Apple, Companies, Opinion

Opinion: Losing Jony Ive Would Be a Disaster for Apple

Earlier today we told you about a newspaper report asserting that Jonathan Ive, Apple’s go-to guy for sexy industrial design, is allegedly at odds with the company’s board of directors over his wish to move back to England and commute to work so his twins can receive an education in their native country.

The board told him "in no uncertain terms that if he headed back to England he would not be able to sustain his position with them," a friend with the family told the paper. Say Jony Ive, as those around him affectionately call him, decides to sell stock, which would net him an estimated $128 million, and leaves Apple to pursue his career in England.

If you ask me, that would go down in history as nothing short of a catastrophe for the consumer electronics giant. It’s not like Ive hasn’t groomed capable individuals who could fill his shoes, quite the opposite. After all, the talented Briton didn’t just pull concepts for sexy gadgets out of thin air – it’s always been a collective work of a team of talented designers headed by him.

Apple could keep him as an outside advisor and tap his creativity for the designs of important products, such as the new iPhone or iPad. That wouldn’t be a problem for any other company, but Apple is no ordinary company and their product development certainly isn’t committee-driven. In fact, Apple’s must-have products have all been developed by making the design process the center stage of everything the company does rather than limit it to the product’s appearance, color and eventually packaging.

Who is Jonathan Ive? Most fans and haters alike would agree that Ive, 43 – alongside Steve Jobs who is currently on an indefinite medical leave of absence – has been instrumental in Apple’s resurgence as the world’s most valued technology company. The modest and shy Britton, always careful to credit the entire design team at Apple rather than himself, is arguably the most influential industrial designer in the world. Particularly obsessed with materials, he has been repeatedly hailed for putting sexiness back into Apple products. His input is said to go beyond the looks of a product and include the specifics such as user interfaces, interaction modes and the philosophy behind products. named him as a possible successor should Steve Jobs for any reason choose to step down, the notion echoed by MacUser’s Dan Moren who opined that Ive "embodies what Apple is perhaps most famous for: design." Ive all but fell victim of Steve Jobs’ wrath when heads rolled upon Jobs’ return at Apple’s helm in 1997. Jobs had been shopping for a designer around the world at the time before finding Ive stuck in a basement. Having an uncanny eye for talent, he had immediately recognized Ive’s talent. The two men immediately hit the ground running, having struck a highly productive partnership that would result in smash hits like the original iMac, iPod, iPhone, MacBooks.

In fact, literally all of Apple products released over the course of past thirteen years bear Jobs’ seal of approval and Ive’s unmistakable signature design language. It wasn’t just business – a true friendship has developed between the two geniuses who share common aspirations, painstaking attention to detail and a sense of what the design process entails.

Various reports describe a symbiotic relationship between Ive and Jobs. NPR says Apple employees refer to the two men as Jives "because they are so close. Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac’s editor-in-chief and the author of Inside Steve’s Brain book thinks Ive has played a critical role in turning the products that Jobs envisioned into reality. Ive shared stage time with Jobs at Apple’s public events on several occasions and the company has been featuring him prominently alongside other top engineers in promotional videos accompanying product launches on a regular basis.

And at the iPhone 4 unveiling last summer, Jobs’ "one more thing" involved a real-time FaceTime chat with Ive, whom Jobs referred to as "one of my best friends in the whole world." Scrub to mark 1:29:20 in the below clip for that moment. If there’s any substance to this story, in times when a lot of uncertainty surrounds Jobs well-being and his return to the full CEO capacity being anything but certain, losing a critical asset like Ive might make Apple more vulnerable than ever before.