that are. You know, whether it’s specific keyboards, whether it’s QR code mode … 5G, in a lot of ways, was energized in China, because China is so far ahead in the coverage model for 5G. Junction View in Maps, because of the complex intersections and so forth. Night Mode was another one where the inspiration for Night Mode came from China. Yeah, we get a lot of feedback from China.”

Image source: Weibo

You can watch the entire interview here, which has subtitles in both English and Chinese.

As far as Cook’s comments about last year being Apple’s most innovative ever — in spite of the coronavirus pandemic — that was a reference to the release of everything from the new iPhone 12 series to new iPads, new Apple Silicon Macs, the Apple Watch Series 6, and much more.

He Shijie, who’s also known as He Tongxue, is a student at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and a major tech influencer in China. He now has almost 7 million followers on the video streaming platform Bilibili. At one point, he told Cook that his grandmother wants to learn how to use an iPhone so she can watch his videos and make FaceTime calls, but she’d found it difficult to master the technology. Can Apple do more to help older consumers, like her?

Responded Cook: “We try really hard to design our products for everyone. And we try very hard to design the product like the mind works, so you don’t have to have an instruction manual — you can pick it up and it works the way that you would think it would work. We have classes in Apple retail, where we’d love to train your grandmother on using her ‌iPhone‌ right there in the class. And we have telephone support and so forth for people that need that. But our hope is and our desire is always to design the product in such a way that it works as you would expect it to do, so that no instruction is needed.”

Cook also raved about some past trips he’s made to the country, including a visit to the Palace Museum in Beijing last year during its 600th anniversary, as well as the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai — which he couldn’t help noticing incorporates augmented reality into some exhibits.

It was all, again, something of a reminder that Cook is keenly aware of how well Apple is doing in China at the moment, having told analysts during Apple’s most recent earnings call that the company’s success there is actually “more than an iPhone story.”

“China also had a record number of upgraders during the quarter, the most we’ve ever seen in a quarter,” Cook said during Apple’s earnings call a few weeks ago. “I think probably some portion of this was that people probably delayed purchasing in the previous quarter as rumors started appearing about an iPhone.

“Keep in mind that 5G in China is … the network is well established. And the overwhelming majority of phones being sold are 5G phones. And so I think there was some level of anticipation for us delivering an iPhone with 5G.”

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Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.