Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Ive Is, Apparently, Irreplaceable

Shortly before Jony Ive was promoted to Chief Design Officer, the New Yorker ran a truly excellent piece about him and the company as a whole. An excerpt:

In 2007, the year of the iPhone launch, the Ives bought an eleven-bedroom seventeenth-century house, with a lake, in rural Somerset, in the West of England. Ive had been at Apple for fifteen years; his children were nearing school age. When Ive and his wife were photographed among the tanned and lacquered guests at San Francisco fund-raisers, they looked palely handsome and a little puzzled, as if misdirected from the set of a Jane Austen adaptation. At the time, Michael Ive hoped that the Somerset house presaged a permanent return. He told me that he had learned not to ask three questions: “When are you coming back to England?”; “What are you working on?”; “Planning any more kids?”

According to Clive Grinyer, Ive had by then considered returning to the U.K., entering a “magnificent early retirement” in which he worked on “luxury items with Marc.” As Grinyer recalls his conversations with Ive, Apple’s success, and Jobs’s worsening health, revised such plans. Apple sold six million phones in the first year. By 2012, the company was selling more than a hundred million a year. In the same period — during which Apple launched the iPad and the MacBook Air — the company’s valuation quadrupled. “The iPhone just seemed to change the entire world,” Grinyer said. “I think he is burdened by it. He’s got no choice, the poor guy. He really has to see it out, and I know it wasn’t his plan. Which is not to say he’s not enjoying it.” By the spring of 2011, the Somerset house was back on the market. (Ive’s former guesthouse — limestone flooring, double Neff oven — is available for short-term rentals.)

For what it’s worth, Ive denied that he was considering moving.

In linking to it, I wrote:

Ive certainly has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. After Steve Jobs resigned his CEO post, and again after he died, Apple’s stock price was — perhaps surprisingly — unaffected. But if and when Jony Ive leaves Apple, I can’t imagine their share price and their perceived future viability would be unaffected to the same or greater extent. Jobs left a willing and public successor, Tim Cook, in his wake; Ive doesn’t have anyone like that. He is both irreplaceable, and yet he must eventually be replaced.

I don’t know what I was doing with the italics in this paragraph, but I stand by my assessment that Ive’s departure is likely greater than that of Jobs’. But I was wrong in my very last sentence — Apple has not announced a true replacement:

Design team leaders Evans Hankey, vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, vice president of Human Interface Design, will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. Both Dye and Hankey have played key leadership roles on Apple’s design team for many years. Williams has led the development of Apple Watch since its inception and will spend more of his time working with the design team in their studio.

At Apple — Apple, of all companies — there will likely be nobody on the leadership page with “design” in their title for the first time since 2006.

While we’re thinking about that that New Yorker profile and Jeff Williams, just one more thing:

Ive would prefer an unobserved life, but he likes nice things. He also has an Aston Martin DB4. He acquired his first Bentley, a two-door model, ten years ago, after an inner zigzag between doubt and self-justification. “I’ve always loved the big old-school square Bentleys,” he said. “The reasons are entirely design-based. But because of the other connotations I resisted and resisted, and then I thought, This is the most bizarre vanity, because I’m concerned that people will perceive me to be this way—I’m not. So I’m going to—” A pause. “And so I am uncomfortable about it.” Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, drives an old Toyota Camry. Ive’s verdict, according to Williams, is “Oh, God.”

“Oh, God,” indeed.