Jony Ive is leaving Apple, but his departure started long ago

The headline link is behind a paywall. Here’s a link to the article on Apple News that should work if you don’t have a WSJ subscription.

Tripp Mickle, Wall Street Journal:

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.

“Many of us were thinking: How did it come to this?” said a person at the meeting. There was a sense “Jony was gone but reluctant to hand over the reins.”

The episode was emblematic of a widening disconnect at the top of Apple that, invisible outside the company, was eroding the product magic created by Mr. Ive and the late Steve Jobs that helped turn Apple into America’s pre-eminent corporation.


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.

The internal drama explains a lot about Apple’s dilemma. Its one major new product of the post-Jobs era, the Apple Watch, made its debut five years ago.


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.

This is not a flattering portrayal. As usual with these sorts of articles, I take every anecdote with a grain of salt. Personally, I see iOS 13 and the continually impressive series of ARM chips as but two examples of major Apple products. True, iOS 13 is in early beta, but it is incredibly impressive.

But that last comment highlights a core issue for Apple. When they were smaller, it was easy to let genius lead. But with explosive growth comes the need for more dependence on operational expertise to inform the product pipeline. Less reliance on one visionary, more design by committee.

That’s the reality brought on by Apple’s exponential growth. It take a different set of hands to guide a single race car than a complex fleet of vehicles.

The article ends with:

Mr. Ive’s old design team—a group of aesthetes once thought of as gods inside Apple—will report to COO Jeff Williams, a mechanical engineer with an M.B.A.

I’d soften that statement with the belief that Apple is still chock full of visionaries, geniuses, and plenty of cash to continue their product pursuits.