IMAX shows why its 4K camera could get you watching 3D movies again

Is 3D video on the decline, destined to return to the realm of novelty? Not if you ask IMAX. The company has just detailed a large-format 4K camera that could give 3D movies a (frankly needed) visual boost. The trick, the company says, is that the camera is fully integrated; since it doesn’t need a beam splitter and separate lenses, it can stay compact while maintaining IMAX’s dramatic 1.9:1 aspect ratio. That portability (less than half the weight of rivals) allows for fast-action shots that would otherwise be off-limits. The camera also saves video from just before the operator hits the record button, so documentary makers shouldn’t miss unexpected moments.

If you’re curious to see whether these grand-scale visuals are worth watching, you won’t have to wait long. Explosion-loving director Michael Bay has already used IMAX’s rig to shoot Transformers: Age of Extinction, and the nature doc Island of Lemurs: Madagascaralso makes use of the technology. The new hardware won’t make up for any lackluster storylines, but it might get you to splurge on a 3D viewing when you’re otherwise on the fence.

The tech industry’s God complex is getting out of control

The Greeks had a word for this, I thought, as I worked my way through Marc Andreessen’s most recent epic tweet storm.

The venture capitalist — who has suddenly begun treating Twitter as his own personal pulpit for delivering Silicon Valley’s version of the Sermon from the Mount — was explaining to his 124,000 followers the awesomeness of the “superpowers” that emerging technology has bequeathed to each and every one of us:

A new age of wonder is at hand, Andreessen declared; a miraculous era in which our smartphones and network-accessible Web services and 3-D printers and Uber-on-demand-everything have made us all veritable demigods. The amazing things we will do with these superpowers will overwhelm the naysayers who worry about inequality and job loss and economic decline. With our new superhuman abilities, we will all be mighty Avengers, equipped to save the world from any possible crisis, and able to develop our individual potentials to the highest maximum.

But all I could think was be careful what you wish for, as I recalled my favorite — and most pithy — Greek myth, the story of Salmoneus.

Salmoneus, ruler over Elis, was a wealthy and unjust prince with an arrogant heart. He had founded a beautiful city and called it Salmonea, and he grew so overbearing in his pride that he commanded his subjects to give him the honors and offerings due to a god. He wanted to be taken for Zeus himself, and he traversed his country and other parts of Greece in a chariot meant to resemble that of the Thunderer. To accomplish this, he tried to imitate lightning with torches launched through the air, and thunder with the hoofbeats of champing horses which he drove over a brazen bridge. He even had people killed and then pretended that his lightning had struck them down. From the heights of Olympus Zeus noted his folly. He reached into the thick of the clouds, drew forth a real thunderbolt, and hurled it at this mortal, raging in madness and insolence below. The bolt shattered the king and destroyed the city he had built with all those who dwelt in it.

The story of Salmoneus occupies just one paragraph in “Gods and Heroes,” a 700-page compilation of Greek myths and legends put together by the 19th century German writer Gustav Schwab. But it is still one of the best definitions of the concept of hubris you are likely to find. And like all good Greek myths, its relevance to current affairs remains undimmed. The aspiration to have superpowers like gods is an invitation to trouble.

So watch out, Silicon Valley! Because Marc Andreessen is hardly alone in tech circles in his passion to imbue the fruits of the computer age with ecstatic digital millennialism. The Rapture is coming — only it will be delivered not by Jesus, but the Silicon Chip! At its most grandiose outer reaches, the rhetoric encompasses the dreams of post-Singularityimmortality spun by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, who is convinced that it won’t be long before we free ourselves from all mundane restrictions by downloading our consciousnesses into the matrix. (Seriously.) But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the new tech zealots display annoying habit of applying the same rhetoric to the most trivial of exercises.  Consider the start-up that calls itself Superhuman – it produces  software that allows you to seamlessly update your calendars via email. (Seriously?)

Andreessen situates himself between the sublime and the ridiculous, with the added fringe benefit that he is a prominent funder of many of the companies that he believes are handing out superpowers hither and yon. And he’s worth taking seriously, because of course there is plenty of truth to this digital transhumanism. Smartphones are amazing, connecting us effortlessly to the sum of human knowledge and artistic creativity, able to summon limousines in a single click. Accidentally leave your smartphone at home, and you may well feel crippled for the rest of the day. (Or liberated, because as Peter Parker well knows, superpowers can also be a curse.) There’s a lot of digital empowerment going on these days, faster even than we can keep track of.

But all this empowerment comes with a heaping dose of hubris. The metaphorical power of Silicon Valley’s superpower fetish has real-world implications. Once you believe you have superhuman abilities — or that you are bestowing superhumanity on the rest of the world — you also tend to believe no one can or should stand in your way. (Iron Man doesn’t play by the rules! Nor does he care about the puny quibbling of governments and social critics. He just does what he wants.)

He who wields the thunderbolt wields the power. Rules are meant to be broken. In the Marvel Universe, and on Mount Olympus, might makes right. When the apostles of Silicon Valley tell us to “let markets work,” or blithely ignore existing regulatory structures and plow ahead with their “disruptive” start-ups, they are making a similar show of force. But we should be cautious in our hero-worship. Because as even the most cursory acquaintance with Greek myth makes clear, Olympians really shouldn’t be trusted to use their godlike powers responsibly.

