Thank you Jony Ive

Sat Jul 20, 2019

Unless you move in astoundingly different circles than I do, you will have heard by now that Jonathan Ive is leaving Apple. I must admit, the news took me by surprise. I’ve long taken it for granted that Apple’s products were essentially Jony’s products - meticulously fussed over and shepherded into existence by one of the greatest - if not the greatest - industrial designers of our time.

In their press release, Apple emphasized that he’ll still be working with Apple as an independent consultant. But, given Apple’s closed-off monastic work culture, this overture seems nothing more than an empty gesture to appease the stock market.

The reality is, after a 27-year tenure, Ive is out. He is gracefully leaving Apple behind and handing the reins of design-team leadership to others.

The ripples from Ive’s decision surfaced some predictably snarky reporting, but I don’t really want to get into it. For a more measure take on Jony’s departure, check out Mathew Panzarino’s piece.

Far from being a deity, Jony is a flawed human being, just like all of us, and certainly just as Steve Jobs was. I may, for instance, never forgive a snobbish Jony for calling my Toyota Echo “baffling” and “insipid”. But I’ll never cease to be amazed by his focus and his commitment to the design process.

If there is one trait that exemplifies not only Jony’s design philosophy, but his entire life, it is this: perseverance.

Jony Ive started at Apple in 1992 and by all accounts was largely undervalued and unnoticed. He could have moved on to a better opportunity after a couple of years (just as most Millennials do these days). But he didn’t.

Had Jony quit, he would never have met Steve Jobs. Think about that for a second. If Jony hadn’t persevered through five frustrating years at a company that was in the toilet, the dream team that created the iPhone and iPad together may never have happened.

I’m sure many rivals tried to poach Jony away over the years, but Ive was committed to patiently building a company where he could do the work he wanted to do.

And he did it. Apple started to put design first above all else. It was his design team - not engineering, not sales - that had all the power at Apple. At this point in his career, Jony could dispense with politics and fully immerse himself in the design process.

As the years went by, Jony’s designs lost the playfulness and colour of his youth and matured into an austere and simple aesthetic. Some say his designs grew colder. But cold can be beautiful, as an ice sculpture is cold but pristine, elegant, and precise.

He has been criticized for taking his design philosophy too far and elevating form over function. When you are obsessed, for example, with making something as thin and light as possible, there are consequences. But where others see stubbornness, I see perseverance.

Jony has always played the long game. The ultimate goal for any object in his care is to reduce it down to its basic essence. Jony bides his time, making incremental changes every year until the object reaches its ideal form. He holds to the ideal religiously, and does not waver until there is no more left to do.

Which is why I believe that Jony must have done it.

Notch watch

Jony would never give up on his vision for an unblemished iPhone just as he was so tantalizingly close. Somewhere in the product pipeline is Ive’s magnum opus - an iPhone with a true edge-to-edge display. His last gift to the Apple faithful.

The under-display technology brewing in China right now is starting to boil. In the last segment of Notch Watch, I highlighted Xiaomi’s efforts. Not to be outdone, Oppo hosted an event at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai to show off their under-screen camera technology.

If Apple sticks with Face ID, then nothing is going to happen. But some rumours have been swirling about Apple bringing a full-screen version of Touch ID that would work anywhere on the display to a 2020 phone. It’s a stretch, but what if this revamped Touch ID tech were paired with an under-display camera? By this time next year, I am sure the rumour fire will be hot enough to illuminate what’s coming. For now, it’s all fanciful speculation.

Thank you sir

Jony, even though that OnePlus 7 Pro is looking really good right now, I’m going to trust you - please don’t let me down.

But even if you do let me down, I can’t be mad at you. You’ve taught us much about the value of curiosity and tenacity in the face of despair. When it comes to overcoming obstacles and achieving your goals, there is no greater lesson.

Never bend. Never give up. If you are facing hair loss, there’s no shame in sporting the shaved-head look (Oh yeah, I actually wrote an article about this and I really should have added Jony to The bald and the beautiful list but what a ridiculous tangent, sorry).

Finally, I’d like to thank you Sir Ive for bringing beauty and artistry to industrial design and for lessons learned along the way. I wish you all the best - Apple just won’t be the same without you.

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