Jony Ive and the Future of Apple

The New Yorker has a very long and detailed profile of Jony Ive. There are a lot of somewhat disturbing references to Ive’s being tired. For example, the article opens with:

In recent months, Sir Jonathan Ive, the forty-seven-year-old senior vice-president of design at Apple—who used to play rugby in secondary school, and still has a bench-pressing bulk that he carries a little sheepishly, as if it belonged to someone else—has described himself as both “deeply, deeply tired” and “always anxious.”

And closes with:

He was a few days from starting a three-week vacation, the longest of his career. The past year had been “the most difficult” he’d experienced since joining Apple, he said later that day, explaining that the weariness I’d sometimes seen wasn’t typical. Since our previous meeting, he’d had pneumonia. “I just burnt myself into not being very well,” he said. He had discouraged the thought that Newson’s appointment portended his own eventual departure, although when I spoke to Powell Jobs she wondered if “there might be a way where there’s a slightly different structure that’s a little more sustainable and sustaining.” Comparing the careers of her husband and Ive, she noted that “very few people ever get to do such things,” but added, “I do think there’s a toll.”

There are also some inconsistencies. At one point the article quotes Steve Jobs talking about Ive in the Isaacson bio:

Toward the end of his life, Jobs told Walter Isaacson, “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He’s not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me.”

But the article’s opening paragraph frames Ive’s role this way:

He is now one of the two most powerful people in the world’s most valuable company.

Jobs sure made it sound like Ive has been the second-most-powerful person at Apple for a long time, does’t it? But the latter quote implies his power is new. Sure, he has more power now, effectively taking on Steve’s role as head of product, but I find the phrasing sloppy.

Finally, some interesting, and in some ways disturbing, quotes about product decision making at Apple in the post-Steve era. For example:

That day, according to Ive, they started collaborating on what became the iMac. Soon afterward, Apple launched its “Think Different” campaign, and Ive took it as a reminder of the importance of “not being apologetic, not defining a way of being in response to what Dell just did.” He went on, “My intuition’s good, but my ability to articulate what I feel was not very good—and remains not very good, frustratingly. And that’s what’s hard, with Steve not being here now.”

Losing Steve Jobs is an incomparably terrible event. There is no way around that simple fact. People who try to pretend that the company is no different, or even somehow better off, are, in my opinion, completely delusional. I don’t think one can simultaneously believe Steve Jobs was a genius, and believe that practically any company would be better with him as the CEO.

However, what we can’t see clearly from the outside is howe product decision making at Apple has changed. The Apple Watch will probably give us the clearer view, but it takes years for product pipelines to become established and then to appear in public, and it takes still more years for the product pipeline to strike a divergent trajectory from its original one. Further, it’s not just losing Steve Jobs. That in and of itself is a heavy blow to sustain, but Apple has lost a lot of key executives, including Scott Forstall, Bertrand Serlet, Bob Mansfield (semi-retired), and Ron Johnson.