Jony Ive hasn't been given too much power at Apple... because he's always had it

An industry pundit recently opined that Apple is falling apart at the seams because Jony Ive and his design team have been given too much power, resulting in sleekly designed products that are proving hard to manufacture en masse.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, "respected industry observer" Paul Kedrosky opined that Apple is falling apart at the seams because Jony Ive and his design team have been given too much power, resulting in sleekly designed products that are proving hard to manufacture en masse.

As a recent example, Kedrosky points to Apple's troubles in meeting demand for its revamped iMac. Indeed, Apple's struggles to get iMac production in full swing resulted in substantially lower Mac sales than almost every analyst expected. From Business Insider:

Specifically, Kedrosky thinks that, in the power-vacuum following Steve Jobs' death, the design team, led by Jony Ive, have been given too much latitude--such that Apple is now designing products that it is not capable of manufacturing as smoothly and quickly as it needs to to meet demand.

When Jobs was alive, Kedrosky implies, this "tension" between the design teams and manufacturing teams was in almost perfect balance. Jobs's brilliance as both a product designer and business executive kept the company from "over-designing" its products, or, just as bad, focusing so much on the numbers that its design standards sagged. And this balance, Kedrosky suggests, allowed Apple to continually out-design and out-produce the competition.

It's an interesting theory, but ultimately demonstrates a fundamental disregard for what we know about Apple and the design process.

First off, the idea that Apple's design team now has too much latitude under Tim Cook is preposterous given that Ive and his design team were untouchable with Jobs at the helm. And we know this from Jobs himself.

Not only did Jobs often refer to Ive as his best friend, his biography revealed that Ive was given more operational power than anyone else at Apple, save of course Jobs himself.

Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that there was no one at Apple who could tell Ive what to do and that he purposefully set things up that way.

In many respects, it's vintage Jobs - giving the artists at Apple ultimate control.

Indeed, one of Jobs' more insightful quotes details the pitfalls many once-successful companies fall into when they let sales guys wield power over the design guys:

People always ask me why did Apple really fail for those years, and it’s easy to blame it on certain people or personalities. Certainly, there was some of that. But there’s a far more insightful way to think about it. Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That’s a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly.

But after that, the product people aren’t the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It’s the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what’s the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself?

So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t.

Put simply, the notion that Ive now has too much power is preposterous because he's long had free reign to do as he pleases and create products that force Apple's engineering teams and manufacturing partners to step up their game.

And, finally, while there's no denying that Apple continues to struggle to get its new iMacs into the hands of eager consumers, this is hardly the first time Apple has run into significant manufacturing delays.

John Gruber points us to a quote regarding the availability of the original iPhone back in late 2007.

Everyone is focusing on estimates of about 700,000 iphones sold over 74 days. But in reality, iPhones were very hard to find for nearly 21 days of that selling period! I’ve included a (admittedly very rough) movie showing iPhone availability at Apple stores during the first month of sales. Suffice it to say that if you wanted an iPhone during the period between July 1 and July 21, you had to be either lucky or determined to get one, because most Apple stores were out of stock of them.

And, of course, let's not forget about the manufacturing/technical issues that prompted the months long delay of the iPhone 4S, the long-awaited arrival of the white iPhone 4, and more recently, supply constraints with the iPhone 5 and the iPad Mini.

Long story short - it's business as usual at Apple.

via Business Insider

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