* * *

The gospel of Marc Andreessen goes all the way back to Prometheus. The first superpower was fire, after all. The fruits of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution advance the basic theme. Electric lighting, steam power, automobiles, the telephone — “For 500+ years,” Andreessen tweets, “we’ve collectively been radically enhancing capabilities of ordinary humans through technology superpowers.”

The last 10 years, however, have really kicked things into gear. Now our superpowers include having the world’s total knowledge base available “for free,” connection with “everyone important in your life” via social media “for free,” the ability to never be lost and always know where your kids are via GPS-enabled devices, access to the entirety of recorded music, anywhere at any time, and even the sharing-economy-enabled ability to “easily move around and then stay places with transparency and safety” via Airbnb or Lyft or Uber. And so on.

“I am firmly convinced many people are fundamentally underestimating the power and potential of these new superpowers in the years ahead,” tweets Andreessen, suggesting that future examples will include crowd-funding’s facilitation of fundraising, the quantified self’s “superpower to understand one’s own body continuously in real time, optimize health & wellness with high precision,” and 3-D printing.

“Combine modern bio, 3D printing, & computing–>prosthetics & exoskeletons; superpower: paralyzed to walk, disabled to abled, blind to see.”

Of course, we can quibble. Web services are not “free” — we pay for them by surrendering our most intimate personal information and allowing ourselves to be targeted by advertisers. Is the ability to summon a car via Lyft really comparable to fire? And come on: The superpower to always know where your kids are lasts as long as the charge on a phone battery, or until they decide to turn their trackers off. Hera is not impressed.

There’s also the niggling point that the same superpowers that enable our vast potential are easily used against us by governments and corporations and criminals. The NSA now has superpower surveillance ability. Hackers have the superhuman ability to invade and control our computers. Advertisers have superhuman behavior modification powers to influence what we purchase. Andreessen chooses to believe that technology is balancing the scales by giving individuals powers that put them on a level playing field with existing authorities. But that’s far from certain.

But Andreessen is certainly not wrong in seeing the last 10 (or 20 years) of innovation as a major and important transition. To Skype with your daughter on another continent can feel magical. The way that, say, YouTube tutorials enable an extraordinary efflorescence of DIY creativity is undoubtedly empowering. And, if the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, and workers in China are taking advantage of social media and smartphones to effectively organize for their rights, well, that is indeed super-powerful. More of that, please.

As Hillary Mason — a data scientist in residence at the venture capital firm Accel, who regularly gives lectures on how our new ability to make sense of big data gives us “superpowers” — observes, “A raw human voice can’t reach halfway around the world, but a tweet can. As a human, we can only perceive our own experience, but data gives us a window into the collective behavior of our species.”

We shouldn’t deny or dismiss the transformative power of technology. But we should investigate very carefully the psychological and political implications of embracing the superpower metaphor. On one level there’s the omnipresent danger of promiscuous trivialization — the hype that lumps room-sharing in the same category as fire or the steam engine. As Mason acknowledged to me, “there’s something deeply disturbing about the construction of these ‘change the world’ narratives around trivial products.”

But a bigger challenge is in understanding how fixation on superhuman abilities transforms feelings of powerlessness into attitudes of superiority. The modern conception of superpowers and superheroes got its start in the comic books of the 1930s.  Sociologist Harry Brod, the author of “Superman Is Jewish: How Comic Book Heroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way”  argues that the Jewish creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were working out their resistance to cultural stereotypes of nebbishness when they dreamed up their larger-than-life creations. (Michael Chabon makes a very similar argument in “The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay.”) For Brod, Silicon Valley’s embrace of superhuman abilities can be traced back to similar cultural forces. “The Silicon Valley interest in superpowers is the revenge of the nerd,” Brod told me. “It’s Walter Mitty in high tech.”

The once marginalized geek has discovered that, through power of the code, one can conquer. Google Glass is just an obvious stepping stone to a full-fledged Iron Man suit. (You know you want one.)

How this attitude feeds into libertarian ideology hardly needs belaboring. If you’re empowering the entire world to become superheroes, then anything that gets in your way must be Hulk-smashed. Arrogance is a natural byproduct of superpowers. And it makes possible the writing of sentences like, “if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 21st century, it’s hard not to feel a special connection to Renaissance Florence.” Yeah, start-up entrepreneurs in Palo Alto are just like the Medici Grand Dukes. Except, even better, because they’ve got superpowers.

Marc Andreesen tweets that tech superpowers “upgrade us as creators, builders, inventors, designers, artists: *producers*.” And it is certainly true that the smartphone — infinitely more accessible and far cheaper than the personal computers of yesterday — democratizes access to the information age. But what he fails to mention is that, when everyone has superpowers, that’s the same as nobody having superpowers, and the same social inequities that give some people advantages over others will reassert themselves.  The advantages of class, wealth and location don’t vanish.

