As the first company ever to be valued at a trillion dollars last year, Apple inevitably attracts a great deal of commentary about it’s future direction and potential strategic challenges. It is unsurprising then that the departure of its chief design officer, Jony Ive, has prompted some people to question the impact it will have on the Cupertino-based business. He is the man who won over decades of Apple fans with sleek design and incomparable usability is leaving after 27 years after all, having brought to life some of the world’s most iconic designs, including the iPhone, iPod and the original iMac.
Apple has been adamant that it will still benefit from Jony’s talent. In fact, his new venture, a creative business called LoveForm, has already signed on Apple as its first client.
Jony, who was knighted by the Queen in 2012, has been at Apple since Steve re-joined in 1997. He’s a big part of the reason almost all phones are now singular slabs and why it was so difficult to tell other tablets apart from the iPad for such a long time. He was the design lead not just for Apple but for the whole industry. Jony adamantly believed that “It’s very easy to make something that is new. So, we are trying to make things that are better.”
The iMac G3 relaunched Apple and cemented Jony Ive’s design leadership at Apple. The innovative all-in-one computer – built around a 15-inch display – was the brainchild of both Jony and Steve. The device, which initially came in a single blue translucent colour at $1,299 and received 150,000 preorders prior to its 1998 launch, was a huge success.
While the iMac saved the company, the iPod made Apple a household name. Launched in 2001, it was a design classic taking inspiration from the iconic Braun T3 pocket radio complete with rotating scroll wheel control. However, it wasn’t until 2004, four generations later, that the iPod came to dominate portable music.
On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone at the Macworld convention. The wide-screen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet device receiving substantial media attention. It was rare enough for a company to shake up even one product category. Apple had already revolutionised two. With the iPhone they disrupted for three. By 2017, Apple has sold more than one billion iPhones worldwide.
Work on the iPad traces back to 2004, when Jonathan and his team crafted a new tablet prototype. The product was originally supposed to ship before the iPhone, but the company came to decide that a revolution in mobile phone technology was much more important. Finally, in January 2010, Steve at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco creating a tsunami of anticipation and scepticism.
A ‘deeply tired’ Jony’s involvement at Apple began to taper off after the watch’s 2015 launch. But thanks in no small part to the genius of his design team, the company grew to become one of the world’s most profitable and highly valued companies, worth almost $1 trillion in 2018.
The design team at Apple has a lot of responsibility and wields a disproportionate amount of influence. It consisted of just a few dozen people out of an organisation that employs some 132,000 staff. Yet the team defines not only a product’s appearance but how its software looks and feels, how it responds to gestures, even how devices gently vibrate to give users haptic feedback.
In recent years, Jony’s design expertise has extended beyond crafting Apple’s devices. He helped former retail chief Angela Ahrendts overhaul its stores, from fixtures such as its tree-lined “Genius Groves”, down to simplifying product packaging.
Even more recently, he oversaw the company’s long-planned move to its new headquarters, Apple Park, which was first conceived with Jobs back in 2004 and designed in partnership with British architects Foster + Partners.
The earthquake resistant Apple park, which effectively completed his final collaboration with Jobs, was opened in early 2018.
Apple’s new headquarters was no small feat of design and ingenuity. It features four-story glass windows and a detached 1,000-person theatre for product announcements. It even generates its own electricity, powered by a solar-panel-covered roof.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, credited Ive with much of the work, “Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated, from 1998’s groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park,”
With the departure of its longstanding design guru, what’s next for Apple? An answer might be found in its recent press conference devoted entirely to services – a first for the mostly hardware focused tech giant. Announcements at the event included Apple TV+, Apple News+, the Apple Arcade gaming service and a consumer-friendly Apple credit card.
In spite of the shift in focus, the partnership between Apple and LoveForm could mean that the “end of the Jobs era” is a long way off.