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It’s been a bit of a theme over the last, oh, 20 years at least.

There are those who believe Apple isn’t very good at having its own ideas, but just waits until other companies launch first and then copies the best parts.

After all, even Steve Jobs himself mused that: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Tim Cook wishes you would just stop with the “Apple copies others” thing.

In an interview with Fast Company, Apple’s CEO was asked: “How do you decide when it’s OK to follow?” (He was given Face ID as an area where the company has led, and HomePod as one where it has followed.)

“I wouldn’t say ‘follow.'” said Cook. “I wouldn’t use that word because that implies we waited for somebody to see what they were doing.”

Oh, but surely Apple likes to peek at, say, at new Samsung phone, just in case there’s some fine ideas it can use as inspiration. Or simply purloin, as Samsung itself suggested in a recent condescending ad.

Cook explained that the mere suggestion that Apple follows misunderstands how the company is run.

“What’s happening if you look under the sheets, which we probably don’t let people do, is that we start projects years before they come out,” he said. “You could take every one of our products — iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch — they weren’t the first, but they were the first modern one, right?”

Ah, so modern is the opposite of, say, Samsung? Do I have that right?

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cook, though, went on to explain that he believes that in most of the product categories where Apple hasn’t been first, the company likely started working on it before its rivals.

“But we took our time to get it right,” he said. Just as you took your time to hold your iPhone 4 right. Right?

“We don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have patience to wait until something is great before we ship it,” he insisted.

Some might disagree that Apple always ships great products, especially in their first iterations. I struggled, for example, to find even an Apple store employee who believes iPhone X is great.

On the other hand, Apple does often seem blessed with a steadfast self-focus. But not always.

A few years ago, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, was said to be apoplectic as Samsung began to mock Cupertino and succeed with its Galaxy phones.

The debate about who was the creator and who was the follower will never end, of course. Apple vs Android is Crips vs. Bloods, but with emojis instead of gang signs.

Cook, though, said he’s always ready for criticism.

He said he regularly reads customer emails, even if they’re rude. What matters to him is whether they bathe in deeper thought.

You know, just like Apple’s products apparently.

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