Jony Ive Didn't Outgrow Apple--Apple Outgrew Jony Ive

A writeup in The Verge of a new book about how Apple changed after Steve Jobs died:

Ive was eager to portray the Watch like a fashion accessory, Mickle writes, and wanted to introduce it with the pomp and circumstance to match.

Ive eventually got his way but felt unsupported by the new regime at Apple. That was reportedly the beginning of the end. After years of reports that Ive was increasingly uninvolved in the company, he eventually left to found his own design firm, LoveFrom, in 2019.

Ive came from a time when Apple had to prove itself on a yearly basis. Its products had to be flashy to compete with better-specced beige boxed alternatives coming from PC makers. That’s why the original iMac and iBook, while less powerful, took off like rockets in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

Everything changed after 2007 when Apple released the iPhone and could no longer claim to be the underdog. Thanks to that little slab of glass, smartphones and the idea of “carrying the Internet in our pockets” became commonplace. Apple wasn’t a boutique computer company for the moderately wealthy anymore. They were more like Frigidaire and Kenmore.

Tablet computers starting at $499? Smartphones starting at $200? The devices we used every day were now appliances and appliances didn’t need to necessarily be thinner and lighter each year. The idea of form at the expense of function was gone.

No one cared how thin your keyboard was if it stopped working once a speck of dust breached the gap between its keys. The slim profile of the MacBook Pro didn’t matter if it meant “Pro” users couldn’t pop in an SD card or a USB-A cable.

Even with today’s Mac Studio, people talk about its looks as being “blah.” Why? It’s a small, silver box that takes up very little room and lets you export 4K video in seconds. It has accessible ports on top for easy access. It doesn’t need to be made of glass or light up or shaped like a teardrop.

Of course, much of the complaining about Apple’s “boring” design choices with some of its products comes from people who remember when the first iMac launched. Each year, casings and colors changed, laptops got thinner and desktops were shrunk down into beautiful works of cubist art.

We’re past that now. Computers are appliances. Phones are appliances. They’re as common as toasters and microwaves. Sure, we expect them to look nice on our desks–which every Apple product does–but we shouldn’t expect entirely new design paradigms like we saw during the Ive days.

And that especially goes for the Apple Watch. Today, Apple’s square wearable (squarable?) is iconic, but not because of its design. It’s because of its health features. Even Apple chooses to highlight how its watch saves lives over how it saves ensembles.

Jony Ive’s work at Apple is legendary. He was instrumental in turning the company around from the brink of death, but fewer people care about chamfered edges and saving a few millimeters on their laptop profiles. They want ports. They want speed. They want power.

Just like tech bloggers should stop asking “What would Steve do?” every time a new product comes out, they should also avoid asking “What would Jony do?” Companies change and few have changed as much as Apple has in the last 10 years.

It’s time to move on.