Apple’s design chief Jony Ive has received a big promotion: Now he’s the company’s Chief Design Officer.
But what if this change isn’t a promotion? What if it’s an exit path for the British designer that could see him travel back to England, spend more time with his family, and eventually leave Apple?
Many of the company’s closest followers aren’t seeing this as a promotion. Rather, they think it’s the end of a crucial era for Apple.
First, let’s look at what was actually announced. Ive is going to take up the newly created role of “Chief Design Officer,” which will see him hand over key managerial duties to other people.
Richard Howarth and Alan Dye are now going to run hardware and software design. As for Ive, he’s still going to oversee the design team, but will also focus on the design of the company’s stores as well as its new campus.
Apple announced Ive’s promotion in a strange way. It revealed the news to the world as part of an article by British entertainer Stephen Fry in The Telegraph newspaper. Fry is a well-known Apple fan, and can be relied upon to write nice, glowing articles about Apple (as he has done in the past). And The Telegraph is fast becoming one of Apple’s favoured news outlets. It was allowed to shadow Apple CEO Tim Cook when he made a surprise visit to an Apple Store in London.
The timing of the announcement is also interesting. Seth Weintraub, editor of 9to5Mac, makes this point: The news was announced on a federal holiday in the US (as well as a bank holiday in the UK). And the US stock market wasn’t open when the news was announced, so Apple avoided a sudden dip in its stock when traders saw the news.
This all points to a bigger change than a promotion. And if you read between the lines of Fry’s Telegraph article, you can guess at what’s really going on with Ive. “Jony will travel more,” it says. John Gruber, another veteran Apple writer, is suspicious of that statement. He says on his blog that he took it to mean that Ive could move to England with his family. Weintraub agrees, and points out that Ive nearly left Apple in 2011 to move back to England but instead decided to take a payout and stay on at Apple.
So let’s assume for a moment that Ive is moving back to England. What’s he going to do there? Well, the Telegraph says that Ive is still working with London architects Foster + Partners. And he could certainly oversee design from his home in England. He’ll also be closer to Apple’s giant new factory in Ireland (which is rumoured to be making the Apple Car), and his favourite London nightclub, Chiltern Firehouse.
Such a move to England could also spell the end of Ive’s time at Apple. Ive is now 48 years old, and has twin sons that he raises with his wife. He’s been a full-time Apple employee for 23 years, overseeing the design of the iPhone, MacBook and also his pet project, the Apple Watch. It could be the perfect time for Ive to step down from his day-to-day duties and raise the profile of other Apple designers.