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Mac Planet: Jony Ive, Apple spokesman

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Jony Ive, Apple's design guru, is speaking out. Photo / File
Jony Ive, Apple's design guru, is speaking out. Photo / File

Since the passing of Steve Jobs, various other personalities have been percolating away at the Inc.

People said that the four principal characters at Apple each strongly reflected a facet of Jobs' persona, which I always thought was a bit of a dubious proposition: CEO Tim Cook the business acumen component (except he seems like a nice guy), Scott Forstall the charismatic enthusiast (he's Senior Vice President of iOS Software), Phil Schiller the marketing guy and Jonathan Ive, design genius.

The problem I had with this was that all these guys have already been at Apple for ages, fulfilling their respective roles. Asking four people to be four facets of one person seems ridiculous. Not only that, part of the particular genius of Steve Jobs was the fact he combined these four facets, powerfully realised, into one rather obscenely driven person.

Out of the four, I never hear much about Forstall, and Schiller only seems to pop into public consciousness at WWDC (there's some detail on him on Businessweek).

Cook is visible, but not exactly in your face unless there's an earnings call or announcement. The outsider was always the British-born, seemingly shy and reticent Ive.
But then Jobs died and Ive got knighted (not that those two things were related). Ive has been at Apple since 1992, even before Jobs' comeback, but it was Jobs who saw his potential and almost immediately promoted him.

Now, in 2012, Ive's reticence has gone, and he has been popping up saying some pretty remarkable things. The much-awarded Apple Design Chief Jonathan (better known as 'Jony') Ive was knighted for contributions to design and enterprise back in May this year - back in his homeland of the UK, of course.

The statement that made me burst out laughing was when he said, at the British Embassy's Creative Summit, "Our goal isn't to make money."

Hah! Apple has the plumpest margins and highest prices in tech, and by far the most moolah in the bank. That was happenstance? No way. Jobs was always very clearcut about margins and money - it seemed an extreme priority for him.

OK, sure, Apple's desire is to make a good product. That's clear. Thank goodness or I'd be struggling with an ugly OS and uglier hardware, and not writing this blog. And sure, Sir Jony, "Really great design is hard ..." but it's a hell of a lot harder when you don't have the resources Apple has.

Ive closed this particular talk by reiterating the Apple mantra, first voiced publicly by Steve Jobs in a Fortune interview a few years ago, that Apple 'doesn't do market research'. This may have gone unremarked, except it seems untrue.

A link this week from Slashdot has noted, from reportage on Apple's court appearances on patent issues versus Samsung, that, "On Monday, Apple's Greg Joswiak - the company's VP of Product Marketing - submitted a declaration to the Court explaining why documents relating to Apple's market research and strategy should be sealed."

Apparently, "Every month, Apple surveys iPhone buyers and Joswiak explains what Apple is able to glean from these surveys."

This may well be almost the only market research Apple does, but do you believe that?

But Ive has said more - like that Apple nearly axed the iPhone as it 'wasn't good enough'. He has been a busy spokesperson lately. Speaking at a British Business Embassy event to coincide with the Olympics, he said "There were multiple times where we nearly shelved the phone because we thought there were fundamental problems that we can't solve." Wow. Apple has since sold nearly 250 million of them. Where would smartphones be now if Apple had given up?

There were rumours in 2011 that Ive wanted to return to England so his kids could go to school there, and that Apple pulled out all the stops to keep him in the US. There's little doubt Apple's product roadmap would start to dissemble without him, at least as far as they look. Ive designed the original all-in-one jelly iMac that put Apple back on the map, and with Ive as head of design since 1997, his magic wand has been waved over every iconic product since.

Along with legions of Apple fans, I'm very glad he's still there. And Jony, I've heard some US schools are quite good - especially when you're rolling in it, as you are.

Ive seems a pretty likeable guy. Seventeen-year Apple design veteran Christopher Stringer, a witness in the same patent case versus Samsung, said Apple's group of 15 or so industrial designers headed by Ive work on all of the company's products and dedicate time every week to discuss them, mostly at the kitchen table where the group is most comfortable. (Obviously this is in one impressively high-capacity kitchen.)

"We have been together for an awfully long time," Stringer said. "We are a pretty maniacal group of people. We obsess over details." No surprises there.

Ive's team works with music blaring through a giant sound system, according to a 2006 Business Week profile of Ive.

Maybe it's a good thing Jony Ive is nowadays being a little outspoken - I honestly can't imagine Ive saying things like he has in public when Steve Jobs was around.

Fortunately, on Apple's new products, Ive's lips are still tightly sealed. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he was asked which Apple product he'd like to be remembered for and he replied "It's a really tough one. A lot does seem to come back to the fact that what we're working on now feels like the most important and the best work we've done, and so it would be what we're working on right now, which of course I can't tell you about."

And he intimated that even the Queen, about to knight him at that point, wouldn't find out what the new stuff was if she asked. So some things haven't changed.

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