A Fairly Quick Look at Ian Parker’s Epic New Yorker Profile on Mostly Jony Ive

First, not like it means anything in the grand scheme of things, I gotta hand it to Ian Parker and the New Yorker for scoring this incredible level of access to Jony Ive, Apple, other execs, and last but not least, several formerly-mostly-unknown-to-the-public Apple designers.

If you haven’t read it, and you have “sufficient interest” in Jony Ive and the goings-on at Apple (well, you did somehow find your way here), go read it first before reading this. It might easily be up for various awards. It’s all kinds of insightful, my fanboy-ish issues here and there with wording and characterization. Note: The novella-profile might take 1-2 hours for a single sitting, so be advised/budget your time accordingly.

Some observations, not necessarily in any particular order. Apologies in advance for being a bit stream-of-consciousness.

Apple’s First Embedded Journalist – ever? Went for chauffeured rides in Jony’s Mulsanne. Spoke with Tim Cook, Jeff Williams, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Newson, Jony’s dad, oh hey “semi-retired” Bob Mansfield! Visited Jony’s temporary residence. Visited Apple Campus 2 under construction. Took at least two tours of Apple’s design lab, speaking to multiple designers. Made an Apple office manager and semi-troll of the nearby Apple design studio Internet famous.

As if you needed a reminder this isn’t Steve Jobs’s Apple PR anymore, even though the other, key elements of secrecy are the same as they ever were, if not stronger.

Jony Ive’s herculean workload (indirectly militating against an Apple Car being that far along). “Working pneumonia” and suffering the kind of burnout that requires a record-length (and badly needed) 3-week vacation should, and probably did, give Apple’s top brass pause. Of course, some of it is “self-inflicted” – Jony Ive is akin to Steve Jobs in very many ways, and unlike Steve, Jony dreams and makes…over and over and over again, obsessively. He may be in several ways the hardest-working employee at Apple.

While Jony doesn’t appear to be on his way out the door, despite Parker’s several references to Ive’s extreme (and understandable) fatigue, I harkened back to Apple’s remembrance of Steve.

At the time I wondered a little at these passages:

“…now while the work hopefully appeared inevitable…appeared simple, and easy…it really cost. It cost us all, didn’t it? But you know what it cost him most. He cared the most. He worried the most deeply. He constantly questioned “is this good enough – is this right?” (starting around 4:20 in the clip)

“…so his, I think, was a victory for beauty…for purity…and as he would say for giving a damn. He was my closest and my most loyal friend…” (starting around 6:15)

Though in the very next sentence, Jony deftly wove in some levity. “We worked together for nearly 15 years, and he still laughed at the way I said aluminium.” Might Jony have harbored even a few, perfectly understandable “selfish” thoughts of leaving now that Apple’s “guiding light” and best friend was gone? Sure, it was only two weeks after Steve passed away, but there’s an honesty in raw emotions. Luckily for us, he’s still at Apple and busier than ever. Of course, Jony’s also under unprecedented amounts of strain, so hopefully Apple’s building in some support beyond the “Euro douchepop” confines of his design studio.

Apple’s intense focus is no better typified than by the apparent-still-quite-“small” circle of Apple Designers (which, quite frankly, fully deserve their “priestly” – which is not necessarily “holier-than-thou” – status on account of their obvious contributions to Apple’s phenomenal performance). If Apple only takes on precious few designers each year, “Absolute Design Bandwidth” must be gated, especially with Jony Ive as the increasingly harried Design CEO.

I don’t think Apple’s quite dumb enough to push the Golden Design Goose over the edge by going full-tilt on an Apple Car, even if Tim and Jony both agreed a “separate design team” was best to handle the project and preserve Jony’s sanity. Car design is a ton of work, and my wild guess is that Jony’s very nature would not allow him to avoid heavy involvement in the project. And since Tim is one of the all-time operational greats, he is surely aware of employee tendencies, and when his senior team members are pushing “too far” beyond their limits.

