Sunday, May 31

More Thoughts On Jony Ive

My comments earlier this week regarding the surprise Jony Ive promotion at Apple didn’t pay proper service to two other great takes on the news. I linked to both of them in the post, but they influenced my thoughts enough to bring them to the forefront here. We’ve also heard from a few more influential voices, so I’m adding their insights as well.

First, Joe Cieplinski writes in Jony Ive’s Long Goodbye:

Just as the February New Yorker article served to introduce us to Richard Howarth, and the Wired piece in April introduced us to Alan Dye, all three of these pieces have served as a preparation for the eventual retirement of Jony Ive from Apple. This is one, long, calculated PR move. And it’s being executed flawlessly.

I found Thompson’s take to be more insightful, but for some reason, Cieplinkski’s post felt a bit more optimistic about the prospect of Ive’s eventual departure. I can’t really explain it. I disagree with Cieplinkski’s assertion that I’ve will be gone in “a year or two”.

More open-ended about the future but still determined to mark the beginning of the end is Seth Weintraub writing for 9to5mac:

So there’s this compromise. Ive gets two subordinates to run his two incredibly important programs then gets to spend a reasonable amount of time in the UK with his kids who then aren’t forced to grow up talking like Americans and pronouncing ‘aluminum‘ like animals.

I share Weintraub’s general sense that this could be Apple’s way of capitulating to Ive’s desire to spend more time with his family outside of California, which is almost impossible unless Ive carries fewer managerial responsibilities. And I think it’s fair in this case to take this at face value; that an overburdened executive really needs to shed some responsibilities in order to maintain his effectiveness and ability to serve his tole in the company the best way he can.

Personally, I think John Gruber nails it perfectly with this:

A simpler way to look at this would be to see Ive having been promoted to, effectively, the new Steve Jobs: the overseer and arbiter of taste for anything and everything the company touches.

That’s exactly what I was getting at when I mentioned the Ive and Jobs lunch routine – that Ive’s ascension is a formal recognition of his complementary role as the visionary to Tim Cook the operator. Jobs the CEO was the arbiter of taste for all matters Apple, while Tim Cook, then COO, was the man who carried out the vision. Today, the power dynamic is symbolically reversed, the operator as CEO and arbiter of taste now as a subordinate CDO. But just as I imagine Jobs the CEO trusted Cook’s operational decisions, I bet Cook the CEO trusts Ive’s product and design authority.

Finally, Jim Dalrymple weighed in by quoting Gruber and suggesting a little of column A and a little of column B may be at play here, highlighting Apple’s propensity for laying out their succession plans years in advance:

Personally, I think it’s both. Jony deserves a “chief” title and this is a perfect way to introduce the public to the other lead designers on Jony’s team. I don’t think Jony is going anywhere in the near future, but it’s important for Wall St. and the public to realize that he won’t leave a giant vacuum when he does leave.

It’s not always the case that time tells all, especially when secretive organizations like Apple are involved, but time will certainly provide some insight. In the meantime, it’s been a fun speculation-filled week. Here’s to hoping for many more years of Jony.

Tuesday, May 26

The Promotion of Jony Ive

Normally when an individual ascends to a C-level position in a company it marks the beginning of a bright new era of leadership for the company. But Apple is certainly no ordinary company and as such, the tea leaves read a bit differently for their executive shake-ups. News yesterday of Jony Ive’s promotion to the newly minted Chief Design Officer position at Apple has birthed a gaggle of “this is the beginning of the end” takes across the web. My personal favorite, Ben Thompson’s Jony Ive “Promoted”, The Implications of Not Managing, What About Apple? is perhaps the most insightfully bearish look into how this move turns the page into Ive’s final chapter at Apple.

Me, I’m not quite so pessimistic, though I admit there’s a bit of “say it ain’t so” in my optimism. I disagree with Thompson’s assertion that Ive stepping away from management duties marks a shift in his approach to product development:

In my estimation, whether Ive intends it or not — and I think he likely does, for what it’s worth — this is the beginning of the end of his time at Apple. To give up “management” in exchange for “thinking freely” is, when it comes to business, akin to shifting from product-focused R&D to exploratory R&D.

Thompson goes on to cite a Steve Jobs quote that supports this philosophy. But Ive stepping away could easily be construed as a means to becoming more product focused and less day-to-day minutiae. As many recent profiles have highlighted, Ive’s design responsibilities spill over into all aspects of Apple the company and are not just confined to the products they make. His responsibilities are numerous and significant and the one thing that can’t necessarily be replicated through training and mentoring are his ideas. Besides, isn’t “thinking freely” basically how Jony Ive characterized his working relationship with Jobs?

If becoming Chief Design Officer means Jony Ive is beginning a slow walk out of the doors of Cupertino, then it’s certainly a great loss for the company and its ardent followers. If it just means he’s being rewarded and recognized for his great product vision with more time to spend with his family where he wants to spend it, well then I say bring it on. I’m sure the design studio in Cupertino is top notch, but I for one can’t wait to see what comes from a man of Ive’s great genius inspired by the home he longs for and the people he loves. You go do you, Jony.

Tuesday, April 07


“We’re a group of people who love our watches. So we’re working on something, yet have a high regard for what currently exists.”