Apple’s Minimalist Ive Assumes Jobs’s Role for Design
As Jony Ive worked on early iPhone designs before and since its 2007 introduction, he regularly held meetings in his design studio to get input from top Apple Inc. (AAPL) executives -- except one: Scott Forstall.
Even as Forstall oversaw the group responsible for the software that would run the iPhone, he didn’t participate in the meetings, according to people with knowledge of the matter who requested anonymity because the meetings were private. Ive and Forstall were rarely in the same room, the people said.
Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook made a choice between the two men this week, forcing out Forstall and leaving Ive in charge of the look and function of the software running everything from the iPod Touch to the top-of-the-line Mac. Ive will now be free to impart his minimalist aesthetic on familiar services such as the iPhone operating system while making commands more compatible from one product to the next. He will probably move away from using icons that look like real-world products, such as Post-It Notes and leather-bound contact books.
Still, with a background mainly in hardware, Ive could also struggle to adapt to the demands of managing software interfaces, which are typically revamped once a year and undergo many smaller changes in between, said former colleagues such as Brett Halle.
“This makes a lot of sense, in terms of getting consistency of the user experience,” said Halle, a 21-year Apple veteran who worked on operating systems before his departure in March. “I’m concerned only as to whether he has enough experience to understand the complexity of the software side of this.”
Clashes between Forstall and other senior managers since Jobs’s death a year ago had made it harder for teams to work together, threatening Apple’s ability to keep producing the kinds of electronics that made it the most valuable company.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was able to keep the executives’ long-simmering tension under control. Cook made the final decision to revamp management after Forstall refused to sign a public apology for the mishandling of mapping software, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Forstall and Ive didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Ive, 45, takes on the role Jobs held of setting Apple’s design vision, with responsibility for a group within Apple called Human Interface, which had been run by Forstall before he was pushed out. Ive shares the attention to detail and perfectionistic zeal that characterized both Jobs and Forstall.
Yet he contrasts with Forstall in key ways. Forstall was a polished presenter who enjoyed the limelight at Apple keynotes. Ive made rare appearances, preferring instead to appear in videos about the making of the product of the day.
Forstall was also the most divisive member of Apple’s executive team, people who worked with him told Bloomberg Businessweek last year.
Supporters admire Forstall’s ability to manage massive technical complexity while pushing his team to innovate. Critics said he was overly concerned with empire building and pushing through favored features while blocking other teams’ ideas. British-born Ive is known for his deliberate, careful choice of words, and for crediting members of his team while minimizing his own role in development of products.
“Jonathan understands that design is a collaborative process,” said William Parkhurst, a former designer at Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) who has known Jobs and Forstall since they all worked together at NeXT Computer Inc. “A design manager would not try to exert his influence too much, because they know the goodness that comes out of collaboration. You shouldn’t have an idea at the beginning of what a product is supposed to be.”
Effective as both executives are, Ive and Forstall didn’t get along, said former Apple employees. Just as Forstall didn’t go to Ive’s product-review meetings, neither did Ive attend Forstall’s, one of these people said. While that hardware- software divide has long been the norm at Apple, Cook is trying to create more collaboration with Ive’s promotion.
Forstall’s departure creates a void in Apple’s software capabilities. He was an early advocate for creating the iOS mobile software platform, and has overseen an engineering team that is among the largest and most prolific at Apple, with an annual release cycle that includes hundreds of new features.
Ive’s industrial design group works differently. With fewer than 20 members, it works out of view of the rest of the company in a design studio, perfecting hardware that is often updated annually or less frequently.
“It’s really hard and a very good question is, ‘What does this mean for Apple’s release schedule?,’” said Matt Drance, a former Apple software evangelist. “You could argue both directions: you could say they need to keep moving fast because of the competition or you could say it needs to chill out and focus on quality.”
The differences between the two teams may present challenges for Ive as he tries to rally employees behind his design vision. Following the news of Forstall’s departure, some engineers are questioning Ive’s ability to lead software design, according to a former senior Apple developer who has been in touch with his colleagues.
This person compares the switch to Michael Jordan’s ill- fated move from professional basketball to minor-league baseball. While both sports require good eyesight and athletic ability, they entail starkly different skills.
Forstall had inspired intense loyalty among many of the critical engineers who churn out the iOS iPhone and iPad software upgrades each year. His staff was blindsided by the firing, and even his assistant was caught by surprise, people with knowledge of the matter said.
A big risk for Cook is that losing Forstall may quash the tension that has helped drive Apple forward.
“If there’s no creative friction, you can become middling,” Parkhurst said.
Forstall lost his biggest supporter when Jobs died last year. After working for Jobs for his whole career, he was asked by the then CEO in the first half of the last decade to lead the secret development of the iPhone’s software. Jobs entrusted Forstall with one of Apple’s most important projects because of his technical acumen and ability to get things done.
In testimony during a patent trial between Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. this year, Forstall smilingly recalled long-night coding sessions and the smell of pizza that characterized the “dorm” environment.
“In 2004, when we decided to build the iPhone, Steve knew there were a lot of people that were going to have to be involved, a lot of groups, so he put different people in charge of each of the groups,” Forstall said in court testimony. “I was put in charge of all the software.”
In the months after Jobs’s death, turf wars began to break out as executives jockeyed for control, according to people who worked at Apple at the time.
Forstall’s team was particularly insular, and aggressive about pursuing its own goals, said Halle, who ran the team that built much of the common operating software inside Macs and the mobile devices. He said that Forstall often was uninterested in making improvements that would benefit other group’s products.
“Scott wasn’t supportive of melding” the Mac operating system with the mobile operating system initially, Halle said. “He just didn’t care.”
Cook’s reorganization leaves Ive in a position to put his stamp on every aspect of what customers experience when they use Apple products, from the shape and color of a device to the fonts and on-screen layout of software buttons and icons.
Software design is increasingly crucial, said Thomas Meyerhoffer, a former member of Apple’s industrial design team.
“The interface is becoming more and more important,” he said. “You are interacting with your fingers, so what happens on the software side makes the experience an excellent one -- or just a good one.”
The Human Interface team has a studio in the same building as industrial design, and it too is off limits to almost all employees. The team’s influence outstrips its size of about 20.
Ive doesn’t have official control of all Apple’s software. Eddy Cue was given charge of the Siri digital-voice assistant and Apple’s mapping software, which has been beset by glitches. Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, will now be responsible for building and maintaining both MacOS and the iOS mobile software.
Still, the HI team makes the software layer that governs how the products look and how customers actually use and manipulate the various programs.
One of Ive’s biggest challenges will be helping reinvigorate once groundbreaking user interfaces that some reviewers and critics say have become mundane.
“There have been some signs of aspects of Apple’s UI losing its way,” said Robert Brunner, a former head of Apple’s design team who hired Ive in 1992. “Between Jony’s drive and design sense, he can get things back in line.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at email@example.com