Apple CEO Tim Cook reveals what's really valuable about the Uber of China — data

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple introduces the new iPhone 7
Mark Neuling | CNBC

Last year, Apple made an unusual move — announcing a $1 billion investment Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing.

The deal was far larger and more public than most Apple investments, and didn't clearly tie into Apple's flagship product, the iPhone. But a Thursday profile by Time reveals more about what CEO Tim Cook was thinking.

Cook penned a profile honoring Jean Liu, president of Didi Chuxing and part of the "Time 100 Most Influential People" list. Cook led with the same factors that a U.S. company like Uber or Lyft might tout: The convenience, flexibility and "disruption" of ride-sharing.

But he quickly shifted focus to the vast amount of data that Didi monitors, and its "big-data algorithms."

"By analyzing commuter patterns the way oceanographers track the tides, Didi may help traffic jams go the way of the flip phone," Cook writes.

The comment about the algorithms builds on Cook's earlier comments, where he said that Apple was always on the look out for great intellectual property.

"From a Didi point of view, we see that as one, a great investment. Two, we think that there's some strategic things that the companies can do together over time. And three, we think that we'll learn a lot about the business and the Chinese market beyond what we currently know," Cook said last year.

Data is important for testing self-driving cars — something Apple and Didi have almost certainly been mulling. Data can also become products: Uber has reportedly considered selling its data.

For more Time 100 profiles, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, see

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