Friday, June 28, 2019

Jony Ive Is Leaving Apple

Apple (Hacker News):

Apple today announced that Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, will depart the company as an employee later this year to form an independent design company which will count Apple among its primary clients. While he pursues personal projects, Ive in his new company will continue to work closely and on a range of projects with Apple.


Design team leaders Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, vice president of Human Interface Design, will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. Both Dye and Hankey have played key leadership roles on Apple’s design team for many years. Williams has led the development of Apple Watch since its inception and will spend more of his time working with the design team in their studio.

This is not at all surprising, given that he seemed to be on the same up-and-out trajectory as Avie Tevanian. I don’t know what the effect will be on Apple’s products because I don’t know what he’s been doing over the last several years. Are Apple’s post-2012 design problems due to him having more power, or due to him being more removed from the day-to-day product work, or neither (e.g. the loss of Steve Jobs, Scott Forstall, and others)?

What I did find surprising:

  1. With so much time to prepare, why couldn’t Apple name a replacement? This gives the impression that the leadership was not doing their jobs or simply doesn’t see overall design as that important—leave hardware and software under separate non–senior VP lieutenants.
  2. What sense does it make to put Jeff Williams, the operations guy, in charge of the designers?
  3. It sounds like Ive is blaming Tim Cook for stifling him and for being too metrics-driven.

This all makes the decision to fire Forstall look worse. He’s the type of product leader Apple needs. And if the supposed reason was that he didn’t get along with Ive, and Ive was shifting focus away from computers and on the way out, anyway…

Jonathan Ive:

One of my defining characteristics is almost a fanatical curiosity. That is fundamental and foundational to most creative endeavour. But if you don’t have the space, if you don’t have the tools and the infrastructure, that curiosity can often not have the opportunity to be pursued.”


It gets back to how you define success. Numbers has never been the measure that I turn to affirm or describe the success of a product.”

Tim Bradshaw (tweet, MacRumors):

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, sought to play down the changes as an “evolution”, pointing to an expanded group of in-house designers that is “the strongest it’s ever been”.

What else could he say? But this echos his constant comments about Apple’s amazing pipeline.

Mark Gurman (tweet, 2):

One person close to Apple captured the anxiety of the moment: “People who have been there forever don’t want to keep doing incremental updates to current products.”


Ive still only came to the office a couple of days a week, with many meetings shifting to San Francisco, according the people familiar with the matter. […] Initially, not much will change, because Apple has been operating with partial input from Ive for a few years, someone close to the team said.


“The design team is made up of the most creative people, but now there is an operations barrier that wasn’t there before,” one former Apple executive said. “People are scared to be innovative.”


Ive had a saying that went something like this, according to a person close to the design team: There are two ways of leaving Apple — the good way is you disappear and don’t make press. The bad way is you make the press. If you leave Apple and then build the Taj Mahal, we’ll chop off your hands.

John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes.


This organizational structure makes no sense to me. […] I think Tim Cook is a great CEO and Jeff Williams is a great COO. But who’s in charge of product design now? There is no new chief design officer, which, really, is what Steve Jobs always was. From a product standpoint, the post-Jobs era at Apple has been the Jony Ive era, not the Tim Cook era.


One thing I do know — which Cook alludes to in his statement above, and which I think was made crystal clear in Ian Parker’s extraordinary 2015 profile of Ive in The New Yorker, which is, in my opinion, the most insightful piece ever written about post-Jobs Apple — is that Jony Ive had moved beyond designing computers.

Nick Heer:

While we’re thinking about that that New Yorker profile and Jeff Williams, just one more thing:

Ive would prefer an unobserved life, but he likes nice things. He also has an Aston Martin DB4. He acquired his first Bentley, a two-door model, ten years ago, after an inner zigzag between doubt and self-justification. “I’ve always loved the big old-school square Bentleys,” he said. “The reasons are entirely design-based. But because of the other connotations I resisted and resisted, and then I thought, This is the most bizarre vanity, because I’m concerned that people will perceive me to be this way—I’m not. So I’m going to—” A pause. “And so I am uncomfortable about it.” Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, drives an old Toyota Camry. Ive’s verdict, according to Williams, is “Oh, God.”

“Oh, God,” indeed.

Joe Rossignol:

One of many secretive projects that Ive worked on was the so-called Apple Car, according to The Information. The report claims that Ive came up with multiple early prototypes of the autonomous vehicle, including one made out of wood and leather that lacked a steering wheel at Ive’s insistence.

