“[A product] is like a train—the train leaves the station, and if you have a great idea after that, it’s going on the next train.”
For the issue that named Apple the “world’s most innovative company,” Fast Company’s Bob Safian quizzed CEO Tim Cook about the HomePod’s untimely release:
Fast Company: Sometimes Apple takes the lead, introducing unique features—Face ID, for instance. Other times you’re okay to follow, as long as you deliver what you feel is better, like HomePod, which is not the first home speaker. How do you decide when it’s okay to follow?
Tim Cook: I wouldn’t say “follow.” I wouldn’t use that word because that implies we waited for somebody to see what they were doing. That’s actually not what’s happening. What’s happening if you look under the sheets, which we probably don’t let people do, is that we start projects years before they come out. You could take every one of our products—Pod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch—they weren’t the first, but they were the first modern one, right?
In each case, if you look at when we started, I would guess that we started much before other people did, but we took our time to get it right. Because we don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have patience to wait until something is great before we ship it.
FC: In the magazine business, the issue doesn’t ship when we’re done with it, it ships when we have to print it. Sometimes that enforced discipline is valuable in pushing people. On the one hand, you’re patient, but on the other, you have to set deadlines, to create a forcing function somehow.
TC: You have to have a forcing function. For us, on the product side, we have to come up with our silicon requirements three, four-plus years in advance. So we’ve got things that we’re working on now that are way out in the 2020s.
You also want to have the flexibility to go right up until the last minute so that you are continuing to explore and use the product and discover more things that you want to do. There has to be a balance. If we try to allow that kind of flexibility in the silicon piece, we’d never ship a product.
[A product] is like a train—the train leaves the station, and if you have a great idea after that, it’s going on the next train. You’re not going to call this one back to the station.
We have events, other things, that give us goals, shipping by a certain time. But ultimately the question is, Is the product great? Is it ready? And if it’s not, we delay.
My question: In the case of the HomePod—great little speaker, not-so-great digital assistant—would the product be greater if Apple had been a little more patient?