Jonathan Ive is important. Very important. Anybody who has picked up an Apple product in the last 15 years is handling an item that Ive (and his incredibly talented team) modeled, nurtured, and refined down to the bevel angle of its edges. Other than Jobs, there is perhaps nobody who can take more credit for Apple’s magnificent re-birth in the last few decades. Anything I read on the reclusive Ive, however, makes me wonder: how much longer will we be treated to the magnificent creations of this Willy Wonka — Wilder, not Depp — of consumer tech?
This month’s The New Yorker features a lengthy article on Ive’s background, his boldest design accomplishments, and his history with Apple (and Jobs). But it also alludes to a number of instances when Ive might have been called away from his position as Apple’s Imagineer-in-chief for greener pastures. There’s a sense that, over time, Ive has become burdened by the unique and permanent impact he’s had on the modern world and how we interact with our “things”. One wonders if this reaction has in turn catalyzed his eventual stepping down from the throne of industrial design.
Clearly the loss of Jobs, a close personal friend to Ive, impacted his sense of identity within the Apple “Cosa Nostra” and must have brought departure considerations to the fore. But Apple survived, and Ive with it. Apple is now a new company with bigger aspirations than ever before, but does Ive consider himself a permanent player in the A.J. (after Jobs) era? Even Tim Cook appears unsure of Ive’s long-term involvement with the company: “I think Jony really loves Apple–loves being here and loves the product.” You think?
Ive seems to be an autonomous wunderkind operating within an aura of holiness made permanent by his knighting by Jobs (sorry Your Majesty). Even the way Ive’s design studio is isolated, seemingly a separate community within the Apple walls, would lend to a leader that does not see himself as an Apple designer, but as a designer within Apple.
Yet…Ive remains. We’re roughly one month from Apple Watch, a product that Ive had as much input on as any other recent Apple gizmo, and an Apple Car has now entered the rumor mill (vehicle design is an Ive passion cited in the article). Ive will likely have the freedom to stamp his seal of approval on as many future Apple creations as he deigns worthy. (Indeed, as of 2012 Ive was appointed Head of Human Interface which extends his influence to software and UI/UX.)
To my point: as undeniable as Ive’s brilliance may be, any apparent lack of enthusiasm for a future with Apple is certainly a concern. Jobs was compelling because he was clearly all in. His passion for world-changing products emanated from his pores and forced others to believe as well — the much discussed reality distortion field. Ive is a different character all together, as is his right, but is there a distance building? Or am I misinterpreting shyness for aloofness?
While Ive may be just as professionally excited about designing the perfect fork as he is about designing the car of the future, my hope is that he realizes the impact of his public presence (he surely does). Ive’s departure, or rumor mongering to that end, could easily send Apple stock plummeting (per the article, a 10% drop would equate to $71 billion). Perhaps more importantly, it would initiate the corrosion of Apple’s cool, an aura that Ive, Jobs, and their respective teams worked so hard to create.