Apple has been delivering hit product after hit product with a great precision and at a pretty steady cadence: a new product category was unveiled about every 5 years or so:
- the first iPod was released in late 2001
- the first iPhone came in 2007
- the iPad series launched in 2010
- the Apple Watch arrived in 2015
Now, as the time is approaching for Apple to move forward with its next hit launch, the rumored Apple Glasses, some of the visionaries that were moving the needle seem to be leaving the company. Six members of Apple's design team had left in the past year, and on Thursday, the most iconic designer, the person behind every successful Apple product from the past two decades, gathered the design team which he built together as a family-like group to announce his departure. What had been developing for years with longer and more frequent absences, had finally happened: Jony Ive announced he was leaving Apple.
The news sent shock waves across the industry and probably the biggest one among them came in the form of a detailed report by the Wall Street Journal
describing a 'dispirited' Jony Ive, a design team left 'rudderless', and bit of the secrecy surrounding the design workings of the company finally lifted.
For years, Jony Ive has been growing more distant from Apple's leadership
The big takeaway documented in this recent report and from Ive's departure is that the culture within the company has changed. Jony Ive was extremely close with Steve Jobs as the two were sharing meals and Jobs was a frequent visitor to the design studio and fascinated with the design process. The picture that this report paints of Tim Cook is quite different: an operations specialist who rose to power by helping the company master the supply chain. Cook is also said to nurture much less excitement about design and keeps his focus on maintaining profit margins and using past Apple success to drive sales. And while Mr. Cook has sought to keep Ive in the company with a paycheck far exceeding that of other top-level executives, the British-born designer is said to have grown 'dispirited' with the little interest the current Apple CEO shows in product design. Further contributing to Ive's frustration was the fact that the Apple board of directors was increasingly growing thicker with finance and operations specialists, while those with the technical background that was core to the company seemed left behind.
This change in company policy makes a stark contrast to the days past when hardware engineers at Apple had a saying: "Don’t disappoint the gods," referring to the immense role of the design team, now far less vocal.
That was the team Jony Ive had built: a family-like group that worked long hours and would often gather after work to party together.
When Steve Jobs died, a lot of the design effort went away
"When Steve Jobs was alive, there was a lot of effort toward: Steve’s coming to the studio today, so we have to have a lot for him to see," said a former member of the design group. "When he died, that went away."
The last major product project where Jony Ive was fully involved was the Apple Watch. After the launch of the wearable, in May 2015, Ive was promoted to chief design officer to recognize his wider role overseeing not just industrial design, but also human interface, packaging, retail stores and the new Spaceship campus. But this also marked the start of a period when Ive would work distantly. His absence from design team gatherings allegedly left the team confused.
"The team craved being around him," a source close to Apple leadership said then. "He’s engaging. Him being around less was disappointing."
And this is the picture that this detailed report paints of the change in culture at Apple. After Jony Ive's departure, the design team will report to COO Jeff Williams and it is left without a proper representation in the board of directors.