If you want to know the legacy of Jonathan Ive, who announced today that he will step down as Apple’s design chief after 27 years at the company, you don’t need to look very far. It’s visible in every iPhone you see in someone’s hand. And Apple Watch on a wrist. And MacBook on a Starbucks table. Given Ive’s immense influence on products from other companies, it’s not a stretch to say that our era’s consumer electronics look pretty much the way that Jony Ive thinks they should.
But Ive earned additional fame for his durable part as a spokesman in videos played at Apple launch events, crisply hyping new products as gorgeous product shots swoop by. In the years since Steve Jobs’ death in 2011, these videos have played an even greater role in Apple’s traditional creation of a reality distortion field around its latest stuff.
Which led me to wonder: When did Ive begin appearing in such promotional mini-films?
At Macworld Expo 1999, Apple’s big news was the Power Macintosh G3, a high-end tower desktop. After introducing it, Steve Jobs played a promotional video, prefaced with a Henry Kissinger quote and featuring Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s The Look of Love on the soundtrack. (If you know who’s singing, please tell me; I’m not sure, and it stumped Shazam.) The video touts lustworthy features such as a 400-MHz processor, up to 1GB of RAM, and USB (“the future of I/O!”).
And several times during the video, we get a glimpse of a younger, hairier, less polished version of the man who eventually became Apple’s chief design officer, Sir Jonathan Ive. I’m not sure if this is the first keynote video he appeared in, but it’s certainly a prototype for many to come.
“To try and design an object that elicits the reaction of ‘I really want that’ is enormous fun,” declares Ive in his first appearance. Later, he adds that “these have to be objects that are totally seductive.” And finally, as if he’s convincing himself as he talks: “A computer absolutely can be sexy. It … yeah, it can.”
In the 1999 video, Ive was merely one of several Apple executives—along with outsiders from companies such as Eidos and Epson—who sang the G3’s praises. (I’m particularly fond of the moment when Phil Schiller brandishes an anvil-like camcorder that wouldn’t fit in a briefcase let alone a pocket.) But Ive’s appearance turned out to be a sign of things to come. Alone among Apple’s highest-profile employees, he was not a regular on the keynote stage. (“I’m shy,” he explained in a 2015 New Yorker profile by Ian Parker, which remains essential reading for Apple watchers.) So he became a dominating presence in videos shown during the keynotes, rhapsodizing over his own team’s work in a signature style that became so familiar that even his pronunciation
of “al-u-min-ium” is a long-running meme.
A couple of years after the G3 video, this one has Ive looking more recognizably Ivesian—shaved head, gray T-shirt—and sounding more confident. But he’s still relatively low-key in his claims about a device that turned out to be one of Apple’s most epoch-shifting achievements: “Collectively, it’s a product that we’re really looking forward to getting our hands on.”
Nine years later, this 2009 video for the new unibody MacBook has Ive up front, and his sound bites have grown more epic (“I don’t know how we could make anything any more essential, any simpler, than the new MacBook”).
In 2010, when Apple introduced the new iPad, Ive’s pronouncements were still reaching new heights of grandeur: “When something exceeds your capacity to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical.” (I’m still not sure whether he meant that he didn’t understand how the iPad functioned, or that consumers wouldn’t.)
The same year’s iPhone 4 video is among the most classic: “iPhone 4 is so much more than another new product … I mean, this will have a lasting impact on the way we actually connect with each other.”
In this 2016 video, Apple gave the Ive-video treatment to an unexpected new product: an expensive coffee-table book full of photos of devices he designed.
Lastly—and from just earlier this month—here’s Ive helping to introduce the upcoming new Mac Pro, the great-great-grandchild of 1999’s Power Mac G3. The video is simultaneously more minimalist and lavish than the G3 one, and looks like it was produced on a budget about a billion times higher. You don’t need to see Ive—who is just a voiceover—to know that’s him talking about the new machine’s “absolute flexibility and uncompromising utility.” Even the on-screen identification feels superfluous.
Though Ive is leaving Apple, his influence on its products may be far from over: The company will be a client of LoveFrom, his new design consultancy. But he will surely retire from his duties as video pitchman, which means that this new Mac Pro teaser might be the last time we’ll ever hear that voice in this context.
Confession time: Whenever I’ve attended an Apple launch and the company has played one of these videos, I’ve gotten a little itchy. “Why show up to a live event to watch something so canned?,” I’ve thought to myself. Still, now that I know that Ive’s pre-taped appearances are history, I will miss them. Here’s hoping he doesn’t slip entirely behind the scenes now that his keynote duties are coming to an end.