Ive instead wanted the vehicle to be controlled by Siri[…]

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

Indeed, in my estimation the best way to think about the last four years of Ive’s tenure is investor management. The “Apple is doomed” narrative goes in cycles, and was definitely at one of its peaks in mid-2014; there was tremendous pressure on Tim Cook in particular to launch a new product line and demonstrate that Apple could innovate without Steve Jobs. The Apple Watch was that product (although it turned out that the real breakthrough for Apple, at least from an investor perspective, was the large-screened iPhone 6 that launched the same day). Ive was very deeply involved in the Watch, which made its release — the culmination of years of work — the right time to step back internally, but it took a few years for Apple to fully transition to the post-iPhone era from an investor perspective. Frankly, there is no better time for this announcement than right now, which is to say, even Ive’s exit was beautifully designed.


Arcs, though, have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and at this point nearly everyone who will ever be an Apple customer has been reached: industrial design will remain critical to Apple, but it is software that keeps them and services that will drive growth going forward.


That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

Shira Ovide:

The future of Apple and the technology industry will be shaped by software and other technologies that don’t have to look beautiful as Ive’s designs do. The future is computing woven into anything, and it’s not intended to be noticed or adored.


People with impeccable instincts for what is tasteful and good in physical things will still matter in the future of technology infused into everything, but they will be less supreme. They are less worthy of cult-like adoration. The future belongs to the nerds.

That makes Ive’s departure as an Apple employee an important milestone for the company and the industry, but not a consequential one. Everything right with Apple is still right. Everything wrong is still wrong.

Update (2019-06-28): Dieter Bohn (tweet):

There’s a much more pithy phrase for what Cook is talking about. It’s the phrase for when decisions are made by a consensus from a group instead of by one sole person. That phrase is, of course, “design by committee.”

It’s a damning phrase, so it’s no wonder that Cook avoided it. But make no mistake, that’s what he’s referring to here. It’s a scary thing to consider for Apple, because so much of our idea of what the company is and what it means has been tied up with the idea of a singular genius.

Ryan Mac:

In an internal email to employees obtained by BuzzFeed News announcing Ive’s departure, Cook said, “We will all benefit — as individuals who value great design, and as a company — as he pursues his passions and continues his dedicated work with Apple.”

Update (2019-07-01): See also: Vector, The Talk Show.

Tripp Mickle (tweet, Hacker News, MacRumors):

For nearly three hours on that afternoon in January 2017, the group of about 20 designers stood around waiting for Mr. Ive to show, according to people familiar with the episode. After he arrived and listened to the presentations, he left without ruling on their key questions, leaving attendees frustrated.


Yet his departure from the company cements the triumph of operations over design at Apple, a fundamental shift from a business driven by hardware wizardry to one focused on maintaining profit margins and leveraging Apple’s past hardware success to sell software and services.

The story of Mr. Ive’s drift is based on conversations over more than a year with people who worked with Mr. Ive, as well as people close to Apple’s leadership.


Apple doesn’t disclose Mr. Ive’s pay. But people in the design studio rarely saw Mr. Cook, who they say showed little interest in the product development process—a fact that dispirited Mr. Ive.

Mr. Ive grew frustrated as Apple’s board became increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology or other areas of the company’s core business, said people close to him and to the company.


Mr. Ive promised to hold a “design week” each month with the software designers to discuss their work. He rarely showed up.

There’s a lot of interesting information here, though the framing within the larger Apple narrative seems a bit forced.


If one chooses to be extremely cynical, this is exactly the story Apple would want to tell shareholders in the wake of Ive’s departure: Everything is fine, Ive was already detached from the company’s recent successes, Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia. Nothing to be worried about.

Ryan Jones:

Jony 100% deserves to rest - 110%. I’m merely pointing out that it happened exactly HOW I/we said it did: badly. And it happened exactly WHY I/we said it did:

Cook is turning Apple into a rent-seeking Operations machine. Is what it is.


Take a look at this jobs vid. Product people leaving-operations people now in charge

Ken Segall:

So the day has finally come and Apple’s last direct link to past glories is severed.

What used to be a company led by people we knew by name must depend on group-think.

Tim Cook relies on a team to make up for the skills he doesn’t personally possess. Design responsibilities now require an org chart.


The Walt Disney company floundered after Walt died, ultimately finding its footing years later. It expanded (and keeps expanding) in ways Mr. Imagination couldn’t imagine.

I’m sure Apple will do the same.

Dylan Byers:

In scathing email, Apple CEO Tim Cook tells me the @WSJ report about Jony Ive’s departure — and his frustration with Cook’s alleged lack of interest in design — is “absurd.” Says reporting and conclusions “don’t match with reality.”

