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Does he stay or go? Parsing Apple's promotion of designer Jony Ive

Gregg Keizer | May 28, 2015
Apple's well-known designer, Jony Ive, has been promoted to the position of chief design officer, a new title in the Cupertino, Calif. company's executive suite.

Apple's well-known designer, Jony Ive, has been promoted to the position of chief design officer, a new title in the Cupertino, Calif. company's executive suite.

But does that mean he's staying or going? And if the latter, will that affect Apple or its iconic product line?

Analysts yesterday tried to interpret the news of Ive's promotion, and the placing of day-to-day operations in the hands of two lieutenants, Alan Dye and Richard Howarth. The Telegraph first reported on Ive's title change Tuesday; on the same day, 9to5Mac.com published an internal memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook that confirmed the promotion, which will take effect July 1.

"This looks very much like a promotion," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "It would be a strange way to push someone out the door."

Outsiders like Dawson — and everyone else — split into two camps: Some thought that Ive, who has expressed the desire to raise his children in his native U.K., would slide out of Apple in the next year or two, and that the promotion is a step towards that. Others, however, accepted the promotion for what it is, adding that it would free Ive from the drudgery of management and let him focus on the design of, among other things, the new Apple headquarters and its retail chain.

"I see this as a continuing evolution of his duties," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research. "In his new position, he may touch many of the internal things at Apple that the public may never see."

The news of Ive's promotion, of course, was important to those who follow Apple's moves. Ive has been instrumental in the design of most if not all current Apple products, from the look of the Mac line to the overhaul of iOS's look and feel two years ago.

"His personal attentiveness to design makes a difference at and for Apple," argued Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It's the basis of his legacy there, and why his credibility is so strong inside and outside Apple."

Although Dawson, Rubin and Moorhead all agreed that Ive's promotion and change of immediate duties mean he's staying at Apple, others argued just as strenuously that it signals he's on his way out on his own terms.

Ben Thompson, an independent analyst whose Stratechery.com has become a must-read among technology opinion makers, was certain of that. "The level of orchestration around this announcement augurs something far more significant than a changed title," Thompson wrote Tuesday in a piece he put outside the usual subscription pay wall. "In my estimation, whether Ive intends it or not — and I think he likely does, for what it's worth — this is the beginning of the end of his time at Apple."

 

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