Jony Ive, Apple’s (AAPL) chief design officer and one of its most visionary figures for more than two decades, is stepping down. And the company’s long-standing dominance in technological design and innovation is suddenly in question.
“It’s a very, very significant loss. It’s the second-most significant transition for Apple after the death of Steve Jobs,” Starship Capital’s John Meyer told Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker.
Meyer, who was also one of the first 1,000 mobile app developers for the iPhone, is particularly worried about how Apple is handling the transition.
“What’s so crucial about this is not necessarily the fact that [Ive] is leaving. It’s actually the fact that Apple has decided not to fill this vacant position of chief design officer,” Meyer says. “They’re having the next-best person on the design staff actually report to Apple’s chief operating officer, which to me and many other folks in the Apple community, we see that as a pretty large concern for the company.”
Ive, who starting leading Apple’s design teams in 1996, has been instrumental in developing many of its most iconic products — including the iPhone, iPod, iMac, and MacBook Air. Ive will soon launch his own independent design firm called FromLove — locking in Apple as his first client.
From innovator to follower?
The news has some questioning how well Apple is positioned to navigate such a crossroads.
“What’s going to be a key indicator to watch is around how Apple is creating completely new categories of product or software with the design work they’ve done,” according to Meyer. “I think the worry is that Apple will be following the majority of the industry, rather than ‘skating to where the puck is going’ — to use those famous words that Steve Jobs actually used back in the day.”
Critics have raised doubts about the strength of Apple’s product pipeline and innovation even before Ive announced his departure. Apple CEO Tim Cook has strenuously pushed back against them. At the company’s annual shareholding meeting earlier this year, Cook assured investors that Apple is rolling the dice on future products that will “blow you away.”
But recent Apple product problems — such as a series of battery and keyboard issues for the MacBook Pro — leave people like Meyer feeling unassured. “It’s simple examples like this that I worry will happen even more with no one on the executive team at the design helm,” he says.
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Nick Robertson is a senior producer at Yahoo Finance.