Update (2019-07-05): Juli Clover (ArsTechnica):

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an email to NBC News, called the story “absurd” and said that the conclusions drawn by the report “don’t match with reality.”

Nilay Patel:

Cook notably doesn’t say what specifically is inaccurate.

Ryan Jones:

Tim is gonna regret this email. I respect him for doing it (plus he has to) but the first paragraph is nearly Ad Hominem and the second is totally Strawman. Cringe.

But more than all that: zero facts refuting anything. Compare that to Super Micro.

See also: TidBITS Talk.

Benjamin Mayo:

Along these lines, the real criticism should be pointed at Tim Cook for mismanagement of leadership. Ive was gracefully transitioning away from the company with his ‘promotion’ to Chief Design Officer. It was perfectly setup for a clean departure with Richard Howarth and Alan Dye’s faces viewable on the Apple Leadership page since mid-2015. However, what the Wall Street Journal says is that it was Cook who convinced Ive not to leave in 2017, and put him back at the top of the pyramid. History now shows that Ive retook the management role somewhat unwillingly, reportedly frustrating the product development of things like the iPhone X user interface as subordinates looked to approval from a leader who had either lost focus or interest (or understandably otherwise preoccupied by the declining health of his parents).

Matthew Panzarino:

If you take the sum of the breathless (dare I say thirsty) stories tying together a bunch of anecdotes about Jony’s last couple of years, they are trying to paint a picture of a legendary design figure that has abandoned the team and company he helped build, leading to a stagnation of forward progress — while at the same time trying to argue that the company is doomed without him.

I think it’s actually notable that most people are not saying that the company is doomed without him, and the stock actually went up. The concerns are more about the overall role of design at Apple today.

There are also bits and pieces in the various stories over the past few days that are not, as I understand them, accurate, or represented in an accurate context. But the more important point is that no one I know felt that Jony had checked out or abandoned the team.


Even though Jony is a “unicorn” designer, Apple has always thrived on small teams with decision makers, and they’re not all one person. The structure of Apple, which does not rely on product managers, still leaves an enormous amount of power in the hands of the people actually doing the work. I’m not as concerned as a lot of people are that, with Jony leaving, there will suddenly be a slavish hewing to the needs of “ops over all.” It’s not in the DNA.

John Gruber (tweet):

Williams still holds the title COO, but titles don’t mean much at Apple. […] This means Sabih Khan is running operations now. Jeff Williams’s title hasn’t changed, but he’s effectively now running product development.

Nick Heer:

While I think it’s been fairly clear that design at Apple is a huge team endeavour — and though many of the pieces published after last week’s news acknowledge that Ive has taken a reduced role in the day-to-day activity of designing for several years — it remains odd to me that the single arbiter of product taste at the company is now Jeff Williams. Nothing against the guy, but it’s strange for Apple that it’s an MBA in that role.

Suzanne Labarre:

We reached out to three former Apple employees—Don Norman, Ken Kocienda, and Imran Chaudhri—who collaborated with Ive during different eras and in various capacities at Apple. Their stories shed new light on one of the most remarkable, if checkered, design careers of the past 30 years.


“I recall one day when he came to me with a new design for a desktop computer that was not only beautiful and elegant but made access to the internal memory boards dramatically easier than with our existing computers. Yet he could not get anyone to use it in Apple’s product line. So he and I visited a succession of product managers and VPs, all of whom raised objections, every one of which Jony was able to demonstrate had been overcome.”


“Over time, I’m sure Jony could have adapted to software design, but he never did.”

Martin Feld:

Whilst I agree with Panzarino that there are two major narratives here, I believe that there is a third narrative: one that encompasses not only tech writing about Ive, but the entire representation of Apple as a company.

This narrative is the cult of personality and it has tainted all reporting on Ive before and after his announcement—even in high-quality tech publications and blogs.

Dan Moren:

Apple’s lost plenty of key personnel before, and though Ive’s profile may be higher than some, the situation is, in the end, not different significantly different than some of the others who have left in the past. Allow me to remind you of a few faces from years gone by who are no longer with Apple and yet, amazingly, did not leave the company in flames behind them.

John Siracusa:

As the leader of design at Apple, Ive inevitably receives acclaim for work done by other people on his team. This is what it means to be the public face of a collaborative endeavor involving hundreds of people. Ive himself is the first to credit his team, always using the word "we" in his appearances in Apple's design videos. One gets the impression that Ive has historically used "we" to refer to the design team at Apple, rather than Apple as a whole, but he certainly never meant it to refer to himself.