One idle thought before moving on. Was Jony “ordered” to stop driving? Or does his schedule literally add a level of danger to a drive-self-to-work commute that he couldn’t ignore?

“Respectful cousins.” Clearly, Ive and Jobs were friends forged once in a lifetime. But “respectful cousins” doesn’t imply a particularly collegial or understanding relationship. Of course, calling Jobs the father to Ive the son doesn’t exactly work either. Ive was more “younger brother” in terms of age, and really as close to a peer as you could get in Steve’s hierarchy of power (Ive being as untouchable as he’s ever been in Apple’s power structure) and his brutally incisive assessment of people.

A respectful cousin, in this (farthest-thing-from-accomplished-writer-for-world-famous-periodical) humble home gamer’s view, wouldn’t hand the keys of Apple’s software future to Jony. And certainly wouldn’t, in a painful-but-in-retrospect-hugely-constructive move, cause the retirement of Forstall, Steve’s “protege” and arguably second-favorite person who wasn’t family.

Maybe Tim just keeps a “respectful distance” from Jony’s proven process. Tim knows he’s not Steve. So he’s giving Jony that much more freedom (and it’s hard to argue with the results thus far). Hey, they don’t have to be the next great Friendship Duo of a Lifetime. They just have to work exceptionally well together in their own way. So far, so good.

Ive has earned every last scrap of bling.

Parker:

Ive would prefer an unobserved life, but he likes nice things. He also has an Aston Martin DB4. He acquired his first Bentley, a two-door model, ten years ago, after an inner zigzag between doubt and self-justification.

A bit later, a slightly amusing (to this hypercritic’s eyes) “attribution shift” from Marc Newson’s own quote: “A lot of what I’ve done has been an effort to try to have the things that I didn’t own when I was a child.” Next you read of Newson’s $6,000 self-designed backpack, and then Ive’s purchase of Steve’s custom Gulfstream V, a contrast to Ive not flying until he was 21.

A bit later, mention of Ive’s purchase of an eleven-bedroom estate in Somerset in 2007.

Hey. Ive likes nice things and he’s earned them. He certainly suffered enough helping design Apple out of its hole in the 90s. Putting aside the outrageous part-titanium PowerBook G4 (known as the TiBook) and iPhone 1, the iPhone 4 will be one of Jony’s most enduring designs. Sandwiched by glass, but with a ridiculously strong steel frame. (That thing would not bend, though it might get in the way of reception, being part of the antenna system.) Not the thinnest iPhone that would ever be made, but perhaps the most solid-feeling, substantial, even classic of all the iPhones to date. Of all the iPhones, the 4 – which isn’t a particularly “normal” design for a smartphone – feels like the most expensive.

Then again, Ive followed up the iPhone 4 generation with the diamond-cut chamfered iPhone 5-series, complete with camera-matched glass inlays on the back because…well…bling. Though this was dialed back for iPhone 6, as Apple Watch proved, Ive was just getting started.

Ive is implied to have some issues with the Jobsian Circle Apple Campus 2. The fixable hockey puck mouse (really, the only problem was its odd inability to track as well as any other typical mouse). The unfixable loop of Apple Campus 2. Seems a fitting place to end. It’s no secret that Jony and Steve didn’t see eye-to-eye in terms of software design, at least as far as iOS (which Forstall used to lead) was concerned. But despite iPhone OS 1 – through iOS 6 – surely gnawing at him, Jony compartmentalized his feelings (until the appropriate time), and probably never stopped using those skeuomorphic OS X and iOS versions.

The Spaceship was one of Steve’s final physical gifts to Apple, walkability, practicality and “imperial” design be damned. (Yet another case of pre-criticism of a unfinished product.) At least Ive has his say within the confines of the circle, and got to fight with Mitsubishi (and presumably win) over the design of the elevator control panels.

And it’s not like Apple will never need to expand beyond the giant circle.

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