Why Jony Ive left Apple

"The man who helped give the world candy-colored computers walked out the door as Tim Cook took charge." — Tripp Mickle

From Mickle's "How Technocrats Triumphed at Apple" in Sunday's New York Times:

After two years of development, thousands of engineering hours and countless days agonizing over the suppleness of leather and strength of gold for Apple’s bold new product, the company’s design chief, Jony Ive, was thrust into a high-stakes debate over the most primitive concern: a tent.

The Apple Watch was slated to be introduced at a local community college auditorium near the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. To bring cosmopolitan gloss to a suburban landscape of strip malls, Mr. Ive recommended removing two dozen trees and erecting a lavish white tent.

His extravagant vision wasn’t going over well.

“They want $25 million,” a colleague said of the event’s price tag...

Mr. Cook rocked in his chair as the group discussed Mr. Ive’s idea. It had been nearly three years since Steve Jobs died at the age of 56, and as C.E.O., Mr. Cook had looked to Mr. Ive — the man Mr. Jobs called his “spiritual partner” — to lead product development. The designer’s value to the company was so great that Mr. Cook feared that investors would sell shares if Mr. Ive left. Former company executives estimated that an Ive departure would erase more than $50 billion from Apple’s market value, or as much as 10 percent. Mr. Cook stopped rocking. “We should just do it,” he said.

To many present, Mr. Cook’s approval seemed like a win for Mr. Ive. But the designer would later recast it as a Pyrrhic victory. He would tell colleagues that the debate over the event and the larger struggle over the watch’s marketing were among the first moments that he felt unsupported at Apple...

In Mr. Ive’s absence, the designers say that they collaborate more with colleagues in engineering and operations and face more cost pressures than they did previously. Meanwhile, the products remain largely as they were when Mr. Ive left. The gods have become mortals.

My take: Excerpted from Mickle's “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” (pubdate: May 3). I'm waiting for the Audible edition.


    • Aaron Belich said:
      Indeed. I didn’t realize he was still on the Apple beat.

      His insight never made any sense. Typical FUD looking for any clicks and paid for by the Anti-AAPL-League.

      May 1, 2022
  1. Jonny T said:
    Looking at things today, I’d say this is stuff and nonsense. Anyone with eyes knows the products are as beautiful and more…

    May 1, 2022
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Lost its soul?

    Sounds like a writer who puts sensationalism above insight. Who sold his soul?

    Steve chose Tim. Steve saw brain, heart, and soul in Tim. And we’re so lucky.

    May 1, 2022
  3. David Emery said:
    Meh. Jony Ive’s Macbook designs were increasingly anorexic, trading needed functionality for the “art” of being overly thin.

    And who demands cutting down trees for an ephemeral product launch, and then stands up to defend an environmental record?

    May 1, 2022
  4. Greg Lippert said:
    Tripp was always a joke. I can’t take him seriously.

    May 1, 2022
  5. David Drinkwater said:
    Kill two dozen trees in a strip mall to launch the Apple Watch? Maybe Jony isn’t quite the visionary that I thought. And shame on Tim for agreeing.

    There are perfectly good empty or rentable stadia all over the world for such things. (At the time, probably Moscone Center.)

    I do see the concept for departure, though: if Jony was enamored of working for Steve more so than working for Tim, he had the right to leave, and so he did.

    May 1, 2022
  6. Greg Bates said:
    Looks like there is a lot of reporting and history, so I plan to read the book. But the assertions that Ive burnt out, or that he and Cook parted ways are not nearly as important as Mickle’s idea that Apple has lost its soul, specifically the implication that innovation at Apple is dead, embodied in the last two lines of his article, “Meanwhile, the products remain largely as they were when Mr. Ive left. The gods have become mortals.”

    Maybe. But it’s important to consider the counter arguments, which I hope the book investigates: 1) A pandemic and especially supply constraints may have hampered launch of new products since Ive left, and 2) Apple has a new hit product the author doesn’t discuss: the M1 chip, and new modems are coming shortly. Both prove innovation continues as Apple.

    Sure, we haven’t seen a radical new product category launch in the 3 years since Ive left, and the creation of those chips don’t count as such. But as Jony Srouji pointed out about the M1, it’s all about new products. As he told the WSJ, “First and foremost, if we do this, can we deliver better products?… That’s the No. 1 question. It’s not about the chip. Apple is not a chip company.”

    There are other hints of products coming. Cook has said that, years from now, Apple’s greatest contributions will have been in the field of health, also implying new product category launches.

    Time will prove or disprove Mickle’s thesis that Apple has lost its soul when it either brings out new products that are hits or it doesn’t. Given Apple’s track record, and especially given the implication of Srouji’s statement that Apple is totally focused on creating new products, I’ll be shocked if Mickle is proven correct. But it’s great that he has staked out his prediction so clearly! He’ll either be right or wrong.

    May 1, 2022
  7. Ken Cheng said:
    I doubt the idea was to cut the trees down, and probably a non-starter, since the launch was at a community college. Presumably, it was to remove, temporarily, the trees, and replace them afterward. Very, very expensive.

    May 1, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      Even moving trees for a product launch strikes me as both problematic (no guarantee the tree will survive the transplant shock) and tone-deaf/self-absorbed.