While the iPhone is obviously the most important product in Ive's portfolio, his most significant and lasting contribution to Apple and the tech industry in general is embodied by a product that he worked on much more directly, and with far less help: the original iMac.

M.G. Siegler:

Having read all of the pieces in question, I do think there’s a way to square such circles. Because the world is not black and white, stories about the world or the people that reside here are not black and white. Things are not 100% true nor are they 100% false. Every story, no matter how it is presented, is nuanced. Because people are involved. And people are nuanced.


At the same time, it’s a strange time for Apple. The company is in the midst of a massive shift in strategy to be more services-oriented. Undoubtedly, no one wanted Jony Ive to leave, but without question his skill set was better suited for the “old” Apple Republic. Cook and others had to know that Ive would just become more and more removed as they executed their new strategy which was less hardware-centric, and not even really software focused either — at least not in a traditional Apple sense.

Still, hardware iteration isn’t just going to stop at Apple, and this leaves a massive hole on the product side of the equation. […] But I think it’s even simpler than that in the short term: they’re trying to position Williams as the new product guy. He saved the Apple Watch, let’s see what else he can do with more purview on the product side, seems to be the thinking.

Update (2019-07-08): Malcolm Owen:

In that role, [Alan Dye] worked on iOS 7, and worked closely with Ive at the conception of the Apple Watch, helping create the interface for the wearable device. In a 2015 interview, Ive said “Alan has a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch’s operating system came from him.”


[Evans] Hankey has been working for the design team for an unknown number of years, but managed the design studio as part of her role. Her experience is likely to help as she assumes more responsibility for the design team on behalf of the company.

A former member of the design team, May-Li Khoe called Evans “undercredited in my personal opinion,” advising on Twitter Hankey had been doing a good job at the helm for quite some time.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Dave Mark:

First, there’s the opportunity to get to know Jeff Williams, to hear him talk, tell a story. Given that Apple Design now reports to Jeff, he has new importance in the product design side of Apple.

Mitchel Broussard:

“Steve Jobs” biographer Walter Isaacson was on Squawk Box this week, and in an interview he mentioned that he “softened” parts of the book when it came to certain Jobs quotes (via CNBC).

Particularly, Jobs was said to have criticized current Apple CEO Tim Cook for not being a “product person.” According to Isaacson, “Steve says how Tim Cook can do everything, and then he looked at me and said, ‘Tim’s not a product person.’”

Benjamin Mayo:

The Isaacson soundbite makes it sound like he didn’t put Jobs’ comment on Cook in the biography because he thought it was too mean, but the “Tim’s not a product person” quote is definitely written in there.

Jean-Louis Gassée:

As for Sir Jony himself, he should bask in the pleasant glow of successful products that, as Steve Jobs liked to say, “make a dent in the universe”. The misfires? No one bats 1.000.

Ive is a living representative of the relatively new lineage of industrial designers, of artists and engineers who understand that to design a product means taking care of the Look and Feel and the operational factors that are required to deliver their wares in extremely large quantities, on time, while meeting cost and reliability targets.

Update (2019-07-11): See also: Upgrade.

Rene Ritchie:

But neither the original Journal story nor Cook’s retort provided enough context to reconcile those two radically different points of view.


For what it’s worth, no one I know felt that [Ive had checked out] either.


Also, according to people directly familiar with the matter, this [Johnnie Manzari] anecdote is completely false anyway, which only makes it curiouser.

Ruffin Bailey:

But those real-world, human constraints operate against Ives’ elective constraints of minimalism and thinness. He stopped designing for the world and started pursuing ideals. Some of those just happened to work fine with users – the iPhone is as much fashion as practical computer, after all, and we would all yet benefit from still smaller slabs in our pockets. We have not yet reached the functional peak of thinness for phones. We have with laptops.

Charles Arthur:

Jony Ive helped save Apple; that’s not in doubt. But even while he was saving it, some of his designs were annoying people mightily, right from the start. Some of them delighted us, and continue to do so. It’s important though to separate out the instincts he had that worked in users’ favour, where simplicity was intended to work for us, from those which didn’t — where simplicity took away the affordances that we need to manipulate objects, like shaving down the handle of a door until only its intention is there, and none of the utility. Jony Ive is gone; it’s time to change the channel at Apple.

Let’s just not do it with the Apple TV remote, though.

Update (2019-07-15): See also: Hacker News.

