First a disclaimer: I’m no expert on corporate intrigue at Apple. I know that the company announced changes that involve the exits of Scott Forstall and John Browett — the guys in charge of iOS and the Apple Stores, respectively — and greater responsibility for key executives Eddy Cue, Craig Federighi, Jonathan Ive and Bob Mansfield. But I don’t have any insider scuttlebutt.
I do, however, know huge news when I see it. And I did, in Apple’s press release on the changes:
Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design. His incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade.
For all of Ive’s incalculable impact on Apple’s products since the late 1990s, he’s been a hardware person; other people have run the software for Macs, iPhones, iPads and other devices. Generally speaking, the arrangement seems to have worked well — certainly, Apple has had the smoothest integration of hardware and software of any company in its field.
Now Ive will call the shots for the whole Apple interface experience. To my knowledge, the only other Apple employee who exercised that responsibility in the past was Steve Jobs. (Sure, the buck stops at Tim Cook for everything, but I’m assuming that he doesn’t fuss over dinky little design details. At least I hope he doesn’t…)
If you wanted to charge one person with making sure that Apple’s devices were as pleasing as possible, Ive is the obvious first choice, and I’m not positive whether anyone qualifies as a strong runner-up. At some point, it should become obvious if his expanded role is taking Apple software in a new direction; the logical guess, given his interest in streamlined, relentlessly consistent design, is that skeuomorphism — the kind-of-campy mimicking of real-world details like plush leather and shiny wood surfaces — may become a thing of the past.
The bottom line: Ive has always been one of the most important people at Apple, but with this reshuffling, he gets the opportunity to become the most important person at Apple. That makes this the most important thing that’s happened at the company in the post-Jobs era.