In a career spanning nearly three decades at Apple, Eddy Cue, has been instrumental in helping build a number of key services such as Apple’s online store in 1998, the iTunes Store in 2003 and the App Store in 2008. Cue, senior vice-president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, is now spearheading the company’s push into key areas such as TV and Hollywood programming, video content and music, at a time when Apple is reportedly preparing a push into producing original content. In an interview, Cue, who till recently was also overseeing Apple’s voice assistant service Siri, spoke about the company’s plans for Apple Pay in India, how the company plans to expand in the country and the similarities between Apple’s founder Steve Jobs and current CEO Tim Cook. Edited excerpts:
What is Apple’s near-term road map for India?
The key is you want the full set of services. And you have some unique attributes to that. The number of languages that you support, for example. There are a bunch of services that we haven’t announced yet and are working on, for example, and we want them to be available in India first…Part of this and having the engineers here is to really make sure that we are thinking of India right from the product development cycle.
The digital payments business is widely being seen as the biggest battleground in India now and in the near future. What are Apple’s plans on that front?
Our head of Apple Pay, Jennifer Bailey, is here with me. And Apple Pay is something that we definitely want in India. The challenge with payment mechanisms is that there isn’t really a lot of global scale. You deal with individual markets at a time..but India is one of those markets where we hope to bring Apple Pay to.
Any time frame on when we can expect Apple Pay here?
We’re working on it, but no date to announce at this point. We like to announce a date that we know is a 100%.
You’ve worked with both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook over the past three decades. How do they compare as leaders?
The thing that they have that’s common and most important is products. What they cared about and what I care about is making the best products. And everything goes to that. So, that’s the focus. The attention to detail, all of the things that go into a product, is a common thing that both Steve had and Tim has and most importantly, the culture that you’re creating that Apple has that Steve created. So, I don’t see any differences in that. They are different people, but their accomplishments and successes are very similar. And when you look at the last five years that Tim’s been the CEO, there have been incredible accomplishments from Apple on the product front. And that shows the similarities. I’ve worked with both of them—I’ve worked with Steve for 20 years, I’ve worked with Tim for 20 years, so I know them both very, very well. I can’t imagine that I could’ve ever worked for better CEOs in my lifetime.
What’s Apple’s vision with TV and Hollywood programming? How does Apple plan to disrupt this space?
We’re doing some future stuff that we haven’t talked about, around it. We’ll talk more as we have more to say…I don’t think it’s about us disrupting it. The reality is that it’s going to get disrupted whether we do it or not. It’s already started and we think we can do things that are innovative and we’ll bring things to that ecosystem and platform that are unique to us. That’s the opportunity.
Till about five years ago, when TV entertainment and content was widely seen as the biggest battleground for tech companies, Apple was seen as the leading contender to disrupt that space, given its history of coming out with industry-shaping products such as the iPhone. That story hasn’t quite played out—in some sense, has Apple missed the bus with content and entertainment?
The way we look at this is the majority of customers get their content from a satellite or cable television service or antenna. That’s true in most places in the world. And though there have been some new things that have come in, that’s still the predominant way. That predominant way I believe is going to change over the next 10 years significantly. With a lot of changes come different opportunities because they’ll be replaced by other ways to get video or they’ll be replaced by other forms of entertainment around it. And that’s the opportunity that we see. So, when you look at it today, we want to help the existing players. So, while people will say that Apple was slower—as a matter of fact, we’ve been way faster because what we did is, we said ‘you have the content, you have a relationship with the customer, let’s make sure that your applications give access to the customer. And if you want to sell something to the customer, we’ll help you with that also because we have a mechanism that makes it really easy to pay.’ The next thing is when you have all these apps out there, you really want to have a centralised way. That’s where the TV app comes from. I think we’ve been addressing the things that are in the market today. Your question, bottomline, falls into Netflix.
Apple historically has a track record of coming out with industry-defining products, whether it’s the Mac or iPhone or iPod. But over the past decade, there’s a been perception that the pace of innovation and the pace at which Apple has come out with game-changing, breakthrough products has slowed somewhat. What do you have to say about that?
No way! First of all, the iPhone is 10 years old. That is the last decade. The iPad came after that and the Watch came after that. So, I disagree vehemently with that and I think we’ve been incredibly innovative. That doesn’t even take into account the work that has been done on the Mac, iOS and MacOS, from that standpoint where I think we’ve led the market. When you think of the products that we’ve built over time, you own a lot of them. And you just assume that every year was a new product. But it wasn’t. You can’t do revolutionary new products, every two months or six months or whatever. They take time.
Coming back to India, tell us a little more about where India fits into Apple’s broader scheme of things.
We view this as a very long-term opportunity but with very short-term gains that we can have here. With the services piece, we started this on three fronts. Let’s take the biggest piece of services which is the App Store.
Firstly, we want to have a vibrant ecosystem of developers. What happens with that is because we have a lot of customers in India and around the world, all of a sudden they could make some significant money.
The second one is Maps and Maps is something that we started a long time ago and when I took it over, one of the things we decided is that we wanted to make our Maps really best in class. One of the areas that we thought was a great opportunity to invest in was here. We now have over 4,000 people working on Apple Maps.
The third (piece) is call it the services like iCloud, Music, Movies, etc. One of the opportunities is the music industry here has either been free or there’s nothing much more than free. If you look at it, almost all the music scene is related to Bollywood because there is economic value there. And I think that’s great — we can help that. We sell those movies on a global scale, we sell them here. And we can do that piece of it, and we’ll obviously have music in that way. But if you’re a musician and not part of Bollywood and you’re an indie musician, it’s really hard. So, one of the things that we wanted to do was really expand the music space to allow everyone to be able to monetise and get paid from that standpoint. So, we launched Apple Music about a year and a half ago and we’re thrilled with the results.