When Steve Jobs died, he left a gaping hole at the top of Apple.
No matter what you want to believe about Apple, there is no denying that Jobs was the keystone that held Apple together. It was his vision for what consumers would want that led the company’s success for 14 years.
With Jobs gone, Apple needed someone to fill the void. But Jobs’ talents were so outsize that no one person at Apple could do the job.
Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, suggested that Tim Cook and Jony Ive would equal Jobs. And for the most part, that’s what happened.
A year after Cook took over as CEO, he reorganized the company. Ive was elevated to lead Human Interface, which was in addition to his role leading the company’s Industrial Design group. In his new role Ive was responsible for the look of the software as well as the hardware. Apple’s products were now Ive’s products entirely.
From the outside, Ive’s ascension made perfect sense. Before he died, Jobs told his biographer, “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony.” Ive designed the colourful iMac that sparked Apple’s resurgence. He also designed the iPhone, the iPad, and numerous iterations of the Mac.
Ive has been deified in the media for his gorgeously austere products. He comes across as a polite, humble British man who has refined his craft.
But inside the company, Ive’s ascension has not been without controversy, says Yukari Kane, a former Apple beat reporter at The Wall Street Journal who just released a book titled “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs.“
Kane’s book has been critically attacked by the tech press and Apple. Kane believes Apple’s best days are behind it, and the tech press say Kane made her call far too early and that the book lacks the necessary evidence to support her conclusion.
Kane defended her book when she came to Business Insider for an interview. Her view, which perhaps wasn’t as well articulated as one might hope in her book, was that Apple is confronting big issues that would have been a challenge even if Jobs were still alive.
Without Jobs, it’s an even bigger challenge for Apple going forward. Kane doesn’t think there is one person with the authority that Jobs had.
“I think they’re trying to turn Jony Ive into [that person], but Jony doesn’t have the moral authority,” says Kane. “Jony is a much more controversial person internally than I think people know outside.”
In what way is Ive controversial?
“Just as a person,” says Kane. “The fact that he is probably, possibly the most brilliant designer of our time, that’s indisputable. But you know, just his ego, the lengths that he’s willing to go to protect his turf have not gone unnoticed inside Apple among people who have worked closely with him.”
Ive reportedly wouldn’t let Scott Forstall, the lead designer of iPhone software, into the design studio where Ive’s team created Apple’s products. Ive likewise wasn’t invited to Forstall’s product meetings. The two of them reportedly detested each other.
Eventually, Cook forced Forstall out of the company, choosing Ive over Forstall. But Forstall wasn’t the first executive to lose a power struggle with Ive.
Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s head of engineering, was forced out of Apple after butting heads with Ive. In that case, Jobs chose Ive over Rubinstein. Tony Fadell also reportedly didn’t get along with Ive, according to a biography of Ive.
In each of these cases, though, one could make the argument that Apple made the right decision. When Rubinstein left Apple, he landed at Palm as CEO. Palm ended up a failure. Forstall was the man responsible for Siri and Maps, two of the biggest mistakes at Apple in recent years.
As for Fadell, he’s had impressive success with Nest, a company that was sold to Google for $US3 billion. Still, Apple managed to do well when Fadell officially left the company in March 2010.
It makes sense that Ive was butting heads with people like Rubinstein, a hardware engineer. Ive is a designer. There’s a tension there. An engineer wants a designer to compromise his design to make it easier to make the product a reality. A designer has no patience for changing his or her design.
But even inside Ive’s design team, there is tension, says Kane. “The industrial design team is a true family in the sense in that it’s messy as well. It’s not this one happy family.” She says that just as Ive would get upset that so much credit accrued to Jobs, there are people at Apple who get upset that all the credit accrues to Ive.
“Even his friends will say that he’s always had a big ego. I think designers [and] creators will always have egos. For him to be as successful as he’s been, he has a huge ego,” says Kane.
None of this is particularly devastating for Ive, or for Apple. It would be more unusual if stories like this didn’t exist. You don’t rise to the level of almost-CEO at a company like Apple — which is filled with strong personalities — without causing some tension along the way. This is how the business world works.
And Kane admits that Ive’s desire to gain control isn’t simply about ego. It’s about trying to create an environment at Apple where he can do his best work without having to deal with a committee of people dictating his work.
“I mention Jony because he’s one of these people with this pristine reputation externally, and from a writer’s perspective he’s a wonderfully complex character, you know he’s not the one-dimensional really nice guy that’s egoless, that he’s sometimes portrayed as,” says Kane. “I do think he cares passionately about design and that his [office] politics don’t come from this personal … this need to aggrandize himself. I think his politics come from the desire to create an environment for himself and his team to elevate design above anything.”