First we heard that Jony Ive was leaving Apple last week. There were the heartfelt goodbye pieces, the cynical critiques and all kinds of reading of the tea leaves as to why and how his departure will impact Apple. I chimed in with one of my own. It was all pretty much what you would expect when a well-known executive from one of the world’s biggest companies steps down.
Then came Tripp Mickle’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that Ive was disenchanted in recent years and that he was at odds Tim Cook. The biggest potential revelation was that operations-centric Cook isn’t interested in design and how that allegedly alienated Jony Ive. As you could expect, a piece that calls Tim Cook into question and set up a comparison between him and Steve Jobs is exactly the kind of thing that the more cynical among the tech press feed off of. Since this article was published, there has been a fresh chorus of “Apple is Doomed!”
Somewhat unexpectedly, Tim Cook directly responded to the WSJ piece in an email to NBC, making his displeasure very clear. He actually labeled the piece as “absurd,” which is about as pointed a response as you will ever get from the normally very mind-mannered CEO. While he didn’t directly dispute any specifics of the WSJ piece, Cook was definitely trying to advance his narrative that design remains all-important to Apple and that he and Ive maintained a close relationship. While Tim’s clap-back certainly rallied the Apple faithful to his side, it really didn’t do much else. In fact, it only served to strengthen the negative narrative from many in the tech press.
So you have palace intrigue on one hand. You know how that works, right? Mr Mickel got his information from anonymous little birdies somewhere at Apple Park. Looking at it from that perspective, if you are taking the word of a few people within a massive company without a grain of salt, then you are dismissing the fact that all human beings have the capacity for bias. Some of these sources may be trying to advance their own narrative that other Apple employees may disagree with. As an example, I would recommend listening to Rene Ritchie’s interview with former Apple design employee May-Li Khoe. The fact is, sample size matters, as well as context. We don’t know what the opinion sample size is and we have 0 context to frame the WSJ piece with.
On the other hand, Tim Cook’s email can’t exactly be taken at full face value, either. Apple’s stock price took an expected hit when Ive’s departure was announced. However, the negative press that followed the WSJ piece was something that Cook obviously felt some pressure to get out in front of. Again, he is the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world and he has a stock price to maintain. The reality is, his comments reflect that.
In my opinion, you can’t trust either extreme for an accurate view of what is actually going on with Jony Ive’s departure. As with so many things in life, the truth is almost certainly somewhere in the middle. Judging by books and on-the-record stories that have come out about the iPhone and Steve Jobs, it will be between five to ten years before we hear what happened directly from people who we know were there. Until then, my suggestion is to keep an open mind, because there is no way to know exactly how this played out yet.