Why the new, nicer Apple?

CEO Tim Cook is pursuing a slightly more open, inclusive agenda. Is this a personal crusade? Or are there commercial advantages to be gained?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Apple CEO Tim Cook is driving Apple towards more open, more modern sensibilities. James Martin/CNET

The brash genius who'd just as soon thump you in the solar plexus as perplex you with his inspired vision has gone.

The aggressive, scowling superstar who'd deride you for your lack of taste and even tell you you're holding your phone wrong suddenly wants to invite you to dinner. And he's cooking quinoa.

What on earth is happening to Apple?

A brand that always understood people but sometimes treated them as if they should sit in the corner and just be grateful now seems to be extending a hand and offering a smile.

Some believe this reflects the character of the CEO who, after the launch of new phones and a watch, feels confident in his job.

It's certainly true that Tim Cook -- in his manner, his manners and his thoughtfulness -- appears far removed from the previous PR machine that ostracized ex-friends with a Roman emperor's wave of the hand, designated enemies and even threatened them with thermonuclear war.

But is this really just the projection of a CEO's personality? Or could it be a more concerted effort to deliver a renovated Apple brand to a changing world?

Not being the underdog, Apple can hardly offer an image of rebellion. More than ever, Apple is a worldwide presence. On the one hand, it strives to dominate the higher echelons of spending power and taste. However, as more Apple products emerge -- with an uptick in versions of those products -- the company is signaling that, though it doesn't want to be all things to all people, it does want all people to admire at least some of its things, even despite their any possible misgivings.

There's that moment at many a social function when you come face-to-face with someone you thought might be an unbearably arrogant preener. You meet him. He's surprisingly charming and you mutter: "I hate to say it, but I quite liked him."

That, perhaps, is one of the effects this revamped Apple will achieve. It's inevitable that some could look at its ever-expanding presence and product portfolio and recoil. It makes it easier for those people to recoil when secrecy, arrogance and condescension are in some way associated with Apple management and therefore its brand.

But when a company is overtly trying to do the right thing -- as Cook's Apple is clearly striving to do -- it makes turning away from its charms a touch harder. Cook is swifter to apologize for missteps, prepared to be self-deprecatory at the company's church services (aka events) and is now happier to be more open about his personal life.

All of this may be entirely sincere, but it also serves a commercial purpose. As Apple ventures deeper into China and other large markets, a friendlier attitude doesn't hurt. Moreover, our entire lives are being increasingly lived through cell phones and tablets. New Apple products will necessarily be ever more personal.

With its payments and health services, the company will hold more and more of our most personal information.

Once, Apple merely sat in our hands or hung from our ears. Next year, it wants to slip itself onto our wrists. Soon, it might try to wrap itself around our necks, attach itself to our collars or even hang discreetly from our trousers and skirts.

In wanting to become ever more intimate, Apple is ensuring that it reaches out a little to deserve that intimacy. It's a little more powerful than merely expecting the knee-jerk admiration of the fans who will line up dutifully to pay homage and a lot of money for a new gadget.

Apple's brand is emotionally sophisticated, more so than those of its rivals. This makes it hard for its competitors to sway the faithful.

Some 73 percent of teens say their next phone will be an iPhone, a recent survey showed. That's remarkable for a brand that's not exactly projecting youth and hipness (hullo, hullo, U2). Such a result means that the likes of Samsung have to find stronger, deeper ways to shift feelings and perceptions, as well as creating memorable products.

The perception currently has to be that Apple is commercially and emotionally several steps ahead. Being nicer will help.