Why Apple should oust Jonathan Ive
It’s been a debate on the post Steve Jobs era and ever since Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple: tech journalists keep predicting the nemesis of the Cupertino tech giant. Alas: Apple is more successful than ever. And even with a portfolio risk of putting way too much focus on the phone category, the computer giant is still striving to win. And they effectively do so in many other categories: tablet computers, cameras (yes, if you look at it from market share logic), wrist watches, cloud services, just to name a few. So why is it, that observers and analysts fear a drop in innovation power?
I also would say: Apple is in trouble. Not because their business is not profitable. Revenue is still looking good with the company, that makes more profit in a year than some small countries do in their GDP (by nominal numbers Apple is the 77th richest country in the world). The problem lies within its self-conception: it is the potency to innovate, which has alway drawn spirit from its design. Apple products were alway prettier than the rest of the market. Better looking, slick and well manufactured. Apple is the cutting edge. And among a few other reasons: the design is … or was … an enormous differentiation factor to buy, which also justified ridiculously high prices.
The Steve Magic
A lot has changed since the passing of Steve Jobs. A lot has since been written about the impossibility of keeping the “Steve magic” alive and how Apple is bound to become an ordinary tech company like all the others. Within this article I won’t be looking into that. But more into how Steve Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, has been trying to stick to past successes by promoting and effectively hyper-trusting a key person in Steve Jobs inner circle: Jonathan Ive.
At first glance this seemed to be a smart move for Tim Cook. But there’s a lowdown involved, which I’ve seen with many different companies:
don’t hold on to your top designers for too long!
I cannot maneuver around the fact, that most products, that Apple has been shipping in the last two years are mere iterations of past products. Except Apple Watch (which is in fact also an iteration on past designs principles from Apple), there has not been a single product, that redefined the way tech products look and feel. And I’d put the blame on Johny Ive. He surely is one of the most talented designers of the world. But as every good designer needs to move on at some point, and especially when you feel your creativity flatten, Johny did not jump ship. Instead he stayed. And he sort of began harvesting on money, fame and status promotions. If you ask me? He simply got lazy. But is he the one to blame?
Tim Cook has been holding on to Jony Ive for a long time, because he sees this link back to Steve Jobs and his design, perfectionism and leadership legacy: stick to Steve’s core people — the inner circle — and you’ll do well. At least for some years, that is.
Seeing this as fact, how could one even contemplate on the idea of exchanging lead design within Apple?
But the truth is: it’s about time! There’s no need to fear losing the old “Steve spirit”, if Jony Ive would be to leave the company. It’s now 5 years since his death. Apple has effectively moved on already — for good and bad. But a new top-notch designer could make an enormous difference in terms of customer product perception, use of forms and innovation perception.
Be different — again
Apple could do all this without touching basic principles of their products. Why? Because out there is a whole generation of skilled and awesome designers, who sucked up Apple’s designing principles with their design school breast milk. Their fresh blood would certainly help the company to underline one of their core competencies again: ̶t̶h̶i̶n̶k̶ be different! And people would again perceive Apple as the driving force of tech and consumer product design.