We should also recall what really fuels our long-standing cultural obsession with superpowers, from the myths and legends of antiquity to comic book adventures in Marvel and DC right up to the newest app downloaded from our iPhone. It’s all about escape, whether from the humdrum existence of standing in line at the cashier, or our own sense of inadequacy and frustration. But as both Homer or Stan Lee could tell you, there is no escape. Superheroes and Olympian gods are just as petty and jealous and conflicted as the rest of us. Their personal lives are a mess and their ambitions often are the seed of their downfall. Silicon Valley should beware the example of Salmoneus.

Superpowers don’t make us better people, and they won’t necessarily deliver us a better world. But the people who figure out how to sell them will become very, very rich.

Lift Your June Gloom With This Weekend’s Playlist

When June arrives in San Francisco, it brings with it a very particular brand of gray morning (and sometimes afternoon). While that grayness generally dissipates when the sun breaks through, it gives most mornings an otherworldly feel. Fitting, then, that so much of this week’s best new music mirrors that Yay Area summertime progression from gloom to bliss. Start out chill with new tracks from Real Lies and Sinkane, then turn up the tempo until the Ting Tings go disco and legend Giorgio Morodor brings it home with a high-energy tour de force.

As usual, we’ve added the tracks to our ongoing Spotify playlist of great new music, and created a standalone YouTube playlist for this week. Keep the recommendations coming.

The tracks:
Real Lies, “North Circular”
The Antlers, “Hotel”
Chet Faker, “Talk is Cheap (Ta-ku Remix)”
Sinkane, “Hold Tight”
SBTRKT feat. Sampha, “Temporary View”
Jo Mersa, “Rock and Swing”
Santigold, “Kicking Down Doors”
The Ting Tings, “Wrong Club”
Lana del Rey, “West Coast (ZHU Remix)”
Giorgio Moroder, “Giorgio’s Theme”

YouTube

Why You Should Only Spend $500 on Your Next TV

Welcome to the awkward HDTV transitional phase. If you need to buy a new TV right now, what do you do? Bet big on an UltraHD TV and wait for 4K content to become as plentiful as HD? Splurge on an early-generation OLED, then kick yourself in two years when they become more affordable? Buy a massive, high-end 1080p set, then regret it when everybody flocks to your buddy’s house to watch Super Bowl 50 on his 4K OLED?

At this moment, your smartest move is to go cheap. Buy a holdover HDTV, something simple and no-frills to keep you happy and entertained while UltraHD panels get cheaper, 4K programming becomes ubiquitous, and OLED prices fall to earth. For $500, you can get an excellent television between 39 and 50 inches. You may not get absolutely outstanding picture quality, but there are plenty of cheap sets that still rate as very, very good. You will also have to skip the design aesthetic of the more expensive models.

But the bulk of your savings will come from outsourcing features. For example, take a pass on those built-in streaming features and just buy a $60 Roku box, which has a better UI and more channels than any TV’s built-in “Smart” software ever will. Get a good soundbar if you care about sound; even the cheaper soundbars will outclass the speakers you’d find in a $500 TV set, and you’ll be able to use it with your next TV too. Cheap TVs usually only come with two HDMI inputs, so if you need more, just buy a $30 HDMI switch. And you most certainly do not need 3-D — why pay extra for it if there’s nothing good to watch?

By just buying a solid, affordable, and no-frills HDTV, you can minimize the compromises while you wait out the HD-to-4K transition.

Image: Courtesy of Vizio

Vizio E420I-B0 (42-Inch Full-Array LED) — $430
Good TVs at very low prices has always been Vizio’s schtick, and 2014 looks like a banner year. This full-array backlit set has local dimming and a 120Hz refresh rate for less than $450, which seems like a typo but is actually just an incredible deal. Built-in Wi-Fi, apps, and plenty of inputs sweeten the deal.

Image: Courtesy of Sharp

Sharp LC-48LE551U (48-Inch Full-Array LED) — $500
There’s another direct-lit LED HDTV in this price range, and it’s a big one. Sharp’s slim-bezeled 48-incher earned an Editors’ Choice award from PCMag. It lacks Wi-Fi, so make sure you have a set-top box if you want to stream. It’s also a 60Hz set with an “Aquomotion 120″ setting that simulates a higher refresh rate.

Image: Courtesy of TCL

TCL 50FS5600 (50-Inch LED) — $500
If you want to go even bigger, this 50-inch TCL set is the biggest one in this roundup. It has a native refresh rate of 120Hz, and it features an edge-lit LED backlighting system instead of the aforementioned full-array systems. No built-in Wi-Fi, but that’s what your Roku or Apple TV is for.

Image: Courtesy of Sony

Sony KDL-40W600B (40-Inch LED) — $480
This edge-lit Sony LCD set has a slick design, a rarity for its sub-$500 price. It’s among the most-popular sets in this price range on Amazon, with built-in Wi-Fi and plenty of inputs. Its 60Hz native refresh rate raises eyebrows, but it has a feature that ably simulates a 240Hz panel.

Image: Courtesy of Panasonic

Panasonic TC-39AS530U (39-Inch LED) — $450
Panasonic’s plasmas were considered the best in the business, but now the company has shifted to an all-LCD lineup. The 120Hz edge-lit AS530‘s slim bezel is an eye-catcher, making its 39-inch screen look bigger than you’d expect. Wi-Fi and mobile-device content sharing are also part of its tricks.

