There are two basic ways to read this news. The first is to take Apple at its word — that this is a promotion for Ive that will let him focus more of attention on, well, design. That he’s delegating management administrivia to Dye and Howarth, not decreasing his involvement in supervising the actual design work. The second way — the cynical way — is that this is the first step to Ive easing his way out the door, and that his new title is spin to make the news sound good rather than bad.
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 would be impossible for Apple not to have a succession plan in place for someone as important and well-known as Jony. That plan may not come into affect for years, but it’s in place nonetheless.