Did you spot Apple CEO Tim Cook's apparent Ukraine Easter Egg this week?

Cook wore a yellow watchband and blue sweater — colors of Ukraine's flag.
Grant Currin

Apple's 2022 spring event happened on Tuesday. CEO Tim Cook again hosted. He's such a valuable leader that Apple's board of directors is considering whether his contribution to the company was worth $270,000 per calendar day last year.

Cook introduced a slew of products straight to the camera (there was no applauding audience because of Covid-19), but what caught my eye amid the flurry of sizzle reels and photorealistic renders was an analog detail from the presentation stage.

Cook wore a yellow watchband and blue sweater — colors of Ukraine's flag. 

More than a few keen observers also noticed this apparent choice. 

IE has contacted Apple to see if this fashion choice was an intentional Ukraine-supporting Easter Egg or a mere coincidence (however unlikely). Visual signs of support for the country under siege by a nuclear power are common among public figures as of late.

Like legislators attending the State of the Union address last week, Cook used his guaranteed airtime to reproduce a chromatic meme that has saturated much of the world since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two weeks ago: Donning the colors that flag.

Was he showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people? Indicting Russian aggression?

What we do know is that Apple is among the many global corporations — "entities rarely known for their moral bravery," to quote David Remnick — that seem to be on the right side of something.

One of the reasons Apple — the world's most valuable company, with a market cap that briefly surpassed $3 trillion earlier this year — is in a position to play geopolitics is the scope and scale of its operation.

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Apple is first and foremost a hardware manufacturer. Still, it's also a payment processor, one of the relatively few gatekeepers in the digital information ecosystem, and publisher of a digital map that defines space for more than one hundred million users. 

That scope and scale give Apple a tremendous amount of leverage over governments. Apple responded to the invasion by pausing sales and exports in Russia, removing at least two apps (RT News and Sputnik) that spread propaganda denying that the invasion is happening, and demarcating Crimea, which Russia invaded nearly ten years ago, as part of Ukraine. (This last point is a little murky because users in Russia still see that land as part of their country).

Apple doesn't always use its political heft for good. Charles Duhigg and colleagues at the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for their series of exposés detailing how the company exploits factory workers in China, avoids paying its fair share of taxes across the world and underpays retail employees.

Just six months ago, the company complied with the Russian government's request for Apple to remove an app that supplied information about opposition candidates.

But here and now — as the world watches in near-realtime hospitals being bombed and lives being torn apart in a war that doesn't have to be happening — Apple seems to be doing what it can to stop this particular instance of mass suffering.

Cook's yellow watchband and blue sweater were subtle symbols only legible to those in the know. They won't change anything, but they also weren't empty hypocrisy. And that's all it took for them to work for me.

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