Image: Courtesy of Samsung

Samsung PN43F4500 (43-Inch Plasma, 720p) — $380
Picture-quality connoisseurs have long hailed plasma sets, which keep up well with fast motion and offer deep blacks and snappy contrast. This Samsung set punches well above its price, with great ratings on Amazon and a “Best” pick from The Wirecutter. A few things: It’s only 720p, you’ll have to BYO Wi-Fi, and it only has two HDMI inputs.

Image: Courtesy of LG

LG 42PN4500 (42-Inch Plasma, 720p) –$400
LG and Samsung aren’t just battling on the OLED front, they’re also competing on the super-affordable 720p plasma battlefield. This LG set gets very good reviews on Amazon, but like the competing Samsung, it has no Wi-Fi, no 1080p, and just a couple of HDMI ports.

Google Open Sources Its Secret Weapon in Cloud Computing

When Google engineers John Sirois, Travis Crawford, and Bill Farner left the internet giant and went to work for Twitter, they missed Borg.

Borg was the sweeping software system that managed the thousands of computer servers underpinning Google’s online empire. With Borg, Google engineers could instantly grab enormous amounts of computing power from across the company’s data centers and apply it to whatever they were building–whether it was Google Search or Gmail or Google Maps. As Sirois, Crawford, and Farner created new web services at Twitter, they longed for the convenience of this massive computing engine.

Unfortunately, Borg was one of those creations Google was loath to share with the outside world–a technological trade secret it saw as an important competitive advantage. In the end, urged by that trio of engineers, Twitter went so far as build its own version of the tool. But now, the next wave of internet companies has another way of expanding their operations to Google-like sizes. This morning, Google open sourced a software tool that works much like Borg, freely sharing this new creation with the world at large.

Unveiled by Google cloud computing guru Eric Brewer at a conference in San Francisco, the tool is called Kubernetes–after the ancient Greek word for shipmaster or pilot–and basically, it’s a way of more easily and more efficiently running online software across a vast array of machines. In today’s world, that’s a vital thing. As the modern internet serves more and more people, it’s not just Google that needs hundreds or even thousands of machines to run its web software.Illustration: Getty

When Google engineers John Sirois, Travis Crawford, and Bill Farner left the internet giant and went to work for Twitter, they missed Borg.

Borg was the sweeping software system that managed the thousands of computer servers underpinning Google’s online empire. With Borg, Google engineers could instantly grab enormous amounts of computing power from across the company’s data centers and apply it to whatever they were building–whether it was Google Search or Gmail or Google Maps. As Sirois, Crawford, and Farner created new web services at Twitter, they longed for the convenience of this massive computing engine.

Unfortunately, Borg was one of those creations Google was loath to share with the outside world–a technological trade secret it saw as an important competitive advantage. In the end, urged by that trio of engineers, Twitter went so far as build its own version of the tool. But now, the next wave of internet companies has another way of expanding their operations to Google-like sizes. This morning, Google open sourced a software tool that works much like Borg, freely sharing this new creation with the world at large.

Unveiled by Google cloud computing guru Eric Brewer at a conference in San Francisco, the tool is called Kubernetes–after the ancient Greek word for shipmaster or pilot–and basically, it’s a way of more easily and more efficiently running online software across a vast array of machines. In today’s world, that’s a vital thing. As the modern internet serves more and more people, it’s not just Google that needs hundreds or even thousands of machines to run its web software.

‘IT’S A WAY OF STITCHING TOGETHER A COLLECTION OF MACHINES INTO, BASICALLY, A BIG COMPUTER.’

Google is now sharing this technology with the rest of the world because its business has evolved. In addition to creating its own web applications, it now offers cloud computing services–services that let outside companies build and run software without setting up their own machines. Releasing Kubernetes as a way of encouraging people to use these cloud computing services, known as Google Compute Engine and Google App Engine.

But the new tool isn’t limited to the Google universe. It also lets you oversee machines running on competing cloud services–from Amazon, say, or Rackspace–as well as inside private data centers. Yes, today’s cloud services already give you quick access to large numbers of virtual machines, but with Kubernetes, Google aims to help companies pool processing power more effectively from a wide variety of places. “It’s a way of stitching together a collection of machines into, basically, a big computer,” says Craig Mcluckie, a product manager for Google’s cloud services.

The key, Brewer says, is that a tool like this can help make the most of your available computing power. In essence, if one machine isn’t using all its computing power, Kubernetes can send another task its way. This can be particularly important for companies running their software on cloud services, Brewer explains, because they typically use only a portion of the processing power they’re paying for. “We know, from aggregate statistics, that utilization for the typical cloud customer is kinda low,” he says.

With Borg and its successor, Omega, Google has done this sort of thing inside its own data centers for years, squeezing as much as possible out of its massive array of machines. “Kubenetes emulates a lot of the patterns we use inside Google with Omega,” Mcluckie says. But in an effort to democratize this technology, Google has also reshaped the concepts behind Borg and Omega to work in tandem with anotheropen source technology called Docker. The increasingly popular Docker provides a way of packaging online software into a kind of digital shipping container you can deploy across many machines, and then Kubernetes offers a better way of juggling all those containers. As Brewer explains it, Kubernetes helps you squeeze multiple Docker containers onto the same machine so that you can get the most out of it.

