Jony Ive and the future of Apple

Jony Ive Jony Ive was born and lived in the UK before joining Apple in 1992

Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is an extraordinary achievement. As well as a compelling portrait of an often obnoxious genius, he gives us a lively history of the development of consumer technology over the last three decades in which two very different philosophies, open and closed, battle for supremacy in a contest which is still undecided.

But what also caught my eye was one of the supporting cast, a man who was probably second only to Steve Jobs in restoring Apple's fortunes after the co-founder's return to the company.

The British designer Jony Ive has been the man behind the look of the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and iPad - and everything else that has come out of Apple in the last 15 years, right down to the packaging in which each product was presented.

Like all of Apple's executives, he has hardly ever spoken at an event that is not a product launch, though I did catch him being interviewed at the Royal College of Art a couple of years ago. Now this book brings him out into the light a little more.

We knew that Jobs and Ive were close - he often featured in those famous keynotes, taking an iPhone call from the boss, or explaining on video the design principles behind the iPad.

In the biography Jobs confirms how vital the younger man has been: "If I had a spiritual partner at Apple it's Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together... he has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except for me."

But, despite a closeness which saw Ive as one of the few at his boss's sickbed right near the end, what also emerges is a good deal of resentment on the part of the designer.

Isaacson says that Ive was upset that Jobs took too much credit for the ideas behind the products.

"I pay maniacal attention to where an idea comes from, and I even keep notebooks filled with my ideas," he tells the author. "So it hurts when he takes credit for one of my designs."

Ideas for the future

But it is also clear that a man described as having the sensitive temperament of an artist is no pushover.

His obsessive focus on getting products to look the way he wanted, no matter what the impact on cost and manufacturing time, led to frequent clashes with Apple's hardware chief Jon Rubinstein.

And when Jony Ive told Jobs to choose between the two of them, it was Rubinstein who ended up leaving the company.

iPod "1,000 songs in your pocket"

Which all begs the question, is Jony Ive now the force that will keep Apple "thinking different"?

He appears to be a much less charismatic - and far nicer - individual than Steve Jobs, gently coaxing ideas out of colleagues, rather than hurling abuse at them.

But he does have the same total confidence in his own feel for where Apple and its products are heading, and what consumers will want.

It is Tim Cook, a man with neither the monstrous ego of Steve Jobs nor the artistic sensitivity of Jony Ive, who has taken over as CEO.

A master of logistics, he has already been in charge for long periods during Jobs' sick leave and the company has kept forging ahead. From now on, a big part of Mr Cook's job will be to prove he can work well with his vice president of industrial design.

Walter Isaacson says Ive bristled when outsiders portrayed Jobs as the only ideas guy at Apple - "that makes us vulnerable as a company."

But having lost a man who was brilliant at visualising the future - and at taking credit for the ideas of his subordinates - Apple's board will want to make sure its other ideas guy stays on board for some time to come.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    What's wrong with all these people moaning that Rory happens to be covering something about Apple? Or is it that he doesn't happen to be criticising something about the company or their products? It seems the only news they want covered about Apple is negative news.

    Face it - Apple have a huge influence on the tech industry and most things they do end up propagating to the rest of the industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    To all of the people bitching about Rory choosing to write an article about the greatest designer this country has ever produced and his relationship with the second richest company in the world - the clue is in the title guys - if you aren't interested don't read it.
    Totally unfair to Rory because he goes out of his way to be even- handed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Taking credit for the ideas of subordinates?

    Anyone who has worked for a living knows that a large number of people who rise to the top have indestructible self believe and continually take credit. They feel its their right, they feel often that without their guidance and vision it would not have happened.

    In many cases they are right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Production engineering appears to be the area where Apple is weakest relative to other companies - four of the five computers I've owned which died in service were Macs (and the fifth was 15 years old)

    Apple seems to think you can bolt production engineering on afterwards. But it really has to be there from day one. To this extent, Mr Ive would seem to be part of the problem, not the solution

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    A blog which was not public wouldn't really work, now would it?
    The whole purpose of a blog is that it reflects the author's own interests. They tend to provoke more controversy than a news report (which should always be un-biased) would. This is not meant to be "news" per se. You may argue that the BBC should not be funding a blog, but you can't demand what that blogger should write about.


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