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We read that 10,000-word interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook so you don’t have to

Sometimes you gotta say “tl;dr” — even to Tim Cook.

Tim Cook
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with The Washington Post for a sprawling interview — almost 10,000 words! — and he didn't even talk about the self-driving car project Apple is supposedly not working on.

But Cook did talk about a lot of other things Apple is working on, from taking the reins from Steve Jobs to what comes after the iPhone to who he turns to for advice.

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Here are some highlights (1,775 words!) from Cook's interview:

On the market for iPhones:

Close to two-thirds of Apple's sales are from iPhones, and Cook said that's a privilege, not a problem for the company, even though growth in the smartphone industry has been flat as of late. But Cook insists that if you're in it for the "long haul, this is the best market on earth." In fact, he's sure that smartphones will be the only consumer product where the ration of people-to-product will be one-to-one. And as artificial intelligence progresses, Cook said, iPhones will become even more essential.

"The global market for smartphones is 1.4 billion," Cook told The Washington Post. "Over time, I'm convinced every person in the world will have a smartphone. That may take a while, and they won't all have iPhones. But it is the greatest market on earth from a consumer electronics point of view."

"AI will make this product even more essential to you. It will become even a better assistant than it is today. So where you probably aren't leaving home without it today — you're really going to be connected to it in the future. That level of performance is going to skyrocket. And there is nothing that's going to replace it in the short term or in the intermediate term either."

On pleasing investors:

It turns out that Cook isn't fazed by analysts who say the better days of iPhones are behind Apple. That's mostly, he said, because analysts have always doubted the company.

"They were saying it in 2007 — 'this stupid iPhone, whoever dreamed up this thing?' Then they were saying that we peaked in 2010, then it was 2011. We got to $60 billion [in revenue], and they said you can't grow anymore from this. Well, last year we were $230 billion. And, yes, we're coming down some this year. Every year isn't an up, you know. I've heard all of it before."

But investors looking for a short-term return get impatient. While Cook said the company welcomes all types of investors, he makes it clear that the company is focused on the long-term. And the investors who stick around end up going home with a good chunk of change, he said.

" I think for investors that are focused on the long term, if you look at how we've done in the past five years, our total shareholder return is over 100 percent. That's a pretty good number. And I think most people that have been in the stock for that period of time are probably pretty happy."

On succeeding Steve Jobs:

When he took over as Apple's CEO, Cook expected that his predecessor, Steve Jobs, would be around for a while as a chairman and advisor. He said he convinced himself that Jobs would bounce back, "because he always did." Cook wasn't prepared to lose him so quickly. But he also isn't trying to replace him.

"To me, Steve's not replaceable. By anyone. [Voice softens] He was an original of a species. I never viewed that was my role. I think it would have been a treacherous thing if I would have tried to do it. When I first took the job as CEO, I actually thought that Steve would be here for a long time. Because he was going to be chairman, work a bit less after he came back up the health curve. So I went into it with one thought, and then weeks later — six weeks later, whatever —"

On being outspoken on social issues:

Cook gave companies that choose not to be outspoken about particular social issues a pass, saying, "Maybe they have compelling reasons to be silent." But, given Apple's mission to empower people through its products, it isn't a company that can have a CEO that sits on the sidelines.

It's part of why Cook decided to write an op-ed about being gay for The Washington Post. According to Cook, he would receive letters from kids who were pushed out from their families, or faced other obstacles as a result of being openly gay.

"I thought it would minimally say you can do pretty good in this world and be gay," Cook said. "That it's not a limiter. It's okay to be. That it's okay to be honest about it."

According to Cook, he thought about what to write in the op-ed for one year before publishing it. And he reached out to television newsman Anderson Cooper for advice, because he admired how Cooper himself came out as a gay man.

"I wanted it to be in a business [publication]. That's what I know, that's who I am. There was a lot of work there. I visited people. I talked to Anderson Cooper at length — multiple times. Because I thought that the way that he handled his announcement was really classy. I was getting advice from people who I thought were really great people who had really deeply thought about it."