This morning, Google also unveiled new tools that make it easier to merely run Docker containers on its cloud services, and other cloud companies–such as Amazon and Rackspace–have embraced Docker in similar fashion. Docker is one step towards a world where we can treat all cloud services like one giant computer, and a tool like Kubernetes is the next.

Kubernetes is similar to several other existing tools, including Mesos, the open source tool that Twitter now uses. The difference here is that Kubernetes comes from Google, the company that pioneered this breed of “orchestration” tool. “It’s part of an arms race. There are literally dozens of tools coming out,” says Solomon Hykes, the chief technology at Docker and the driving force behind the company’s software containers. “But Google joining that battle–with code that comes from their massive experience–helps show where this kind of thing will go.”

Salesforce Makes a Crafty Play to Bring Wearables to the Workplace

Salesforce.com wants you to wear a computer at work.

This week, the big-name internet software company released Salesforce Wear, an open source software development kit that lets coders build business applications for wearable computing devices such as the Google Glass digital eyewear and the Samsung Gear and Pebble smart watches. Glass, Gear, and Pebble are largely billed as consumer devices, but Salesforce is among the many companies and analyststhat hope to push such wearables into the workplace as well.

Marc Benioff and company also released the software code for six example apps, including a tool that can display business metrics on a Pebble watch and a gesture-based application that lets surgeons to pull up patient records without having to touch an unsterilized keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. These apps aren’t ready for prime time, but at this point, says the company’s senior vice president of emerging technologies Daniel Debow, Salesforce just wants to provide some wearable inspiration for developers.

THESE INCLUDE A GESTURE-BASED APPLICATION THAT LETS SURGEONS TO PULL UP PATIENT RECORDS WITHOUT HAVING TO TOUCH AN UNSTERILIZED KEYBOARD, MOUSE, OR TOUCHSCREEN.

There are plenty of examples of wearable computers being used in the workplace already. Epson and Evena Medical built a smart glasses system that helps health care workers find patients’ veins. Looxcie’s Vidcie head-mounted camera enables technicians to get live support in the field, as does a Google Glass application built by solar panel installation company Sullivan Solar. And last year, The Independentnewspaper reported that UK grocery chain Tesco uses electronic armbands to monitor employee activities and give them scores based on how well they perform.

What Salesforce hopes to provide is an easier and faster way for companies to create their own wearable apps for their employees and customers. “People would have to build everything–like identity and security–from scratch,” Debow says. “But all of this is already built into Salesforce’s existing developer platform.” Salesforce Wear dovetails with this platform, a set of online service for building and running software that hooks into other Salesforce applications, and at least at this point, it doesn’t work with other development platforms. That means Salesforce also sees this new kit as a way of driving interest in its existing services, but whatever Salesforce’s own interests, Debow is adamant that wearable gear is the future.

He says there are many places that smartwatches or glasses could be preferable to using a smartphone. Sales people pull their smartphones out of their pockets between 100 and 150 times per day, he says, and wearables can change this. “For a sales person it’s not a great idea to pull a cell phone out in the middle of a meeting,” Debow says.

One of the company’s sample apps addresses exactly that. It’s a Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch app that displays a wide variety of information from the company’s flagship sales information management product. Using the app, you could not only check forthcoming calendar appointments, but also see profiles of the customers expecting to present at a particular meeting– complete with a photo to help you put a face to a name before or even during the meeting. It’s also interactive, letting you do things like warn everyone else at the meeting that you’re running late.

It’s still early days in the wearable field. But in addition to giving us an idea of where this market is headed, Salesforce is providing at least one way we might get there. We don’t just need wearables. We need ways of tying them into existing online services. Something like Salesforce Wear can help do that.

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, was an adolescent boy in a small Alabama town in the early 1970s when he saw something he couldn’t forget.

Bicycling home on a new 10-speed, he passed a large cross in flames in front of a house — one that he knew belonged to a black family. Around the cross were Klansmen, dressed in white cloaks and hoods, chanting racial slurs. Mr. Cook heard glass break, maybe someone throwing something through a window. He yelled, “Stop!”

One of the men lifted his conical hood, and Mr. Cook recognized a deacon from a local church (not Mr. Cook’s). Startled, he pedaled away.

“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,” Mr. Cook said of the burning cross, in a speech he gave last December.

In the speech, he said his new awareness made him feel that no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that need to be acted upon. And then came the segue: His company, Apple, is one that believed deeply in “advancing humanity.”


Tim Cook Receiving the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award Video by Auburn University

Mr. Cook, who is 53, took over leadership of Apple nearly three years ago, after the death of Steve Jobs, the company’s revered founder. Like Walt Disney and Henry Ford, Mr. Jobs was intertwined with his company. Mr. Jobs was Apple and Apple was Jobs.

