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Jony Ive, the industrial designer who helped shape the look of Apple's most iconic devices from the iPod to the iPhone, is stepping down later this year.
Apple announced the senior executive's departure Thursday, saying he will leave later this year to form an independent design company that will count Apple as a client. Ive has been an integral part of the company's device designs, from 1998's iMac to the company's new headquarters.
Ive's departure marks the end of an era for the company after helping it make a major transformation from a cult computer business to a dominant device company under the leadership of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Long a protege and confident of the former CEO, Ive helped meld form with function and in the process turned Apple devices into part computer, part fashion accessory.
Ive has become a symbol of the enduring culture that the legendary CEO created. He's also been a counterweight to current CEO Tim Cook's image as someone known more for his ability to manage supply chains than dream up new consumer devices. Ive's presence has helped deflect some criticism that the company has lost some of its innovative flair after Jobs' death.
Ive's departure sent the company's stock down 1.74% in after-hours trading Thursday.
Gene Munster, an analyst with Loup Ventures, said the departure wouldn't have as big an impact on the company as some might initially think in part because Apple has been slowly reducing the executive's role in recent years.
"This is a textbook example of Apple managing through a transition. They do it over months or years," he said.
Ive is the second major departure for Apple this year. In April, Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts left the company in the wake of a major overhaul of the company's stores that nixed its famed Genius Bar drew mixed reactions from consumers and critics.
Jony Ive has previously stepped away from the role as design chief. In 2015, he worked on building Apple's futuristic new campus in Cupertino, California, known as Apple Park. Once that project was done, Ive returned to helm the industrial design team again in 2017.
Since then, that team has seen an exodus of talent. Prominent designers like Rico Zorkendorfer, Daniele De Iuliis and Julian Honig have departed. Those personnel changes were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.
Jony Ive became linked to Apple's success after Jobs' return to the company in 1997. The company was faltering at the time, and its product line was stale. But Ive played a major role in the reintroduction of the iMac the next year, semitranslucent computers that came in bright colours and were an instant hit with the creative crowd that made up the core of Apple's customer base.
That cult hit was followed with a broader market success in the iPod music player, which stood out from a crowd of competing devices with its scroll wheel and simple, white headphones that came included. The company eventually launched a series of the devices, including some that played video.
An improbable third blockbuster product in which Ive was intimately involved, the iPhone, upended the conventional wisdom on how a smartphone should be designed as Apple introduced the new rectangular device with a touch-screen interface and only a home screen button.
In the interim, Apple has introduced a watch and its AirPods wireless headphones. Jony Ive gave the Apple Watch Series 4 device a complete makeover in form and function before its launch last year, slimming it down and adding new health tracking features such as the ability to take an electrocardiogram and detect hard falls. He also worked to make it less tied to consumers' phones. That gave it a bigger purpose, in Ive's vision, and set it apart from other technology.
"Every bone in my body tells me this is very significant," Ive said in an interview with The Washington Post last year. The watch has gained some traction.
In just the dozen years since the iPhone's introduction, that product design has been copied widely across the consumer electronic industry. That has, in turn, created a headache for the company, in that it makes the iPhone's evolution look more ordinary when held up to competitors. As a result, many loyal customers have been looking for the company's next revolutionary hit.
Jony Ive was rumoured to have been working closely on augmented reality glasses with clear lenses that can project computer-like images in front of a wearer's eyes, according to people familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorised to speak publicly. But that technology could still be years away from consumer use.
Apple said in its release that while Ive pursues personal projects, "his new company will continue to work closely and on a range of projects with Apple."
© The Washington Post 2019