Tim Cook’s 4 a.m. starts are the stuff of legend. A new interview with Apple’s CEO opens with his explanation of why he’s at his desk by this time.

Alongside a lot of standard interview fare, a former Apple exec is cited declaring that Apple was more magical, more exciting, when Steve Jobs ran the company…

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Cook says 4 a.m. is the one time of the day when he’s in control.

I do that because I can control the morning better than the evening and through the day. Things happen through the day that kind of blow you off course. The morning is yours. Or should I say, the early morning is yours.

He then gives the usual spiel about using a chunk of this time to read hundreds of customer emails.

“I cannot read all of them, no. I’d not admit to doing that. But I read an extraordinary number of them. It keeps my hands on the pulse of what customers are feeling and thinking and doing.”

He forwards them around the company, to whichever team he thinks needs the feedback. It’s a randomized way of keeping in touch with the various corners of the Apple empire.

There are a lot of other familiar soundbites in the interview. He’s a great believer in augmented reality. Tech can be used for good or bad. Apple makes tech designed to enrich people’s lives. The company thinks very carefully about everything it does. Apple is driven by its values. Privacy is a human right. He welcomes competition. Apple only has customer interests at heart in things like App Store control. Apple has enabled $600 billion worth of revenue for developers.

Another thing now becoming a standard part of a Cook interview is that it’s right that Apple’s actions should come under regulatory scrutiny, but the company doesn’t think it’s doing anything wrong.

The technology industry has become such a big piece of the economy, it’s natural that it would be looked at […] Any kind of regulation should be justified by being great for the user. [Regulation] needs to improve someone’s life. Just like an invention or a technology needs to improve someone’s life.

Cook also tells the familiar story of Jobs urging him not to ask, “What would Steve have done?” but instead ask himself what he thought was the right thing to do.

A former Apple exec is quoted saying something less flattering:

I would say that some of the magic did die with Steve. Apple transitioned as a company that made awe-inspiring magical products to being one of the most consistent-at-operations companies in the world. Under Steve there was more excitement, more intrigue.

Cook said that taking over from Jobs wasn’t his greatest challenge: the pandemic was.

A huge challenge is losing total control. And so all of a sudden you know that you’re no longer in control over your destiny, that this pandemic had a strange way of shaking us all and reminding us that we are not the ones deciding.

What is pointedly not addressed in the interview is the CSAM controversy, but the interview took place in July.

Update: A previous version attributed the former exec quote to Cook.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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