At the time, Mr. Cook was well regarded as a behind-the-scenes operations guy, but he was a relatively unknown quantity outside the company. He can be intensely private; for instance, the details of the cross-burning episode, like his reaction and the appearance of the deacon, he has shared with friends but not publicly. Even offering the outlines of that story in front of an audience, however, indicates how he is slowly beginning to reveal his own personality and style, and to define Apple leadership in his own image.

This is happening as Mr. Cook, who declined to be interviewed for this article, finds himself not only in the limelight, but also under scrutiny. Of late, the company has hit a snag that was years in the making: Its sales now are so large that many investors worry that it can’t continue to match the growth that brought it from $65 billion in sales in the 2010 fiscal year to $171 billion in 2013. In fiscal 2013, sales grew a mere 9 percent, far below an average just shy of 40 percent a year from 2004 to 2013. Profits slimmed. And the stock price fell nearly in half from its 2012 peak to the middle of 2013, vastly underperforming the market.

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It is hard for all of us to be patient. It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim.

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief

Investors have clamored for Apple wizardry — a much-anticipated iWatch or iTV, perhaps. To these critics, Mr. Cook is uninspiring, his social views window dressing, when what they want is magic.

“Where is the grand design?” asks Laurence I. Balter, chief market strategist at Oracle Investment Research. Mr. Balter credits Mr. Cook as having great skills in operations and in managing the supply chain, which entails getting the raw materials and machinery in place to build things — but not with having the vision to design them. “All we hear from Cook,” Mr. Balter says, “is there are some great products coming down the pike.”

Mr. Balter calls Apple a financial “Rock of Gibraltar”— it is sitting on $150.6 billion of cash — but he says he has serious questions about whether it can continue to be a hypergrowth company. Is it a stock for growth investors, he asks, “or widows?”

“Show me the product,” he says. “Show me the ingenuity.”

To shore up shareholder faith, Mr. Cook split the stock, increased the dividend and engineered a $90 billion buyback — steps that helped shares rebound almost entirely. He has taken other steps to strengthen the company, like pushing Apple products into China, a potentially huge market, and acquiring talent, most recently spending $3 billion to buy Beats, a music company that brings Apple two major music-industry shakers and deal makers, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

Reflecting his personal views, Mr. Cook is trying to broaden Apple’s brand, too, taking to Twitter and other public venues to express support for environmentalism and gay rights (and for Auburn University football). He has also emphasized the use of sustainable products at the company. Early in his tenure, playing catch-up with other corporations, he established a program to match employee charitable contributions; he has upped the company’s own giving, too.

Jonathan Ive, the head of design at Apple and a name nearly as adored by its followers as Steve Jobs, says Mr. Cook has not neglected the company’s central mission: innovation. “Honestly, I don’t think anything’s changed,” he said. And that includes the clamor for some exciting new thing. “People felt exactly the same way when we were working on the iPhone,” Mr. Ive added.

“It is hard for all of us to be patient,” Mr. Ive said. “It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim.”

Spirit of Hardware Past

There is a mythology, with some part of truth, that Mr. Jobs was the soul of the design process, the company’s Innovator in Chief. For the original iPhone, Mr. Jobs checked in weekly with engineers, according to Francisco Tolmasky, a former Apple engineer who worked on the phone’s browser.

“Steve was really adamant,” Mr. Tolmasky reflected, adding that Mr. Jobs would say: “’This needs to be like magic. Go back, this isn’t magical enough!’”

Almost daily, employees would spot Mr. Jobs having lunch on Apple’s campus with Mr. Ive. These days, Mr. Ive said, he meets three days a week with Mr. Cook, generally in each other’s offices. But Mr. Ive said the design processes are essentially unchanged.

I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with the next big thing. They’ve lost their heart and soul.

Michael A. Cusumano, M.I.T. professor

“Steve established a set of values and he established preoccupations and tones that are completely enduring,” Mr. Ive said. Chief among them is a reliance on small creative teams whose membership remains intact to this day. The philosophy that materials and products are intertwined also continues under Mr. Cook. For instance, when the company decided to use titanium to build a laptop, Mr. Ive said, he and Mr. Cook and Mr. Jobs thought about how to push the boundaries of the metal to get the look and feel they wanted. And Mr. Ive pointed to another enduring value: a complete focus on the product.

If Mr. Jobs was maniacal about design, Mr. Cook projects “quiet consideration,” Mr. Ive said. Mr. Cook digests things carefully, with time, which Mr. Ive said “testifies to the fact he knows it’s important.”

Lower-level employees praise Mr. Cook’s approachability and intellect. But some say he is less hands-on in developing products than his predecessor. They point to the development of the so-called iWatch — the “smartwatch” that Apple observers are eagerly awaiting as the next world-beating gadget. Mr. Cook is less involved in the minutiae of product engineering for the watch, and has instead delegated those duties to members of his executive cabinet, including Mr. Ive, according to people involved in the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to press. Apple declined to comment on the watch project.

Mr. Cook appears to be interested in the smartwatch’s broader implications — for instance, that a watch might monitor heart rate and other vital measures, thus improving health and limiting doctor visits, according to these people. The watch is expected to be released in the fourth quarter, these people said.

