homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Three Takes on Jony Ive Leaving Apple

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 28, 2019

The first is by John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes….

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.

Stratechery’s Ben Thompson argues that Apple is simply too big now to have a single tastemaker in charge:

Apple sold 278,000 iMacs its first full quarter on the market, 125,000 iPods its first full quarter on the market, and 1,119,000 iPhones its first full quarter on the market. Today Apple sells the same number of iPhones approximately every 11, 5, and 45 hours respectively. That requires a staggering amount of coordination between industrial design, manufacturing design, and operations. It simply isn’t feasible to have any one of these disciplines dictate to the others.

And yet, I understand Gruber’s angst. It is precisely that sort of dictatorship, first and foremost in the person of Steve Jobs, that made Apple, Apple. Again, though, I think Ive is in part a cautionary tale: he did his best work under Jobs, while the last few years have been more fraught from a design perspective; if Ive was not entirely up to the task of being the ultimate arbiter of all things Apple, who can be?

That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

At Vice, Jason Koebler argues against Ive’s design approach altogether:

[H]istory will not be kind to Ive, to Apple, or to their design choices. While the company popularized the smartphone and minimalistic, sleek, gadget design, it also did things like create brand new screws designed to keep consumers from repairing their iPhones.

Under Ive, Apple began gluing down batteries inside laptops and smartphones (rather than screwing them down) to shave off a fraction of a millimeter at the expense of repairability and sustainability.

It redesigned MacBook Pro keyboards with mechanisms that are, again, a fraction of a millimeter thinner, but that are easily defeated by dust and crumbs (the computer I am typing on right now—which is six months old—has a busted spacebar and ‘r’ key). These keyboards are not easily repairable, even by Apple, and many MacBook Pros have to be completely replaced due to a single key breaking. The iPhone 6 Plus had a design flaw that led to its touch screen spontaneously breaking—it then told consumers there was no problem for months before ultimately creating a repair program. Meanwhile, Apple’s own internal tests showed those flaws. He designed AirPods, which feature an unreplaceable battery that must be physically destroyed in order to open.

Ive’s Apple has been one in which consumers have been endlessly encouraged to buy new stuff and get rid of the old. The loser is the environment, and the winner is Apple’s bottom line. Apple has become famous for its design, and Ive has become famous, too. Let’s hope the next great consumer electronics designer is nothing like him.

If these three agree on nothing else, let their arguments show one thing: even Apple’s biggest fans really hate the past few generations of MacBook keyboards. I feel like I hated them (and had endemic problems with mine) before it was cool.