During a fireside chat with Sen. Mike Lee at the opening day of the 2021 Silicon Slopes Summit Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered what might be the best compliment ever for Utah’s booming tech ecosystem.
“What I look for when I go places is people who want to change the world,” Cook said. “Technology should serve humanity and not the other way around. And that’s what I see here.”
Cook, who took over the reins at Apple after the company’s legendary founder Steve Jobs died from complications related to pancreatic cancer in 2011, also shared a little advice for up-and-coming startup founders looking to replicate the success of the world’s most valuable company.
“Sometimes people are so looking forward to the next thing ... that they forget the real joy of life is the journey,” Cook said.
With a prompt from Lee, Cook also touched on personal privacy issues and Apple’s unique policy among the world’s device makers to not build backdoors or access failsafes into their products. That stance has, on occasion, earned the company the ire of agencies like the FBI, which has sought legislative mandates to require device makers build in access overrides to aid law enforcement in criminal investigations.
“We view privacy as a fundamental human right,” Cook said. “What we see is that your phone has more information on you than if someone went through your house and opened every door and closet and everything in your home. Your phone has your history, your financial information, your health information, your close contacts, who you call.
“The only person that has the key to your (Apple) phone is you and we think that’s the way it should be.”
Cook also noted that the technical design reality is that you can’t build a device backdoor that only works for the people in the white hats.
“People say do it (program a device backdoor) just for this government agency, but it’s not possible from an engineering standpoint,” Cook said. “You can’t create a backdoor that’s just for the good guys.”
Beside appearing at the Slopes summit, Cook used his time in Utah to throw his weight behind a fundraiser for the Utah-based nonprofit LGBTQ youth shelter and outreach group Encircle, and also hosted a few meetings with Utah tech companies, including a private gathering with four standout Utah app developers with apps ranging from medical venture software to coloring and creativity.
Cook met with representatives from Ancestry, Instructure, Red Games and ResusciTech, all of whom have developed apps that are finding success on Apple’s App Store.
Cook shared raves with each of the companies and chatted with Gary Mangum, senior engineering manager over mobile apps at Ancestry, about how the Apple CEO used Ancestry in his family history efforts and had even taken the DNA test to see where his ancestors came from.
Mangum showed Cook a new “discover” feature on the app that will roll out next week. It allows users to see “photo lines” of generations of their family and share immersive “ancestry stories” with others, even if they don’t have the app, using the iOS Clips app.
“It was a privilege to be the one to represent my team here today and share our work and our growth with someone like Tim Cook,” said Instructure senior product manager Jody Sailor, whose company is the developer of popular education support software platform Canvas. “It means a lot to be recognized, especially as an educational platform.”
Apple reports Utah-based app developers are crushing it on the App Store with earnings for their digital goods and service up 60% in the past year and nearly 500% over the past five years.
Another tech heavy hitter who led one of Apple’s chief competitors for 14 years, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, was also on hand Wednesday, chatting on stage with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Romney shared a wry anecdote from his first meeting with Ballmer back in 1980 when Romney was running investment firm Bain Capital and Ballmer was looking for a job after taking a “sabbatical” from Stanford University.
“I tried to get him to come join Bain but he turned me down and went to a little startup called Microsoft,” Romney said.
Ballmer was among the first 30 employees at Microsoft and would go on to rise through the ranks before stepping into the top executive position at the company when founder Bill Gates vacated the job in 2000.
Ballmer, who bought the LA Clippers for a cool $2 billion after leaving Microsoft in 2014, said one of the most important lessons he learned during his tenure as CEO was that “people leadership” was important but “thought leadership” is what can make or break a company’s road to success.
“You have to not only be charismatic, you have to pick the right direction,” Ballmer said. “If you don’t adapt, you’re in trouble. If you’re not long-term in your thinking, you’re in trouble.”
A rumored piece of news about the Utah Jazz also surfaced at the summit Wednesday morning when Jazz owner Ryan Smith, who was on stage with Jazz co-owner and NBA superstar Dywane Wade, revealed that a rebranding of the team’s colors is in the works. The confirmation came after weeks of fan speculation on social media about whether the team’s colors, last updated in 2016, were headed for another revamp.
Smith said black and white, as well as other color combos, were definitely in the works for Jazz jerseys in the coming year. Earlier this week, the J-note outside Vivint Smart Home Arena was repainted in a black-and-white color scheme in a sly preview of the change.
And Smith reappeared Wednesday afternoon to speak with Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, whose band released its fifth studio album, “Mercury — Act I,” in September.
Reynolds talked about the changes technology has wrought on the music industry and took a mild shot at music streaming services which, he said, don’t generate any significant income for the artists behind the songs.
“We stream a lot on Spotify but there’s no money in that,” Reynolds said. “If anybody tells you they’re making money on streams, they’re lying to you.”
Reynolds said the metric that’s really meaningful to him is ticket sales for live performances and reminded the summit audience that his popular LoveLoud festival, which has been on hiatus due to pandemic restrictions, is returning in May 2022 and will be held at Vivint Arena.
Reynolds also shared the meaning behind his band’s 2012 hit, “Radioactive,” which he said explored issues of depression and the challenges he was facing as a struggling artist, husband and father before finding success in the music industry.
The Silicon Slopes Summit continues Thursday with a packed agenda of breakout sessions and featured talks from former Jazz owner Gail Miller, Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson and bestselling author Liz Wiseman.
Further details and information about how to join the event, in person or virtually, can be found at summit.siliconslopes.com.
Contributing: Jenny Rollins, KSL.com