Mr. Cook has also looked outside of Apple for experienced talent. He has hired executives from multiple industries, including Angela Ahrendts, the former head of Burberry, to oversee the physical and online stores, and Paul Deneve, the former Yves Saint Laurent chief executive, to take on special projects. He also hired Kevin Lynch, the former chief technology officer of Adobe, and Michael O’Reilly, former medical officer of the Masimo Corporation, which makes health monitoring devices. Not to mention the music men of Beats.

Mr. Cook is amassing a creative brain trust, according to Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, who befriended Mr. Jobs and worked closely with him and Apple’s team on developing a U2-branded iPod, as well as on charitable work in Africa. Mr. Cook is not saying “I’m here to replace him,” said Bono, who is a managing director and co-founder of the venture capital firm Elevation Partners. “He’s saying, ‘I’ll try to replace him with five people.’ It explains the acquisition of Beats.”

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Craig Federighi, head of Apple’s software engineering. Mr. Cook has assembled a team of creative people — and has given them center stage. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

That doesn’t mean Mr. Cook is uninvolved in product decisions. Since he took over, the company has released a number of upgrades, including a smaller tablet, the iPad Mini. Mr. Cook “thought the world would love a smaller and less expensive tablet,” said Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney and a member of Apple’s board. It was a product that Mr. Jobs thought did not have a market, he said.

Sales of the iPad Mini quickly exceeded those of the normal-size iPad, according to analysts. Gartner and ABI Research estimated that within the first year the smaller tablet went on sale, it accounted for 60 percent of overall iPad sales.

Still, some product iterations have brought mixed results. Last year, Apple for the first time introduced two new iPhones instead of just one: the high-end iPhone 5S, which sold like gangbusters, and the lower-cost, plastic-covered iPhone 5C, which disappointed.

What makes Apple’s challenge particularly daunting is the law of large numbers. Its sales are so big that even another new strong product — unless it’s a gigantic hit on the order of the iPhone — won’t lead to the kind of growth to which some investors have grown accustomed, noted Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst who covers Apple for Bernstein Research. He put it this way: If Apple makes an iWatch and sells 10 million units in the first year, it would add a mere 50 cents to its earnings per share, barely a single percentage point.

“Most people would say, if you sell 10 million units of something that would be incredible,” Mr. Sacconaghi said. But not so with Apple. “There are very few things that could move the needle,” he added.

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor in the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., said he thought Apple no longer had the juice to create the world-beating product it needs. Professor Cusumano, who is working on a book about innovation, visited Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., last fall and has talked to a half-dozen current and former employees about the company culture. He concluded that Apple without Mr. Jobs lacks a visionary to synthesize disparate ideas into a magical whole.

“Jobs would figure out how to put the pieces together,” Professor Cusumano said. “Everything just filtered through his eyes.”

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with the next big thing,” he added. “They’ve lost their heart and soul.”

‘Just and Right’

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Inevitably, Tim Cook draws contrasts to the high-profile, hands-on style of his predecessor.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

If Mr. Jobs was the heart and soul of the company, Mr. Cook seems to be trying to cast himself as a different sort of leader. His Twitter feed is a mash-up of Apple hoopla and cheerful promotion of human rights and environmentalism. He wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in support of proposed federal legislation protecting gay, lesbian and transgender workers.

He often quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy but doesn’t much talk about the origin of his political views. The speech he gave last December, in which Mr. Cook mentioned the cross-burning, started to give some hints. “Since these early days,” he said, “I have seen, and I have experienced, many other types of discrimination.” All of those, he continued, “were rooted in a fear of people that were different than the majority.” Apple declined to say what he meant by the reference to discrimination he experienced, but it did confirm the details of the cross-burning story.

The speech was given at the United Nations, where Mr. Cook was accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn, his alma mater. He graduated from the university in 1982 with a degree in industrial engineering. He worked at IBM while earning a graduate business degree at Duke, then went to Intelligent Electronics and Compaq. In 1998, he was approached by Mr. Jobs when Apple was struggling, but as Mr. Cook recounted later in a 2010 commencement speech at Auburn, he saw it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius.”

He rose to become executive vice president for worldwide sales and operations in 2002. In the period after he became C.E.O. in 2011, the working conditions in Chinese factories used by major tech companies, including Apple, came under increasing scrutiny. By April 2012, after suicides and accidents among Chinese factory workers, a quarter of a million people had signed a petition on Change.org urging Apple to improve working conditions in the factories. Apple since 2006 had already commissioned public reports on troubling practices inside many factories. In 2012, it also began publishing an annual list of its major suppliers, their locations, and what is made at the major ones, as well as reporting the working hours for more than a million factory employees.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Mr. Cook’s building of a production plant in Arizona and a Texas factory for making high-end Mac computers domestically was “a tremendous vote of confidence for an iconic company that previously shipped jobs overseas.” (A majority of manufacturing is still done outside the United States — for instance, an estimated 90 percent of the iPhone’s hundreds of parts are made abroad.) Ms. Jarrett also praised Apple’s donation of $100 million to equip schools with technology, including iPads and high-speed Internet

Apple also made a quick transition to using 100 percent renewable energy sources in its data centers, which makes it “the most aggressive of the companies that we evaluated in getting renewables online,” said Gary Cook, a senior policy analyst at Greenpeace.

