WSJ: How Apple lost Jony Ive

Apple naysayer Tripp Mickle has been gathering string on this story for more than a year.

From Monday’s Wall Street Journal ($):

Few on the outside knew that for years, Mr. Ive had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership, say people close to the company. Mr. Jobs’s protégé—and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit—grew frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook.

Mr. Ive, 52, withdrew from routine management of Apple’s elite design team, leaving it rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened by a string of departures, people close to the company say…

Apple remains enormously profitable, and far larger than the company Mr. Jobs left behind… Yet [Ive’s] departure from the company cements the triumph of operations over design at Apple.

My take: There’s enough truth in Mickle’s take to make it painful. A must-read.

The opening anecdote—where Ive shows up three hours late to his own design meeting and leaves without making any rulings—is bad enough. Friend-of-the-blog Jerry Doyle suggest that this one is even worse:

Mr. Ive had begun pushing to make a watch. He was intrigued by the potential to further miniaturize the iPhone’s powerful technology into a wearable device.

Some executives pushed back, questioning if a device so small could ever have a killer app that would compel people to buy it.

Doyle: “If the above is true, then Houston, we have a problem if senior executive staffs pushed back on the Watch that Jony was anxious to pursue. The Watch is the one true innovation since Steve’s passing!”

UPDATE: If you’ve got a 2-hour commute, John Gruber and Ben Thompson go pretty deep in Sunday’s The Talk Show: A bit too thin.

7 Comments

  1. Chris Ferebee said:

    This reminds me of Gruber’s closing words in his piece on Jony Ive’s departure:

    “I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.”

    My hope is that Jony left before his successor could be found, and a successor is forthcoming. I like to imagine him storming out of a meeting where Tim bawls him out over the keyboard and threatens to reintroduce the old design until he gets his shit together.

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    July 1, 2019
  2. Gregg Thurman said:

    “Some executives pushed back, questioning if a device so small could ever have a killer app that would compel people to buy it.”

    Nothing negative should be inferred from this event. A well managed firm considers the positives and negatives in equal weight before acting.

    I have no doubt this happened, after all management says NO to 1000 good ideas before saying YES to one.

    At some point people become frustrated and/or bored with what they are doing. This is nothing more than human nature.

    Gruber’s comment implies Ive is irreplaceable. Now just how funny is that given all the noise that Apple can’t innovate any more?

    The noise (and there’s a bunch) surrounding Ive’s departure is nothing more than pseudo journalists in search of a man bites dog story, in other words, click bait.

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    July 1, 2019
  3. Jerry W Doyle said:

    What was disturbing for me in reading the article is how other senior executives failed to zero in on the Watch’s uniqueness and innovativeness and seemingly prepared to quash it. Jobs would have embraced it! I am certain about that fact. Put yourself in Steve Jobs’ mindset. Jony is introducing the possibility of a powerful, unique and innovative computer on one’s wrist!

    Cook gave the approval then for the project to move forward, but would he do so similarly today on another unique and innovative proposal from ID? At the time Jony had “leverage” soon after Jobs passing. Cook didn’t want to demoralize Jony and run the risk of losing him, too. So, Cook gave his blessing for the Watch project proposal to move forward. Would he do so today, if ID presented a unique, innovative and perhaps somewhat experimental project proposal?

    Today, Cook has the “leverage,” he has grown in stature (which he should) and most likely would allow Operations to sway him against new, unique & innovative proposals coming from ID. I can see where Sir Jony is demoralized in the absence of his soul partner (Steve Jobs) who most likely would have seen excitedly, the innovative design, format opportunities for a new product exploitation immediately in the Watch project development proposal.

    Apple was the one giant tech titan where designers had a disproportionate influence over engineers dictating project development. Ive’s and Jobs would feed voraciously off of each other’s ideas. Jony could translate futuristic concepts into physical objects “… with simplicity and sophistication.” Steve was “… the inspiration and the editor needed to bring these ideas to life.” Tim Cook is the Operations guy. It comes as little surprise that as Jony exits, the new chain of reporting in the organization demotes the ID unit. ID now reports to COO Jeff Williams, a mechanical engineer with an M.B.A. How will this new organizational structure influence development of potential new, unique and experimental projects going forward? Time will tell.

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    July 1, 2019
  4. Bill Haymaker said:

    I’m not certain that any of the stories published about Jony Ive properly understand his comment about being “deeply tired” after the launch of the watch project nor what it’s like to be in the head of a designer that can’t ever get away from his work. I keep thinking about Steve’s comment to Jony upon reviewing the prototypes that hadn’t come to fruition prior to Steve’s arrival. “Boy, you haven’t been very effective have you?” Combine “deeply tired” and “ineffective” and it’s hard to think that Jony’s departure is anything but a net positive moving forward. He’s more than earned his rest.

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    July 1, 2019
  5. James Dearborn said:

    The only constant is change.
    A Team is not a single person.
    ‘Boot Hill’ is full of irreplaceable people.
    Opportunity is knocking. . . for someone.
    Stay Calm and Carry On.

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    July 1, 2019
  6. David Emery said:

    Another possible interpretation from these articles is Ive was dogmatic and petulant, who was increasingly ineffective in guiding the design efforts the way he thought they should go. His presentations at the recent product launches always struck me as disconnected from the real world.

    I’ve said before that Apple laptops have gotten “anorexic” – too much lost functionality in the cause of thinness.

    2
    July 1, 2019
  7. John Konopka said:

    My take is that the pendulum at Apple has swung too far in the direction of design. It needs to swing back to function over form. The recent MacBooks are lacking in ports and functionality.

    I wonder that without Steve to give him grounding Jony has been given free reign to do what he wanted.Jony wanted the high end, gold Apple Watch Edition. Would Steve have maybe said No to that? We’ll never know. Jony’s designs are in museums, Apple needs us to actually use them.

    At the last shareholder meeting Tim Cook pointed out that Apple is making a point of investing in lots of things, many of which will not succeed and will not see the light of day. But they have to try them because we don’t know ahead of time which will succeed.

    Without other facts to go on I have to accept that Apple is building all sorts of prototypes of products, many, maybe most of which will never be produced.

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    July 1, 2019

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