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Transcript: Apple CEO Tim Cook interviewed by NBC’s Brian Williams

NBC's Brian Williams and Apple CEO Tim Cook visit an Apple Store.
(NBC News)

It felt a bit anti-climatic after a blistering day of Apple news courtesy of Chief Executive Tim Cook, including a lengthy interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, and lots of teasers from NBC in recent days. But tonight, finally, Cook’s interview with NBC’s Brian Williams aired.

The big news had already spilled out: Apple plans to begin manufacturing some Macs in the U.S. next year. But if you missed the segment, the transcript is still worth a read. And we’ll update with the full video after NBC posts it.

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In the meantime, here’s the transcript from the Thursday night segment of NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams”:

TRACK 1

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Nobody remembers the guy who came after Thomas Edison. And nobody seems to recognize Tim Cook as we walk together across the teeming floor of Grand Central Station.

TIM COOK: I’m a very private person, I like my being anonymous.

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TRACK 2

As we walk, we’re surrounded by examples of what Apple has done to our society -- both good and bad.

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People now live their lives while listening to the soundtrack of their lives. Communicating with members of their own community while ignoring the actual community around them.

And in this marble monument to another time, where trains lumber to a halt, two stories beneath our feet -- we go up the stairs into what we were told the future would look like. The red shirts greet us. And Tim Cook is home now -- in the Apple Store, where the successor to Jobs is suddenly treated more like Jagger.

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TIM COOK:

It’s pretty spectacular … who else would put a store like this in Grand Central Station?

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TRACK 3

And who else would have us believe they intend to be the one company that reverses hundreds of years of business history -- by becoming the one company that never fades away into irrelevance.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

You realize if you’re a company that can keep amazing us, consumers, if you’re a company that can stay fresh without an expiration date, you’ll be the first company ever to do that. There is a cycle, a circle of life, a life and death. And you’re trying to buck that trend.

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TIM COOK:

Don’t bet against us, Brian. Don’t bet against us.

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TRACK 4

We started our day with Tim Cook in lower Manhattan, at another of his 250 austere Apple stores where we began the questioning with: What’s different about him.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

How are you not Steve Jobs?

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TIM COOK:

In many ways. One of the things he did for me -- that removed a gigantic burden that would have normally existed -- is he told me, on a couple of occasions, before he passed away, to never question what he would have done. Never ask the question “What Steve would -- do,” to just do what’s right.

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TRACK 5

Doing right has done well for Tim Cook so far. He’s had a good first year on the job - the company’s stock is up about 45% during his tenure, and think about this: He’s already presided over the roll-out of three iPads, two iPhones and three Macs.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

It’s beautiful.

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TIM COOK:

Absolutely stunning. Every detail has been focused on.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

So, you’ve got guys whose job it is to get this mesh right to get this curve right …

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TIM COOK:

To get it precisely right.

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TRACK 6

In fairness, however -- this past year, they haven’t gotten everything precisely right.

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TRACK 7

Starting with Siri … the small woman who lives in your iPhone. The service amazed all of us at first -- but then came under criticism for not being … perfect … or as consistently amazing as Steve Jobs wanted it to be.

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And then there are the maps ... iPhones used to come with Google maps until they set out on their own --- but Apple’s version wasn’t quite ready for launch. It lacked some critical street smarts. And in those early days -- God help you if you went anywhere near the Brooklyn Bridge or the Hoover Dam. It was a rare and public embarrassment and Cook fired two top executives in charge.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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How big of a setback was Maps?

TIM COOK:

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It didn’t meet our customers’ expectation, and our expectations of ourselves are even higher than our customers’. However, I can tell ya -- so we screwed up.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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And you said goodbye to some executives.

TIM COOK:

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Well, we screwed up. And we are putting the weight of the company behind correcting it.

TRACK 8

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As for the iPhone 5 itself ... they have flown off those perfect Apple store shelves. Apple sold 5 million of them in the first weekend alone, breaking all previous sales records. But buyers of the iPhone 5 soon discovered they had to buy something else -- none of the old power cords work on the new equipment.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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Why did we have to buy new cords for this?

TIM COOK:

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As it turns out, we had a connector, a 30-pin connector that we used for a decade or more --

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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I’ve got 500 of ‘em at home --

TIM COOK:

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You have a few of those --

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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If you need any. Yeah.

TIM COOK:

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On iPod. But, Brian, it was one of those things where we couldn’t make this product with that connector -- but let me tell you, the product is so worth it.

TRACK 9

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And that’s the thing about Apple. Sleek isn’t cheap. Those white earbuds announce to the world you’ve got a of couple hundred dollars to spend. Your investment will buy you a staggeringly beautiful product that works unlike any other … and in a lot of workplaces, including our own, the Apple products you’ll see are the ones people bring in from home ... they’re usually right there on the desk, next to the computers we have to use for work.

