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WSJ: Jony Ive intimately involved with Apple Watch development, drifted away and missed meetings

The Wall Street Journal has published new reporting on the backstory of Jony Ive’s gradual departure from the Apple. The report says Ive pushed for the company to make the Apple Watch, despite disagreement from other executives, and dived into watch development meetings with the design team almost every day before it launched.

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

The Journal’s timeline largely mirrors the sentiment of what Bloomberg reported the day after the news broke that Apple’s famed designer would be leaving the company to form his own independent design firm with Apple as a client.

The latest 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 while 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 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 making conclusive decisions. Ive had apparently promised software design groups that he would hold “design weeks” every month, but was rarely in attendance.

jony ive leaving apple

Jony Ive after a recent Apple keynote

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 necessary 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 however.

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 Apple’s leadership pyramid. Now, the two design VPs named to replace Ive will report to COO Jeff Williams, not directly to CEO Tim Cook.

That being said, Ive’s gradual disconnect was starting to sound like a hindrance, with decisions left hanging in 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.

Other details included in the piece include the shortcomings of Jony Ive’s pet project with the $10,000+ Apple Watch Edition, which reportedly largely went unsold with only about 10 million watches total shipped in year one, or a quarter of what Apple expected according to WSJ.

The company sold about 10 million units in the first year, a quarter of what Apple forecast, a person familiar with the matter said. Thousands of the gold version went unsold.

The Journal report even touches on Apple’s failed AirPower charging mat project, which was publicly announced in 2017 and killed in 2019:

The AirPower charging pad was supposed to arrive in 2018. Mr. Ive had imagined the product as a dresser-top catchall for Apple devices, but engineering tests found it behaved more like a dorm-room hot plate, heating up loose change and failing to evenly recharge devices.

Read the full story over at The Wall Street Journal, and read more of our coverage of Jony Ive’s exit below:

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Avatar for Benjamin Mayo Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.