Apple has a generational succession problem and Jony Ive’s departure is the tip of the iceberg

Tim Cook

  • Jony Ive’s departure from Apple underscores the firm’s attempts to shift from hardware to software.
  • Most of the execs trying to make this pivot happen are wealthy men in their 50s who got rich from Apple’s golden age of inventing cool hardware like the iPhone.
  • It isn’t clear they can bring about this reinvention, and if there’s a wider succession plan then they need to make that clear to investors, fast.
  • Apple’s way forward in services is less clear than regular slam-dunk releases like the iPod.
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Apple needs to make clear its succession plan, and fast.

The departure of its longtime and beloved chief design officer, Jony Ive, will retrigger worries that the Cupertino firm is losing its mojo. Apple has quelled such jitters once before, when CEO Tim Cook took the top job after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011.

But Ive, described as the Lennon to Jobs’ McCartney, is an equally important loss, being the man who essentially changed the way we consume media on the go with the invention of the iPhone, iPad, and other iconic hardware.

In a brief note to clients this morning, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives described this as a "major changing of the guard within Cupertino."

Pertinently, he wrote: "The major question now going forward is around future product innovation with one of the key visionaries of the Apple brand gone.

"In our opinion this news only adds to the current agita around the Apple story as the company is branching out into television and gaming all while it is currently the poster child for the US/China UFC trade battle on the heels of the G20 summit."

The "current agita" around Apple is that the firm is navigating life after the iPhone by altering its business model to focus on services, rather than hardware. It’s too early to say whether this will be a successful pivot, but the extremity of the shift is underscored by Ive’s departure.

Jony Ive

Ive is 52, and his exit makes it clear that Apple isn’t coming up with a major new hardware invention any time soon.

Who within Apple is up for the challenge of the post-iPhone era? Cook is 58. Services chief Eddy Cue is 54. Software boss Craig Federighi is 50, while marketing boss Phil Schiller is 59. Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO who failed to kickstart Apple’s retail operations, is 59 and was out of Apple after only five years.

Read more: Wall Street is mourning the exit of Apple’s ‘irreplaceable’ design chief, but is not predicting an existential crisis

The issue isn’t age, exactly. It’s that most of these people have already got extremely rich off navigating Apple’s golden era, when it appeared to be capable of endless invention. Have they got the appetite for another revolution, or like Ive, are they getting "deeply, deeply tired?"

One new area of innovation may be healthcare. Apple has marketed the Apple Watch as a product to get people moving, and pushed the device’s abilities at catching heart irregularities. Another is augmented-reality, with Bloomberg reporting that its next big product will be AR glasses.

The Financial Times, which broke the news of Ive’s departure, noted that Apple is scooping up lots of senior outside talent with different skills. Ex-Googler John Giannandrea now runs Apple’s AI strategy, while Sony veterans Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amberg are helping the firm push into Netflix territory with original video.

Cook has said the firm does have a succession plan in place, although Apple never comments publicly on it. With Ive’s departure marking a symbolic end to Apple’s hardware days, it might be time to spread the news about new blood.

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