Samuel Gibbs (via Hacker News):

We look at the key hits and big misses of the world’s largest firm, from the company-revolutionising iMac G3 to the iPhone via the iPod Hi-Fi, the butterfly keyboard and the ill-conceived Magic Mouse 2

10 Comments RSS · Twitter

Sören Nils Kuklau

With so much time to prepare, why couldn’t Apple name a replacement?

A replacement for what exactly? There was no “Chief Design Officer” before Jony, and that title was controversial even when it was introduced.

What sense does it make to put Jeff Williams, the operations guy, in charge of the designers?

I think part of it is that Jeff has an ill-fitting title.

Consider that he’s the one who has been doing health / fitness presentations at keynotes in recent years. Given that, it doesn’t seem to be that he’s a “I beancount to figure out how we can shave zero point three cents off a parts supplier” purist. He probably has a much broader profile than “COO” lets on.

In fact, a positive read on this is that industrial design and human interface design are finally once again not being treated as belonging to the same division. Evans and Alan are now free to fight for and optimize towards different goals. Perhaps an iPhone-style date picker in a Mac app wouldn’t have happened under Alan?

This all makes the decision to fire Forstall look worse. He’s the type of product leader Apple needs.

I do think Apple could use an overarching products/vision guy (though a person to do that well is incredibly rare — how many corporations can you think of who currently have someone who fits the bill?).

I think it’s good, and overdue, to get a cut from this sameness.

We had Snow White from 1984 to 1990, more beigeness until 1998, a stark contrast of colorful translucent plastic until 2001 (just three years!), and then… eighteen years of ever-increasing thinness and various combinations of of white plastic or silver/gold-shade aluminum or steel coupled with thick black glass bezels. It’s not a bad design at all, but it’s getting really boring and stale.

How much more unnecessarily thin can the iMac’s sides nobody will ever look at become? Can we make a laptop keyboard below 1 millimeter thick? Do you really need to feel any keycaps at all? Tune in to the next White Room With Jony Ive to find out!

There was a recent discussion of lack of whimsy in 2010s’ Apple, and I think this is part of why. Yes, their products look really slick, striking, premium. But also increasingly stale, boring, and with few exceptions like Apple Watch bands, just not fun.

Let’s have some fun hardware design again.

Forstall's problem was he clashed with most of the VPs. I agree he brought a lot of strengths to the product line - some of which Apple definitely missed the next 5 years - but one can't ignore his weaknesses.

My sense, although I may just be reading too much into Federighi's interviews, is that design had far more control even with Ive stepping back than it had before. The main issue is that before Jobs used his taste to balance things but that's not Cook's strength. So Cook put Ive in charge, but as one of the quotes said above Ive worked much better with an editor. Hopefully now design and software are better integrated with design (meaning looks) not dominating so much. But honestly we won't know for quite some time. At least Federighi's said the right things. As with the controversy over pro users, what counts is what Apple does over time not that first year.

@Sören Before the CDO title, Ive was the singular Senior Vice President of Design.

So, from what I'm reading, the guy who finalized Apple's park design rarely put a foot there.

Sören Nils Kuklau

@Michael right — ever since the ouster of Forstall. And like Dr. Drang, I think that was a mistake. UI design and industrial design used to be largely unrelated orgs, and whether deliberate or more incidental, Apple is getting back to that.

Bloomberg, I think, suggested that being under the COO would be useful because Manufacturing techniques are such a big part of Apple’s products now. Developing AR glasses and such would likely require investment in new manufacturing technologies or materials, so it would make sense to get operations in the loop earlier.

"Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, drives an old Toyota Camry."

That sounds good to me. A guy who goes for simple utility rather than useless objet d'art.

Niall O'Mara

Interesting times. Ive is clearly a hardware design genius but absolute power corrupts and he seemed to lose sight of Job's mantra that design was how something worked not just how it looked. The Apple $10,000 Solid(ish) Gold Edition Apple Watch was a clue that he was losing touch. All the time and money spent on developing the keynote-touted new way of 'producing' a sort of gold alloy could surely have been better spent by the company that brought a computer for 'the rest of us.' Maybe the knighthood went to Ive's head - he certainly lost touch IMO.

"The Walt Disney company floundered after Walt died, ultimately finding its footing years later. It expanded (and keeps expanding) in ways Mr. Imagination couldn’t imagine."

Considering that the book covering most of this period at Disney is titled "Disney War", this seems a very promising future for Apple… or not.

There are two ways of leaving Apple — the good way is you disappear and
don’t make press. The bad way is you make the press. If you leave Apple and
then build the Taj Mahal, we’ll chop off your hands.

That's of course, ha ha, just figuratively speaking. But what does it really mean ?

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