Jony Ive, technically Apple’s design chief since 2015, is once again assuming management control of the iPhone maker’s design team after two years in a largely hands-off role, according to a report from Bloomberg. Ive, responsible for the look and feel of Apple hardware throughout a majority of former CEO Steve Jobs’ revolutionary second run at the helm of the company in the late ‘90s and 2000s, was freed from much of his day-to-day management responsibilities in 2015, when he took on the chief design officer title. He still oversaw design, but other executives and employees on the team no longer reported to him.
At the time, the move was viewed as Ive, who is 50 years old, laying the groundwork to retire from his intensive position at Apple. However, it now appears that Ive is retaking control. Apple’s leadership webpage no longer lists Alan Dye, the vice president of user interface design, or Richard Howarth, vice president of industrial design, according to 9to5Mac. Both Dye and Howarth took on Ive’s management responsibilities when he stepped back two years ago.
“With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design," Apple told Bloomberg in a statement. So it appears Apple is claiming its newly opened spaceship campus as the culprit for Ive’s less product-focused time at the company these last two years.
Yet his return to day-to-day management of Apple design comes at an especially telling time for the company, which has struggled recently to live up to its reputation for top-tier industrial hardware and software design. Starting in 2015 — or with iOS 7 in 2013, depending on who you ask — Apple has released a series of products with perplexing quirks and annoyances. The list includes a Magic Mouse that can only be charged when flipped upside down, an Apple Pencil stylus charging solution that has it sticking out of the Lightning connector of an iPad, and the now infamous iPhone X notch that cuts a hole in the top of the full-screen display. Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack with the iPhone 7 — and the dongle nightmare solutions required to keep living within the company’s ecosystem — has also inspired severe criticism over the company’s direction of late.
A number of tech industry journalists and critics have commented over the last two years on Apple’s apparent fall from grace by pointing the finger at its industrial design failures. Verge co-founder and former editor-in-chief Josh Topolsky wrote recently at The Outline, “Apple seems to have lost its knack for either envisioning the future, or expertly ripping off the people who do.” Apple’s core issue, he added, is that “the company is being buried under the weight of its products,” raising the question of whether “Apple’s unbridled and seemingly-endless success that has caused the company to rest on its laurels?”
Apple remains the most valuable company on the planet, with an eye-popping cash hoard of more than $250 billion and an all-time high stock price. The iPhone X is selling well, and the company continues to pump out record quarterly profits. But Ive’s willingness to jump back into management may signal something deeper about Apple’s willingness to correct course.