Apple has a generational succession problem, and Jony Ive’s departure is the tip of the iceberg
Jony Ive’s coming departure from Apple underscores the firm’s attempts to shift from hardware to software.
Most of the execs trying to make this pivot happen are wealthy men in their 50s who got rich from Apple’s golden age of inventing cool hardware like the iPhone.
It isn’t clear they can bring about this reinvention, and if there’s a wider succession plan, then they need to make that clear to investors, fast.
Apple needs to make clear its succession plan, and fast.
The newly announced departure of its longtime and beloved chief design officer, Jony Ive, will retrigger worries that the Cupertino, California, firm is losing its mojo. Apple has quelled such jitters once before, when CEO Tim Cook took the top job after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011.
But Ive, described as the Lennon to Jobs’ McCartney, is an equally important loss, being the man who essentially changed the way we consume media on the go with the invention of the iPhone, the iPad, and other iconic hardware.
In a brief note to clients Friday morning, the Wedbush analyst Dan Ives described this as a “major changing of the guard within Cupertino.”
Pertinently, he wrote: “The major question now going forward is around future product innovation with one of the key visionaries of the Apple brand gone.
“In our opinion this news only adds to the current agita around the Apple story as the company is branching out into television and gaming all while it is currently the poster child for the US/China UFC trade battle on the heels of the G20 summit.”
The “current agita” around Apple is that the firm is navigating life after the iPhone by altering its business model to focus on services, rather than hardware. It’s too early to say whether this will be a successful pivot, but the extremity of the shift is underscored by Ive’s departure.
Ive is 52, and his exit makes it clear that Apple isn’t coming up with a major new hardware invention anytime soon.
Who within Apple is up for the challenge of the post-iPhone era? Cook is 58. The services chief, Eddy Cue, is 54. The software boss, Craig Federighi, is 50, while the marketing boss, Phil Schiller, is 59. Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO who failed to kick-start Apple’s retail operations, is 59 and was out of Apple after only five years.
The issue isn’t age, exactly. It’s that most of these people have already gotten extremely rich off navigating Apple’s golden era, when it appeared to be capable of endless invention. Have they got the appetite for another revolution or, like Ive, are they getting “deeply, deeply tired”?
One new area of innovation may be healthcare. Apple has marketed the Apple Watch as a product to get people moving and has pushed the device’s ability to catch heart irregularities. Another is augmented reality, with Bloomberg reporting that Apple’s next big product will be AR glasses.
The Financial Times, which broke the news of Ive’s departure, noted that Apple was scooping up lots of senior outside talent with different skills. John Giannandrea, a former Googler, now runs Apple’s artificial-intelligence strategy, while the Sony veterans Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amberg are helping the firm push into Netflix territory with original video
Cook has said the firm does have a succession plan in place, though Apple never comments publicly on it. With Ive’s departure marking a symbolic end to Apple’s hardware days, it might be time to spread the news about new blood.