Analysts think that Jony Ive's departure is a sign that one of Tim Cook’s top lieutenants is becoming even more powerful (AAPL)


Jony Ive

  • Apple chief design officer Jony Ive will be leaving the company this year, the company announced on Thursday.
  • But some analysts say it’s not Ive’s departure, but the new role of the firm’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams, that could have broader implications for the company’s future.
  • Analysts don’t seem worried about how this might impact Apple’s future product development, considering Ive had stepped back from daily responsibilities to focus on Apple Park in the past, as Bloomberg reported.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Apple’s famed design chief Jony Ive announced on Thursday that he would leave the company to launch his own design firm — a firm which will count Apple as one of its clients. The departure marks the end of an era for Apple as it loses the design legend that has been at the helm of its design efforts through some of its most iconic product launches, from the iMac to the iPhone and the Apple Watch.

But some analysts say it’s not Ive’s departure, but the new responsibilities that fall under Apple’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams, that might say more about the company’s direction. Apple’s design team leaders — Alan Dye, vice president of human interface design, and Evans Hankey, vice president of industrial design, will now report to Williams, a 20-year-plus veteran of the company who has led worldwide operations for all Apple products since 2010.

“Fundamentally, whoever runs design is involved deeply in product, and product is at the heart of the company,” said Horace Dediu, founder of consulting firm Asymco. 

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Giving Williams a critical role in Apple’s design process while he continues to oversee operations could be an indicator that he’s being considered as a potential successor to Cook as the firm’s chief executive, says Dediu, who also emphasized that this is purely speculation. Regardless, the move has only given Williams — an already crucial figure within the company that’s been called “Tim Cook’s Tim Cook,” even more influence within Apple.  

“I think that’s to be determined,” says Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, on the possibility of Williams one day replacing Cook as CEO. “[Williams has been] given an opportunity to do more, but a decision has not been made. I think this is a long process, step two of 50.”

Jeff Williams

It’s hard to say what the extent of Ive’s involvement in Apple’s upcoming products will be, but Cook said in a statement that the company will work with him on “exclusive projects” moving forward. It’s also unclear what the last products developed at Apple under Ive’s leadership will be.

Tom Forte, senior research analyst at D.A. Davidson, says the earliest we would see a new Apple product, developed from start to finish after Ive’s formal departure, could be 2021. Dediu estimates more conservatively that it could be between 3 and 5 years. 

Although Ive has been deeply influential at Apple, some analysts have agreed that the company’s product design won’t suffer from Ive’s absence. 

“They’re less dependent on one individual to be the vision for the future of the company,” said Forte. “Cook should deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Since Ive had been heavily involved in the construction of Apple Park over the past several years, he had already stepped back from the firm’s day-to-day design duties, as Bloomberg reported. “My view is that we’ve already seen a post-Jony Ive [Apple],” said Munster. 

But that likely won’t stop industry watchers and critics from scrutinizing Apple’s products under the new leadership structure following Ive’s departure. Even so, criticism is nothing new for Apple.

“Every single product has been criticized as being a complete disaster no matter how great or mediocre [it is],” said Dediu. “It’s always been scrutinized. I don’t think that will change.” 

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