Apple prides itself on being equal parts computer company and religion. Apple fans get whipped up into a stampeding froth with every new product release ... customers famously camp outdoors and then emerge triumphant, emotionally spent. Journalists flock to those dramatic product rollouts -- as if the CEO is going to reveal stone tablets instead of the kind with scratch-proof glass. And the legendary Apple culture of secrecy is designed to keep it that way.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Why are you institutionally so secretive? How is it that you know how many times I’ve listened to Bob Dylan or Kendrick Lamar or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and yet we never get to know anything about you guys?

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TIM COOK:

We think that holding our product plans secret is very important because people love surprises.

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TRACK 10

This was one surprise Apple may not have loved: the new Samsung ad campaign -- it’s blistering, bold, damaging. It portrays Apple products and the people who love them ... as somehow passe and uncool and even desperate. It’s a blunt instrument disguised as satire, and it’s a frontal attack on a giant that would have been unthinkable not too long ago.

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Samsung ad:

Woman: Hey what’d you just do?

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Man: I just sent him a playlist.

Man: By touching phones?

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Man: Yep, simple as that.

Woman: It’s the Galaxy S3.

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Man: I’ll see you at the studio later.

Woman: When do you think we’re going to be able to do that thing?

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Mom: Hey.

Son: Hey, Mom, Dad.

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Mom: Thanks for holding our spot.

Son: You guys have fun -- home by midnight, you two.

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Announcer: The next big thing is already here: Samsung Galaxy S3.

Mom: But honey, this is the line for apps, I stand

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TRACK:

The unmistakable message right there? Apple products are for your parents. Samsung makes the really cool stuff and they’re much more casual about it.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

They came along and tried to paint those with white ear buds, Apple users, as losers. They’re trying to paint their product as cool and yours as not cool. Is this thermonuclear war?

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TIM COOK:

We love our customers. And we’ll fight to defend them with anyone. Is it thermonuclear war? The reality is, is that we love competition, at Apple. We think it makes us all better. But we want people to invent their own stuff.

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TRACK 11

He’s talking about the legal fight between Apple and Samsung --- they have sued each other in courts around the world over patent infringements. Apple won the last round in the U.S. when a jury ruled Samsung owed them a billion dollars for stealing ideas. Samsung was back in court just today appealing the judgment. Sometimes the business of making pretty things ... can get ugly.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

How tough is your business, how surprised would we civilians be at how rough it gets? Spying, skullduggery?

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TIM COOK:

It’s tough. It’s very tough. You have people trying to hack into systems on a constant basis. You have people trying to elicit confidential information -- about future product plans. All of these things are things that we constantly fight.

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TRACK 12

And then there’s Tim Cook’s larger challenge: The man who rhapsodizes about the perfectly rounded edges of his products ... vows to always keep Apple cutting edge.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

It sounded to me that you and I grew up the same American life, kind of grindingly simple and normal American middle class household -- when you and I as kids would go to a neighbor’s house and see, under their new TV, Sony Trinitron, that would tell us something instantly. And you’re smiling. And that brand lasted up until -- Walkman, Discman. But then, fast-forward to today, it’s less meaningful. How do you not become Sony, with all apologies to Sony?

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TIM COOK:

We’re very simple people at Apple. We focus on making the world’s best products and enriching people’s lives. I think some companies -- maybe even the one that you mention, maybe they decided that they could do everything. We have to make sure, at Apple, that we stay true to focus, laser focus -- we know we can only do great things a few times, only on a few products.

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TRACK 13

But will the next great thing be Apple’s long-rumored move ... into the television business?

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TIM COOK:

It’s a market that we have intense interest in, and it’s a market that we see that has been left behind.

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Tim Cook has more to say about Apple’s entry into television ... in part two of our interview, when we come right back.

--

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TRACK 1

In August 2011, Tim Cook was made CEO of Apple. Steve Jobs reduced his own role to chairman of the board, then less than two months later he was gone ... after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.

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TRACK 2

It was Tim Cook who was chosen to preside over the private memorial service for Apple employees -- thousands of people gathered as the face of the founder gazed down upon them from the side of the building.

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TIM COOK:

It was -- it was the saddest time in my life.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Did you know how sick he was?

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TIM COOK:

I always thought that he would bounce back. Because he always did. And it wasn’t until extremely close to the end that I reached a -- sort of an intellectual point that -- that he couldn’t bounce this time.

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TRACK3

It’s his company to run now, and after a peaceful transition of power, he was quickly forced into crisis footing because of the situation in China ... where so many Apple products are assembled by skilled workers. There’s been trouble, and Cook traveled there after harsh criticism of poor working conditions and low wages dissolved into violence. The situation was later parodied on “SNL” -- by cast members who actually make up the heart of Apple’s demographic.