      May 1, 2022
  8. The gem related to this story lies among the top 20 comments readers picked. On occasions such as this one Readers’ Picks offer far more insight & context than the journalist cherry-picking through memories. The comment writers pick all the cherries off every tree.
    Ive integrated the best parts of the German Bauhaus school into Apple designs. Genius.

    May 1, 2022
  9. Jerry Doyle said:
    I look forward to reading Tripp Mickle’s book on “How Technocrats Triumphed at Apple.” I read these reputable offerings from recognized sources as another continuing progressive step in staying knowledgeable, informed and engaged in understanding Apple, Inc. my sole investment containing most all my wealth. These fertile sources give me an insight into my mental process of comprehending and forecasting hopefully, Apple’s actions in areas of administration, management and operations.

    When one reads all the reputable sourced books on Apple then similar to the judge and jury sitting in a criminal trail, one pans through all the material presented by washing out the fiction, the fabrications, embellishments seeking the truth. One soon learns there is a common thread you can find in all that clatter. Following that common thread gives you needed clarity with all other data you previously have resourced and shelved on file.

    “…. In Mr. Ive’s absence, the designers say that they collaborate more with colleagues in engineering and operations and face more cost pressures than they did previously.”

    It is disconcerting and frustrating when one previously had disproportionate influence over final operating decisions more than all other component heads along with influence over final budgetary priorities to suddenly lose that authority and influence and find oneself relegated to an egalitarian organizational work setting. It cramps your performance style and truncates the way you operate within the organization. It even can affect adversely your ego, humbling you or unsettling you so much that you must leave the organization. You feel emasculated in your authority, your influence, your ability to perform and even your pride. Your ego takes a huge hit. It closely equates with the Apple’s governing board suddenly establishing a dual CEO executive role diluting Tim Cook’s influence and authority to run Apple. Outside Steve Jobs when he was alive, Jony Ives could influence everything at Apple. The Apple Design Team pretty much got all they desired and demanded.


    May 1, 2022
  10. Jerry Doyle said:

    “…. Mr. Jobs considered Mr. Ive the company’s second-most powerful executive. He thrust the design team to the forefront of Apple’s product development process, ensuring it played a central role in the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Employees summarized the group’s clout with a single phrase: ‘Don’t disappoint the gods.’”

    It must have been a humbling experience for Jony once Steve passed to find a technocrat at the helm of the organization who had no passion for design, but one focused exclusively as a proponent, adherent and supporter for emphasis on management and administration. I embrace the theory that Jony felt “castrated.”

    The Apple IDT was brought in-house for one specific reason and for one person: Steve Jobs. Steve wanted to be a part of the design process more than was practical to do when utilizing external design agencies. So, Steve brought design in-house where he daily could scurry down after work hours like an excited kid let out of school to work with Jony. That umbilical cord for organizational support on upcoming projects along with design backing evaporated for Jony with the passing of Steve. To exacerbate matters, Jony’s soul mate was gone from the premises. Let that forlorn loss settle in.

    Where previously the IDT was visible at product announcements and Jony was narrating introductions of newly designed products, the IDT melted into the organizational background after Steve Jobs passing. We see affable Jeff Williams. Eddy Cue makes his impish presence. The hair guy is omnipresent. John Giannandrea steps up. Sabin Khan is recognized. Healthy looking John Ternus abounds. Jonny Srouji is becoming the recognized maharaja of all hardware technologies. Where is the head of Design? Where is that person? Can you name that person? I suspect few can. As Mr. Mickle says: “….The gods have become mortals!”

    May 1, 2022
    • Dan Scropos said:
      Jerry, Jony was seemingly running on fumes toward the end. The Mac Pro garbage can, the disastrous butterfly keyboard, the Magic Mouse 2 and even back to the iPhone 5c, there were some fairly glaring missteps. The iPhone thinness neuroticism was also a mistake.

      Everyone has their opinion of Jony Ive, and his Apple legacy will always be strong, but I strongly feel Tim Cook ultimately showed him the door, and I think the time was right for all parties involved. The designs since his departure seem just fine, if not better. Apple is an army of talented folks.

      May 1, 2022
      • John Konopka said:
        Gruber opined that Jony Ives had not much useful input anymore at Apple which was why he left. Look at his work from his prime: the first iMac, PowerBooks and such. Look at what Apple produces now: iPhones and iPads. These are basically flat pieces of glass. There is not much of a canvas here for him to work with. No knobs, not much volume, no interesting shape to configure.

        On the other hand, it can be argued that the products have improved after Jony left. Look at the recent Mac Studio: ports galore! Even on the front! Same with the recent MacBook Pros. Functionality is regaining prominence.

        Nothing against Jony. Maybe Steve was an effective counterweight for him. Without Steve Apple was unbalanced.

        May 2, 2022
  11. Tom Farris said:
    Enough with the tree hugging…
    Annoying or no it is/was a non issue in reality. Today we have Subaru in the process of a goal to plant 1 million trees. Sounds like a good corporate offset to me.
    And as for cutting trees for cause or no cause…here in San Diego the Airport Authority has begun to enforce an order that 20 – 30 near 100 year old 100 foot Palm trees be cut because they say they could ‘interfere’ with air traffic. Really? If a 100 ft tree is going to interfere with air traffic you have a lot more to worry about than the height of the tree. They claim the FAA required it…but no one (neither the FAA or the Airport Authority) will produce any such communication. Hmmm, they do say that they will replace the trees, but of course with something more ‘ecologically friendly”. Trial dates are pending.

    May 2, 2022

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