We already know what the post-Jony Ive era looks like
July 16, 2022 July 16, 2022
Welcome to our regular collection of all the Apple news you missed this week, in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
The long goodbye
This week Apple reportedly cut all ties with design legend Jony Ive. But one could be forgiven for thinking he left the company quite a long time ago: Ive handed in his aluminum badge and gun back in 2019, and has since been working with Apple on a freelance consultancy basis. Exactly how much has he designed in those three years? Well, now, there’s the question.
One theory, argued persuasively by 9to5Mac this week, is that Ive’s consultancy agreement was only ever a PR fiction designed to appease shareholders. Ive, the site reckons, essentially checked out back in 2015, at least as far as consumer products were concerned; he had grown bored with the pressures and repetitiveness of looking at iPhone prototypes week in and week out, and wanted to leave to spend more time back in England. Tim Cook bought some time by giving him a promotion and letting him work on fun new projects–namely Apple Park and new Apple Store designs–but members of his team had to step up and take over day-to-day management responsibilities.
By the time 2019 rolled around it was therefore operationally easy to manage without Sir Jony. But how would that look? What was required was a high-profile arrangement to give the appearance of continuity for the benefit of easily spooked shareholders. Don’t worry, everyone. Jony is still on the payroll. Everything is fine.
This theory was largely vindicated by the appearance this week of a neatly timed and fluffy GQ interview with Evans Hankey and Kate Bergeron, two of the hitherto little-known design leads who took over from Ive in 2019 (officially) and very likely earlier (in reality). In between gushing about the brilliance of the MacBook Air redesign, GQ notes casually that “Having taken charge of Apple’s product design following Jony Ive’s departure from the company in 2019, Hankey has been responsible for the look and feel of all of its devices since–from the iPhone to the AirPods.” So what was the $100 million agreement with Jony Ive all about, then?
The fact is that industrial design is an uneasy mixture of teamwork and individualism. You need a gifted and collaborative team for the actual designing, but you need a charismatic individual to sell the idea of the designs. As humans we want to attach artistic endeavour to a single genius, not a committee. Which is why Sir Jony’s sombre white-room monologues were such a key part of Apple’s 2010s hardware launches: Apple told us this was art, not commerce, and here is the artist himself.
A glance at Apple’s product portfolio from 2019 to 2022 shows the company is in safe hands, design-wise. (Not everything has been perfect, of course, but that’s true about any era.) But there is a larger question about perception. Who will fill the genius gap left first by Steve Jobs, and now by Jony Ive? With Tim Cook perceived as a logistical safe pair of hands and Craig Federighi focused on software, who will customers focus on as the hardware stardust-sprinkler in chief?
Maybe that person is Hankey or Bergeron or Alan Dye, who replaced Ive as VP of human interface design. Or maybe it’s someone we haven’t met yet. But whomever it is, Apple has been preparing for their arrival for a long time.
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