Apple Inc. investors should not worry too much about the upcoming departure of industrial design guru Jony Ive, because some of the tech giant’s products could use a big design refresh anyway.
On Thursday, Apple’s shares AAPL, -0.03% slipped less than 1% in after-hours trading on the news of his departure. Ive told the Financial Times in an interview that his new company will be called LoveFrom and that he while he will no longer be an employee of Apple, he will still be very involved. “This just seems like a natural and gentle time to make this change,” he told the FT.
Ive is seen as a hugely influential industrial designer, of the ilk of Buckminster Fuller and Norman Bel Geddes, and his legacy at Apple is a long one. Ive was also one of co-founder Steve Jobs's closest confidants. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs considered Ive a “spiritual partner” and he had more power at Apple than anyone besides Jobs at the time.
Ive has said that when he was a child in London, a Braun juicer that his parents purchased, designed by German industrial designer Dieter Rams, made a huge impression on him and he later studied his work
Ive has been a major design force behind products such as the original iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, and most recently, Apple’s new “spaceship campus,” known as Apple Park, with which he worked closely with London-based architect Norman Foster. In 2012, he was knighted at Buckingham Palace for services to design and enterprise.
Since Apple moved its employees to the new Apple Park campus in Cupertino, Calif., Ive has not been present much, according to some Apple sources. In 2015, he was named Apple’s first chief design officer, but in 2017 he handed off the day-to-day managerial responsibilities for industrial design and user interface to two other Apple design executives. His voice was also absent from the narration for the most recent video at Apple’s most recent product launch in March. Ive’s posh accent and his British pronunciation of “aluminium” were distinct features of past videos.
“I actually thought it was just a matter of time before he broadened his industrial-design reach,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies and a longtime Apple analyst. “He is still relatively young. I am not surprised.” Bajarin said that the good news is that Apple will be Ive’s primary client. “This is not one of those things where it’s being handled through the junior officers. He will be a strategic guide for Apple on industrial design,” he said.
In an interview with USA Today in 2013, Ive said he would like to design cups and talked about the lines of a chair. Bajarin said his industrial design skills go well beyond the computer industry.
Ive has been with Apple for nearly 30 years, joining Apple in 1992, and was named as senior industrial designer in 1997 when Jobs returned to the company. Because of his status as a favorite of Jobs, some fellow employees were reportedly resentful or jealous of Ive, and since Jobs’s death in 2011, Ive was not very popular, some insiders said. He will spend time in both the U.S. and the U.K., and many of the people on his design team at Apple have already left, sources said.
Apple said that design team leaders Evans Hankey, vice president of industrial design, and Alan Dye, vice president of human interface design, will now report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. In a statement, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Ive is “a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated.”
That said, Apple’s products, especially the Macintosh and the iPhone, are in need of a major reboot, with sales of the Mac down 3.7% in the most recent quarter, and iPhone sales down 17.5%. Apple has made a huge push to grow its higher-margin services business, as some of its hardware businesses have slowed down.
“The major question now, going forward, is around future product innovation with one of the key visionaries of the Apple brand gone,” said Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst, voicing Wall Street’s concerns. “This news only adds to the current agita around the Apple story as the company is branching out into television and gaming.”
And as Apple focuses more and more on services, perhaps Ive also could see the writing on the wall in terms of his influence, as hardware becomes a smaller part Apple’s overall revenue.
Ive’s departure may also be further confirmation that Apple is still not making much progress in self-driving cars, since that is another field he has been interested in. As a consultant for Apple, Ive will clearly still have major influence, if any such product ever makes it off the ground.
Whether or not Apple will want another in-house designer is a big question that lingers, but how much its signature aesthetic could change is an even bigger question.