Change at Apple’s executive level has been inevitable since Steve Jobs’s passing, and while it’s easy to get caught up in the gossip behind that change, I’m more interested in what it means long term.
The team that was in place prior to the recent shake-up was built to support Jobs’s strengths and weaknesses as a decision maker, not Tim Cook’s. And since the old team was built for Jobs, it was no longer obvious how it worked. Today I think it’s much clearer, both internally and externally.
Apple’s major areas of strength and focus are:
- Design (Industrial, UI/UX)
- Software (iOS, Mac, Apps)
- Services (iCloud, iTunes, App Store, Siri, Maps, iBookstore, iAd)
- Hardware (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, laptops, desktops)
But that’s not how Apple was organized as of last Friday. Just look at how the software and services areas were divided up among Apple’s leadership:
- Craig Federighi (Mac, Mac Apps, UI/UX?)
- Scott Forstall (iOS, iOS Apps, Maps, Siri, UI/UX?)
- Eddy Cue (iCloud, iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, iAd, UI/UX?)
Scott Forstall was responsible not only for iOS, but for Siri and Maps, too. Possibly even UI/UX. This created a leadership position that straddled the software, services, and design areas. But with the removal of Forstall, the roles of Craig Federighi and Eddy Cue are more clearly defined. Federighi is now responsible for Apple’s software, while Eddy Cue is responsible for the company’s services. Instead of being responsible for products, as they previously were, each is now responsible for disciplines. Simple. Smart.
As for Bob Mansfield, his un-retirement is suddenly more interesting. He’s staying on for two years to lead a group called “Technologies” that is responsible for Apple’s wireless and semiconductor teams. Dan Riccio is still in charge of Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod engineering as SVP of Hardware Engineering. This leads me to believe that Riccio is in charge of bringing products from design to production, whereas Mansfield has almost an R&D-like role. Said more succinctly: Riccio = mechanical, short-term implementation; Mansfield = electrical, long-term implementation. I would not be surprised to eventually find out that Mansfield is responsible for some of Apple’s longer-term projects, like improving battery life while reducing the size of those batteries.
Jony Ive, Apple’s design head, has gained the role of director of the company’s “Human Interface” (HI) group. Translation: Ive will now oversee the design of Apple’s software in addition to its hardware. I can’t see how this will be anything but good. Worst-case scenario, all of the inconsistencies, misused skeuomorphism, and cruft in Apple’s user interfaces will be weeded out. Best-case scenario, we’ll see an unprecedented integration of Apple’s hardware and software.
Ive’s new, broader role makes sense for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious among them is the instant respect he commands. The minute he walks into the room, his new UI/UX team members will respect him. His background may not be in UI/UX, but a designer of his caliber can excel in any medium. He won’t be pushing pixels or pumping CAD himself, but his taste level and eye for detail will be able to build consensus.
Second, the possibility of working with Ive has to be a pretty good recruiting tool. I can work for the guy who led all of Apple’s amazing hardware design for the past 20 years? Yeah, sign me up.
Third, Ive could realign the way Apple’s UI/UX teams work within the company. The industrial-design studio, or ID studio, has always functioned as a separate entity, working as a group and attacking problems together. Once that group’s designs are refined to a certain point, they involve project teams. UI/UX designers get assigned to product teams (iOS, Mac OS, etc.) and are spread throughout the company. This leads to issues. For instance, designers for the iOS team might clash with designers for an app team. But if Ive restructures UI/UX the way I think he will, he ‘ll pull those designers out from their teams and plug them into one group, in the mold of his own ID studio. I can also foresee the new VPs of ID and UI/UX acting as studio managers and reporting directly to Ive.
The downside to this studio approach is that the UI/UX designers might have less day-to-day contact with the software engineers. On the other hand, though, and perhaps more importantly, it could foster more consistency and focus among the designers and allow them to work together to help set the product agenda. I’ve worked in situations where the design team had its own studio and also in situations where individual designers worked on separate teams away from other designers. The studio approach was always superior for both speed and quality.
Stepping back, the biggest question surrounding post-Jobs Apple has been how decisions would be made and who would make them. Now, after the company’s management shake-up, we’re seeing a leadership group emerge within Apple’s leadership group. Within that subgroup and at the top of Apple’s pecking order are Cook, Ive, and Schiller.
You get the sense that though each of those three might recognize that he’s the best at what he does, none is angling for more power inside Apple or elsewhere. Amazingly, Cook, Ive, and Schiller seem to know that they can do the best work of their careers and make the biggest impact by working together at Apple. Their individual talents and demeanor perfectly complement each other and can be best summed up in this way: The Head, The Heart, and The Voice.
Cook is The Head. He might be the CEO, but his greatest strength seems to be knowing what his strengths and weaknesses are. It’s very hard for leaders to let other people lead, but Cook is perfectly happy delegating the high-profile “sexy” tasks. Let Jony dictate to the design group. Let Phil do the product announcements. Let Eddy negotiate with the labels. Cook knows that he is the ultimate protector of Apple, and as such he must ensure that the company keeps humming and that the trains run on time.
Ive is The Heart, the creative soul of the company. Ive has always seemed to me to be the ideal designer for someone like Cook to work with. Both show a real passion for consistency and efficiency, and for simplifying things — they just approach it through different media. I can easily imagine them geeking out about the same parts of a project. Cook might not have a designer’s eye, but he can trust Ive’s expertise completely because they speak the same language. And Ive can trust Cook because Cook’s philosophies line up with his own worldview.
Schiller is The Voice. Other than Jobs, no one else has had more of an impact on the way the world thinks about Apple over the past 15 years. Without Schiller, Apple’s product launches wouldn’t be complemented by such succinct yet vivid stories. But Schiller also has a hand in the development of products — a role Ive seems to be comfortable with. In fact, it was Schiller who came up with the idea for the iPod’s click wheel. Ive also trusts Schiller to tell the right story about his work. And Schiller trusts Ive because Ive isn’t looking for the spotlight. Rather, he defers to him at keynotes, letting Schiller act as the showman. But best of all, Schiller’s got great products to sell, and for any marketer, that’s 90 percent of the battle.
Cook’s task of molding Apple’s executive team into one that suits him is now done — for the next five to 10 years, anyway. Thanks to the changes he’s made, Apple’s executives now oversee broader areas, which allows them to function with the flexibility of a small startup. And I, for one, am excited to see how that plays out.