WSJ: Jony Ive was intimately involved with Apple Watch development, slowly drifted away after Watch shipped, sometimes not turning up to meetings

Late Sunday, the Wall Street Journal has posted their profile of Jony Ive’s gradual departure from the company. The report says Ive pushed for Apple to make the Apple Watch, despite disagreement from other executives, and dived into watch development meeting with the design team almost every day.

However, after the Watch shipped, the report describes how Ive began to drift away from the company, stalling processes and sometimes not turning up to meetings, frustrating the teams who had worked hard to get materials ready for approval.

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The Journal’s timeline largely mirrors the sentiment of what Bloomberg reported the day after the news broke.

The report says the intent of Jony Ive’s promotion to Chief Design Officer in 2015 was to leave him with less day-to-day management responsibilities. However, the design team “craved” his input and the new leadership in the form of Alan Dye and Richard Howarth did not commandeer the same respect.

Members of the human interface and industrial design teams viewed approval from their new leaders as merely tentative. “They still wanted Jony’s thumbs-up to go forward,” this person said.

After the watch shipped, the Wall Street Journal report describes Ive’s enthusiasm appearing to wane from the perspective of employees under him, even to the point of not showing up for meetings, or showing up many hours late but still not make conclusive decisions. Ive had apparently promised software design groups that he would hold “design weeks” every month, but was rarely in attendance.

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One particular anecdote describes frictions of developing the radically-new gestural interface for iPhone X.

For the January 2017 meeting at the Battery, Apple security escorted prototypes up from headquarters in an airtight, Pelican case. The team presented a multitude of features for Mr. Ive’s approval, including how to transition from lock screen to home screen.

Pressure was on to finalize features before for the phone’s autumn unveiling. Team members were disappointed Mr. Ive failed to give them the guidance they needed.

“It was rough development cycle,” said one person at the meetings.

Apple CEO Tim Cook apparently asked Ive to restore his day-to-day responsibilities in 2017, which ultimately resulted in another reorganization of the VP-level and a lot of public press implying that ‘Jony was back’. However, the Wall Street Journal report says it didn’t take long for Ive to become disconnected again, amplified by trips to the UK to visit his sick father.

It seems like most of the design team were unaware of Ive’s departure until the Thursday briefings.

On Thursday, Mr. Ive convened the user interface and industrial designers in their new, unified workspace at Apple Park. He explained he was leaving and answered questions. The intimate event felt like a family gathering and was a fitting way for the design chief to say goodbye, said one person in attendance.

The sendoff may have been “a fitting way for the design chief to say goodbye” but Ive’s exit leaves big questions about Apple’s design future. In the past, the design group has been firmly rooted at the top of pyramid. Now, the two design VPs named to replace Ive will report to Jeff Williams, not the CEO.

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That being said, Ive’s gradual disconnect was starting to sound like a hindrance, with decisions left hanging the air. In this way, it is probably best that someone else is taking over. Earlier in the article, an employee is quoted as saying:

“Many of us were thinking: How did it come to this?” said a person at the meeting. There was a sense “Jony was gone but reluctant to hand over the reins.”

Many might be pleased the stalemate has at least been definitively broken. Read the full story over at the Wall Street Journal.

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