On who he reaches out to for advice:

Who does the CEO of a company like Apple turn to for advice? Warren Buffett, and former President Bill Clinton, apparently.

"When I was going through [the question of] what should we do on returning cash to shareholders, I thought who could really give us great advice here? Who wouldn't have a bias? So I called up Warren Buffett. I thought he's the natural person, and so I try to go through that process on everyone. That doesn't mean I always do what they say. "

For advice on how to face Congress during the 2013 investigation of Apple's tax practices, Cook turned to former president Clinton and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

On Apple's public battle with the FBI:

When the FBI asked Apple to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, the first question the company asked itself was: Could they build a tool to unlock it? In a few days, the team at Apple, led by SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi, determined that they could technically build a tool to unlock the phone. Then it became a question of ethics.

It boiled down to whether the unlocking technology could be leaked.

"We thought, you know, that depends on whether we could contain it or not. Other people were involved in this, too — deep security experts and so forth, and it was apparent from those discussions that we couldn't be assured. The risk of what happens if it got out, we felt, could be incredibly terrible for public safety."

Cook said the cards were stacked against Apple, and the company was worried that, for the public, the question was a matter of security versus privacy.

"It became clear that the trade-off, so to speak, was essentially putting hundreds of millions of people at risk for a phone that may or may not have anything on it, and that likely didn't, because of other things that we knew about. We thought this actually is a clear decision. A hard one, but a clear one. Then it became more of a matter of how do we explain this. Because this is not easy. You can imagine. You just hear: locked phone. Terrorist. People dead. Why aren't you unlocking this?"

As for how the debacle changed Cook's point of view on the government's role:

"Honestly? I was shocked that they would even ask for this. That was the thing that was so disappointing that I think everybody lost in the whole thing. There are 200-plus other countries in the world. Zero of them had ever asked this."

On mistakes:

Maps, apparently, was a big mistake.

"Today we have a product we're proud of. [But] we had the self-honesty to admit this wasn't our finest hour and the courage to choose another way of doing it. That's important. It's the only way an organization learns. The classic big-company mistake is to not admit their mistake. They double down on them."

And, so was hiring former Dixons CEO John Browett to replace Ron Johnson as the SVP of retail, who left the company after six months.

"That was clearly a screw-up. I'm not saying anything bad about him. He didn't fit here culturally is a good way to describe it. We all talked to him, and I made the final decision, and it was wrong. We fairly quickly recognized it and made a change. And I'm proud we did that."

On successors:

Cook said he is already looking for someone he could appoint to take over if something ever went wrong. In fact, he talks about who might succeed him at the end of every board meeting.

"We have the good discipline to do that. Then my role is to make sure that the board has great candidates to pick from internally. And I take that role extremely seriously. Look around at the great people I get to work with — there's some really just superb talent in the company."

On artificial intelligence:

In response to a question on how he would "catch up" with Google, Amazon and Facebook's AI efforts, Cook said: 1) we're not behind, and 2) Siri.

Siri has been around since 2011, and it's only getting smarter, Cook said. Siri's predictive capabilities are getting better, and now that Apple has opened Siri up to third-party-developers the feature's capabilities are being broadened.

"But there are other things in there, like if you're typing in mail, the prediction capability of the next word or next phrase that you will use has just — Siri has gotten a lot smarter about that. I've been using it for a while, but if you haven't used it you should try it. The ability to recognize faces in photos and put those into the modern equivalent of a photo album — we call this product Memories."

Cook said he isn't worried about privacy issues when it comes to AI, because "talented people" are on it.

"There's a new technology called differential privacy which essentially looks at large data sets to predict user behaviors and requests without going to the precise individual, which might violate privacy."

On the "secret" Apple car project:

"We've always viewed that people love surprises. We don't have enough anymore in our lives."

By Johana Bhuiyan, Recode.net.

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