updated 07:07 pm EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
Company still operating by core principles laid down by Jobs, designer says
In a fuller version of an interview given to The New York Times by Apple senior VP of Design Sir Jonathan Ive, the head of Apple's hardware and software creative design team has revealed that the team has been working "for years" with "new materials" not previously seen (at least, not on a large scale) in previous Apple products, and that new products are in active development. He also dismissed the notion that the engine of innovation at Apple has changed without Steve Jobs at the helm.
Some quotes from the original interview were used in a generally Cook-bashing editorial co-written by a man involved in the iPhone 4 prototype scandal, but the full inteview actually reveals Ive to have a high opinion of his boss (and of course great regard for his late friend and collaborator, Jobs). "Steve established a set of values, and he established preoccupations and tones that are completely enduring - and he established those principles with a small team of people. I've been ridiculously lucky to be part of it. But Tim was very much part of that team - for that last 15 or 20 years."
Although Cook has adopted changes and strategies for managing Apple as it is now -- a huge multinational corporation and the most profitable company on Earth -- rather than the struggling niche player that Jobs inherited when he returned in 1997, the current CEO has continued the collaboration, shifting more creative responsibilities to Ive and his team while continuing to offer operational expertise and engineering guidance from his executive team, just as was done in the past.
"I remember clearly a time when we made plastic portable computers, and Steve and Tim and I sat down and said we wanted to build an incredibly thin and light portable computer," Ive said, recalling the process that led to the Titanium G4 Powerbooks. "There was a whole range of challenges from an engineering point of view: How it worked in a new material, titanium. That meant we had to completely redesign and discover new partners to work with, hire a whole new organization."
When asked directly about working with Cook, Ive noted that the two meeting "on average three times a week," sometimes in Cook's office and sometimes in Ive's studio. He said that part of his job as a designer is taking a physical object and differentiating between the objective reality of a thing and how users perceive it to be. "Heading on for two decades working with Tim, one of the things I have always admired is the quiet consideration he gives to trying to understand how he perceives something. He will take the time. I think that testifies to the fact that he knows it's important."
Ive also revealed that some of the "future stuff" his team are working on are made with "materials we haven't worked in before," referring to the Jobs era of production. "I've been working on this stuff for a few years now. Tim is fundamentally involved in pushing into these new areas and into these materials," likely a reference to both the sapphire glass Apple has heavily invested in through a partnership with GT Advanced, as well as its ongoing relationship with Liquidmetal -- perhaps hinting that users will see a greater leveraging of the latter material in future products. Liquidmetal is the brand name of a specific alloy that offers the rigidity of strong metals while being able to be shaped more precisely than ordinary alloys allow.
When asked if it was hard to maintain focus on product development when the company is under constant and ever-increasing pressure to produce "the next iThing," Ive was philosophical about the conundrum of always being judged by the old axiom "what have you done for me lately?" He said simply that it is "hard for us all to be patient. It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim."
"Honestly, I don't think anything's changed. People felt exactly the same way when we were working on iPhone. The iPhone was broadly dismissed. The iPod was broadly dismissed. The iPad was probably more copiously written off as a large iPod. When I look back over the last 20 years, you have this sense that, you're working on something that's incredibly hard, when you're working on it, you don't know whether it's going to work out or not. The benefit of hindsight is we only really talk about those things that did work out."
"When that's your day to day, you're so consumed by the products and the problems and the challenges, that it's actually quite easy to be impatient."