The biggest news in tech last week was that Apple’s superstar designer Jony Ive was leaving the company to start his own design firm. While the news was unexpected, it’s not clear how much Ive’s departure will affect the iPhone maker as he will continue designing for Apple via his new firm instead of being a direct employee of the company.
However, a report from the Wall Street Journal today says that while Ive’s departure became official last week, the man himself has been phoning it in at the company for years. Per the WSJ:
Few on the outside knew that for years, Mr. Ive had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership, say people close to the company. Mr. Jobs’s protégé—and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit—grew frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook.
Mr. Ive, 52, withdrew from routine management of Apple’s elite design team, leaving it rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened by a string of departures, people close to the company say.
Citing people close to Apple’s leadership and “conversations over more than a year with people who worked with [Ive]”, the WSJ says that after the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, Ive became “dispirited” as he envisioned the Watch to be a fashion accessory, while other Apple execs saw the device as an extension of the iPhone. Ive also reportedly “grew frustrated as Apple’s board became increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology or other areas of the company’s core business.”
That frustration, as well as work exhaustion and the unfortunate illness of his father in the U.K., led Ive to become more distant with designers and other employees at Apple, the WSJ reports:
[In 2015] Mr. Ive promised to hold a “design week” each month with the software designers to discuss their work. He rarely showed up.
Then before the iPhone X launch in 2017:
For the iPhone X model, Mr. Ive and other Apple leaders decided the phone would have no home button. The human interface team was asked to design software features that could return people to the home screen without it.
For the January 2017 meeting at the Battery, Apple security escorted prototypes up from headquarters in an airtight, Pelican case. The team presented a multitude of features for Mr. Ive’s approval, including how to transition from lock screen to home screen.
Pressure was on to finalize features before for the phone’s autumn unveiling. Team members were disappointed Mr. Ive failed to give them the guidance they needed.
“It was rough development cycle,” said one person at the meetings.
This phoning it in by Ive reportedly affected many on the design team at Apple:
At the industrial design team, Mr. Ive’s absence was straining the cohesion central to product development. A key designer left in 2017 and others were considering leaving.
In 2017, Mr. Cook met with Mr. Ive to discuss resuming day-to-day responsibilities. Mr. Ive agreed.
Initially, designers were encouraged. But his absences later resumed. He spent more time in the U.K., where his father has been ill.
Whether things will change at Apple now that Ive is working independently for the company remains to be seen. Both Apple and Ive have stated they will continue to work together for years to come, with the WSJ pointing out that Apple has agreed to pay his new firm, LoveFrom, “millions of dollars a year to continue to work with Apple.”