Apple Post Jony Ive

I’m sure by now you have heard or seen the news that Jony Ive is officially leaving Apple. It was the biggest story in tech yesterday and would have been hard to miss. Analysis of this news has been all over the place. To the predictable Apple is doomed, and its design culture is gone, to Jony wasn’t perfect, and it’s time for others to shine. Without analyzing every nuance, there are a few points I wanted to make regarding this news.

Leaving on His Terms. As someone who watches Apple very closely and has for over two decades, it seems to me, this transition was a long time coming. In 2015, Ive had already given more of the day to day design work to other members of his team, and I think the most important point here is that Jony Ive built a team he trusted with carrying the design of Apple’s products. Ive likely had a range of oversight but he has not been driving Apple’s design ambitions for some time now.

Reporters I spoke to yesterday after the news broke asked if I felt much would change and my answer was no. Jony Ive would not have left Apple if there was not a team in place he trusted to carry the essence of Apple design forward. Obviously, as a part of this transition, Ive will still be around and, according to Apple’s statement, Apple will be a primary client of his new design firm.

At a minimum, things will stay the same. However, the upside potential may be even greater with Jony not at the helm.

A Fresh Start
I know this is hard for many to comprehend at the moment but if Apple is to go on for another 100 years or more, their key execs who helped make Apple what is today will not be around forever. I’ve always tried to explain how Apple has a culture, and an ethos, that has to be preserved. If Apple the company was Steve Jobs most important product as many argue, then it is essential that product stays true to itself even in the years when senior leadership transitions the company to new leaders. Ultimately, this is true for Apple, and it was unfortunately prematurely tested with Steve Jobs passing. Jony’s departure and the transition will be the second test for Apple.

My colleague Carolina Milanesi tweeted a point I thought was compelling.

It is interesting to take the view that now is the time for the team Jony built to shine and to do so without having to be in his shadow and can now chart their own path forward.

Jeff Williams is More of a Product Guy Than We Knew
One of the more interesting bits of information that came out in reports following the news of Ive leaving Apple was that Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO, is actually much more involved in product design than we initially knew. We knew the Apple Watch was his baby, but the extent he was “hands on” with the design process of that product was unclear.

This new information is actually quite positive. Many’s worries with Apple was that it was becoming more of an operations company and that its design culture was being lost. If Jeff is truly more of a product guy, but also an exceptional operations guy than this is quite positive in my view as he is best of both worlds.

The promotion of Sabih Khan to Senior Vice President of Operations is also being positioned as a way to let Jeff Williams also focus more on design related to Apple products as well. This part will be one of the more interesting to watch and see how much of a mark Jeff can make as he influences design, perhaps, even more, going forward.

Apple’s Most Challenging Product Designs are Still Ahead
Many of Apple’s products under Jony Ive were icons in their own right. Things that stood out and gave their owners a sense of pride to own and look at. Going forward, as we enter the realm of wearable computers, the design will be even more at the center of the challenge if we want humans to embrace them. And this goes beyond just how things like AirPods, and future ear worn computers, or smart glasses look but also how they feel. The latter being something new to the equation but one Apple has succeeded with when it comes to Watch and AirPods.

Glasses may end up being the real design challenge, and while Jony will still around and having some oversight, new wearable products will be led by the new design organization and will be judged accordingly.

I’m optimistic a new era of design at Apple is possible, and hopefully chart an even more fruitful path forward.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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