Ryan Scott, the chief executive of Causecast, a nonprofit that helps companies create volunteer and donation programs, called Mr. Cook’s charitable initiatives a “great start.” But Mr. Scott added that its programs are “not as significant as what other companies are doing.” Apple’s ambitions “could be much higher,” he said, given its money and talent. By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.

Apple, too, has faced accusations from government officials on a number of troubling issues, including strategies to minimize its corporate taxes. (On the tax issue, Mr. Cook, told a Senate panel last year that Apple is the nation’s largest taxpayer and pays what it owes.) Last July, a federal judge ruled that Apple had illegally conspired with publishers to try to raise prices in the e-books market; Apple is appealing.

Mr. Cook’s public emphasis on social issues nonetheless puts him “on the cutting edge of an emerging new mind-set in corporate leadership about values and value creation,” said James E. Austin, an emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School. But Kellie McElhaney, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, said she “gets nervous” when C.E.O.s talk about doing what is “right” without making a business case.

“Right to whom?” she asked.

That’s a view shared by some investors. At a shareholder meeting on Apple’s campus in February, one shareholder — who later described himself as having free-market values — asked Mr. Cook whether Apple should avoid embracing environmental causes that lacked a clear profit motive.

Mr. Cook did not respond by saying, as many executives would, that environmentalism is pragmatic and good for the bottom line. His reasoning was moral.

“We do things because they’re just and right,” he said. He has a slight Alabama drawl and a cool delivery, but there was underlying pique in his voice when he rejected the idea that everything must be measured by return on investment. He concluded by telling shareholders, “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear R.O.I., then you should get out of the stock, just to be plain and simple.”

He received rousing applause from the crowd, which included Al Gore, a member of Apple’s board. But the shareholder who asked the question, Justin Danhof, mourned that “I’ve never had a C.E.O. react that way.” In the following days, some stock analysts echoed the dismay, with one columnist, Robert Weinstein of The Street, wondering whether Mr. Cook “is shifting Apple’s focus from an aggressive luxury tech innovator into more of an increasingly philanthropic-focused company.”

Lennon vs. Ringo

Two weeks ago, Mr. Cook stood on stage at the company’s annual developer’s conference in San Francisco in front of 5,000 enthralled software developers. These are the makers of apps for the iPhone and other gadgets, and Mr. Cook promised them something he called “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store.”

To tell the developers about it, Mr. Cook said, “I’d like to invite my colleague, Superman, back to the stage.”

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Mr. Cook watched with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters as Nate Mendel, also from the band, tried out one of the phones at a company event.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Of course, for years, the only Apple superhero was Mr. Jobs. As Mr. Cook walked toward the darkness, stage left, there was a moment of mystery. Then out sprang Craig Federighi, head of Apple’s software engineering. He passed Mr. Cook and headed into the limelight to describe the new release. It was not a new consumer product, but a set of software tools called a developer’s kit, which would help developers build better apps.

If the rest of the world yawned, the developers stood, and whooped.

Afterward, devotees like Jordan Brown, 25, and three of his colleagues, roamed the convention center.

The four men, who are with a health care app company called Orca Health, had traveled from Salt Lake City and had spent the previous night on the sidewalk to get a good seat at the keynote address. They were scruffy-faced and exhausted, but adrenaline-fueled. Mr. Brown said he viewed Mr. Cook “as someone making sure everything is clicking, but he’s not inspiring.” Mr. Federighi, on the other hand, “resembles Steve,” he said.

Mr. Brown’s colleague Chad Zeluff, 27, who saw Mr. Jobs deliver the keynote in 2007, put it this way: “Jobs is to Lennon what Cook is to Ringo.”

A floor away, Mr. Cook was surrounded by young developers, eagerly snagging selfies as the chief executive mingled post-keynote. Ringo is still a Beatle.

The Utah developers generally expressed support for Mr. Cook. It would be enough, they said, if he put the pieces together. And they said Apple was doing a good job in software innovation, which can add new features to existing devices even if Apple doesn’t produce a new gadget.

They hadn’t heard much about Mr. Cook’s social activism. “I was barely aware of it,” said Gary Robinson, 35, the oldest of the Utah developers. “It’s good, and important.

“But it’s not what matters to me,” he added. “It’s not why I’m here.”

As the conversation continued, though, the developers expressed some cracks in their confidence. For instance, their company has been building apps exclusively for the iPhone for three years, but in the last two months it has also started building apps for Android systems.

They found one thing particularly jarring in the keynote: Apple did not hew to its tradition of pairing hardware and software. Specifically, Apple introduced a program called Health — which helps consumers and doctors monitor health status, like heart rate or glucose levels — but did not also introduce a piece of hardware to measure those results. That is something the new smartwatch is rumored to do.

“They just released the software,” said Mr. Zeluff, sounding surprised.

“It’s something Steve wouldn’t have done,” Mr. Brown said. It’s an impossible comparison. But it’s the one that Mr. Cook is being held to, at least until he makes enough magic of his own.