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Apple CEO triggered by reports of design decline

Apple watch 4

When Apple’s famous head of design decided to call it a day last week, there was widespread speculation around what may have caused such a move.

The most Juicy gossip came from the Wall Street Journal, which wrote a piece contending that Jony Ive started the process of clearing off long ago and that it was motivated, at least in part, by CEO Tim Cook’s relative disinterest in the design process. This in turn demoralised Ive who, according to the account, became an increasingly distant figure at Apple Towers.

Tim Cook has always been known as an operations specialist with a particular talent for managing an efficient supply chain. Since he took over from the more creative, mercurial Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2011, these talents have ensured the company has gone from strength to strength in terms of revenue and profitability, but there has always been speculation that this has come at the expense of innovation.

The last truly disruptive move from Apple came with the launch of the iPad in 2010, but it looks like Ive was hoping the Apple Watch launch in 2015 would be a similar inflection point. While Apple has flogged quite a few of them and doubtless trousered a pile of cash in the process, there’s very little that differentiates the Apple Watch from its competitors and the category itself has failed to set the technology world on fire.

So it’s easy to see why a narrative that contends innovation at Apple is being suffocated with him in charge might trouble Cook somewhat, which seems to be confirmed by his response to the WSJ piece. Uncharacteristically he publicly took issue with the story via a statement sent to NBC News, in which he asserted it was at odds with his own perception.

“The story is absurd,” wrote Cook. “A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality. At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works. It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don’t recognize the company it claims to describe.”

Grizzled Journalists soon recognised this as the kind of non-specific denial companies often send out when they want to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a story without calling out any specific inaccuracies. Cook is essentially saying he disagrees with the conclusions but then he would, wouldn’t he?

Ive’s departure doesn’t seem to have done Apple’s share price any harm, but it does increase the pressure on the company to prove it can still be a consumer technology trailblazer without him. While Apple hasn’t shown much evidence of that for a while, its lack of differentiation was largely put down to the maturity of the smartphone form factor and the openness of the component supply chain. If Apple still hasn’t invented anything revolutionary in a few years’ time, people now might pin the blame on Cook.


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