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“SNL’S” FRED ARMISEN:

Ohhhhh, no. Talk about Apple Map. It won’t work, right? It take you to wrong place? You want Starbuck, it take you to Dunkin’ Donut? That must be ... so hard for you!

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TRACK 4

China remains a major issue for Apple, and Tim Cook seems to have a ready answer for it.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Why can’t you be a made-in-America company?

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TIM COOK:

You know, this iPhone, as a matter of fact, the engine in here is made in America. And not only are the engines in here made in America, but engines are made in America and are exported. The glass on this phone is made in Kentucky. And so we’ve been working for years on doing more and more in the United States. Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Let’s say our Constitution was a little different and Barack Obama called you in tomorrow and said, “Get everybody outta China, and do whatever you have to do. Make these, make everything you make in the United States.” What would that do to the price of this device?

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TIM COOK:

Honestly, it’s not so much about price it’s about the skills, et cetera. Over time, there are skills that are associated with manufacturing that have left the U.S. Not necessarily people, but the education system stopped producing them.

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TRACK 5

Cook says Apple has already created more than 600,000 jobs here in the U.S. That includes everything from research and development, to retail to a solar power farm. He also points to the app industry -- another one of those that didn’t exist before Apple came along ... all those icons and all those downloads employ a lot of people.

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TRACK 6

It was such a different world just six years ago when we sat down with Steve Jobs for one of his last television interviews. He showed us around Apple’s flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York, which six years later is still the big glass granddaddy of them all. Back then he was, as usual, all about the future.

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{SOT STEVE JOBS Interview}: We’ve got some really great ideas of the products we’re going to build next year and the year after that we’re working real hard on. So I think that’s -- our focal length is always forward.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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You’re so different. He was all black turtleneck and the glass frames and mystical and mysterious, and -- you know, forgive me, you and I could work at a Best Buy. We’re, you know, plain-looking people. You’re a much more conventional-seeming guy. But there’s obviously brain power he saw in you that you brought to bear on this job.

TIM COOK:

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I’m not sure a conventional person would’ve come to Apple at that point in time. Almost everyone I know thought I was crazy.

TRACK 7

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That’s because Apple was on the ropes back in 1998, Steve Jobs had just come back and was trying to steal Cook away from Compaq Computer ... a now-faded name that was actually vibrant back then.

TIM COOK:

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I just got to Compaq, I’d just gotten to Houston. I agreed to come out and talk -- five minutes into my conversation with him, I was willing to throw caution to the wind and come to Apple. And the rest is history.

TRACK 8

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Tim Cook’s personal history starts in Robertsdale, Alabama -- the son of a Gulf Coast shipyard worker and a mom that stayed at home. After working in an aluminum factory as a teenager he went off to Auburn and then to Duke for an MBA. Among what little else we know about him: He’s got a lot of Bob Dylan on his iPod, and Bobby Kennedy was his hero. He still has his accent from the South. These days he finds solitude in the West.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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For all the folks trying to get to know you and figure you out -- where do you go when you need to go someplace?

TIM COOK:

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I work out to keep stress away. I’m in the gym by 5 a.m. every morning. If I have some free time, I go to a national park. I love getting in, nature and so this -- these are the things that calm my mind and allow me to think clearly, so that’s what I do.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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This is kind of your television coming-out, and I’m glad you did this. Does this mean you have reached a cruising altitude?

TIM COOK:

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There’s no -- maybe for other CEOs. There’s no cruising altitude at Apple.

TRACK 9

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Tim Cook is a manager with a vision -- who is following in the footsteps of a visionary turned manager. While he has to worry about global issues like the counterfeiters who instantly turn fake copies of every new Apple product: Cook has to keep one eye on the stock price, constantly, and the other on the future, and that sure sounds like it means TV.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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What can Apple do for television watching? What do you know that is gonna change the game, that we don’t know yet?

TIM COOK:

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It’s a market that we see, that has been left behind. You know, I used to watch “The Jetsons” as a kid.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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Absolutely.

COOK:

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I love “The Jetsons.”

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

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I was right there with Elroy.

TIM COOK:

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We’re living “The Jetsons” with this.

{SOT “The Jetsons:” George, you’ll never guess what happened.}

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

FaceTime is “The Jetsons,” but television is still television.

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COOK:

It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that. But …

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

I’m not shocked. All right, complete this sentence: “Ten years from now, Americans are going to be amazed that they ever ___.” What’s the -- give us broad generalities. What’s the new thing?

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TIM COOK:

(LAUGH)

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

It’s OK to tell me.

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TIM COOK:

Love it. I love it.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Let this stuff out. Whatever you’re thinking of for the future … it’s all right.

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TIM COOK:

Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted. And then once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Starting with?

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TIM COOK:

And you can count on Apple doing that.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Oh man, that’s frustrating.

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Follow Chris O’Brien on Twitter @obrien.


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