Life af­ter Steve Jobs

The man be­hind Ap­ple

Friday - - Front Page - By John Ar­lidge

For a man whose prod­ucts are all called iSome­thing, ‘I’ is one word Ive scarcely uses

Only one coun­try has made the mod­ern world twice. Bri­tain. It in­dus­tri­alised first and paved the way for the mass pro­duc­tion of ev­ery­thing from cogs to togs. Two cen­turies later, two rather shy blokes from Lon­don have de­fined the 21st century as the tech­nol­ogy century. Sir Tim Bern­er­sLee from East Sheen in Lon­don in­vented the­World WideWeb, then a chap from nearby Ching­ford put it in our hands, our pock­ets and our ears. We use Jonathan Ive’s prod­ucts to help us to eat, drink and sleep, to work, travel, re­lax, read, lis­ten and watch, to shop and to chat.

Many of us spend more time with his screens than with our fam­i­lies. Some of us like his screens more than our fam­i­lies.

For years, Ive’s nat­u­ral shy­ness, cou­pled with the se­crecy bor­der­ing on para­noia of his em­ployer, Ap­ple, has meant we have known lit­tle about the man who shapes the fu­ture, with such in­no­va­tions as the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. But last month, he in­vited me to Cu­per­tino in Sil­i­con Val­ley where Ap­ple is based, for his first in-depth in­ter­view since he be­came head of de­sign al­most 20 years ago.

But na­ture – the ghost of Steve Jobs? – seemed against it. Jobs didn’t like Ap­ple ex­ecs do­ing in­ter­views. It had not rained prop­erly in Cal­i­for­nia for months but that morn­ing the clouds rolled off the Pa­cific, turn­ing the Golden Gate Bridge black.

In­ter­state 280 south to Sil­i­con Val­ley was a river of wa­ter, in­stead of the usual lava streaks of stop-start SUVs. But just af­ter 10am, an Ap­ple tech-head ap­peared in an all-white meet­ing room on the first floor of Build­ing 4 of the firm’s an­ti­sep­tic head­quar­ters with strict in­struc­tions to find an Earl Grey tea bag.

“Hello. Thanks for com­ing,” grins Ive, as he rolls in, pick­ing up his brew. Ive is the most un­re­mark­able re­mark­able per­son you could meet. You might think you’d recog­nise him if you passed him on the street, but you wouldn’t. He’s not par­tic­u­larly tall, is well built and bald(ish), has two-day-old stub­ble and dresses like dads do on week­ends – navy polo shirt, can­vas trousers and desert boots. He speaks slowly and softly in an Es­sex ac­cent, to­tally un­af­fected by liv­ing in the US for more than two decades. “I can’t even bring my­self to say ‘math’, in­stead of ‘maths’, so I say ‘math­e­mat­ics’ – I sound ridicu­lous,” he laughs.

Ive is in a good mood to­day – and not just be­cause he’s cel­e­brat­ing his 47th birth­day. He’s happy to talk, es­pe­cially when asked about be­ing a ‘maker’ rather than a de­signer. “Ob­jects and their man­u­fac­ture are in­sep­a­ra­ble. You un­der­stand a prod­uct if you un­der­stand how it’s made,” he says.

“I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, be­fore I even be­gin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resur­gence of the idea of craft.”

Ive has been a maker ever since he could wield a screw­driver. He in­her­ited his crafts­man’s skills from his fa­ther, Michael. He was a sil­ver­smith who later be­came a lec­turer in craft, de­sign and tech­nol­ogy at Mid­dle­sex Polytech­nic. Ive spent his child­hood tak­ing apart the fam­ily’s worldly goods and try­ing to put them back to­gether again. “Com­plete in­trigue with the phys­i­cal world starts by de­stroy­ing it,” he says. Ra­dios were easy, but “I re­mem­ber tak­ing an alarm clock to pieces and it was very dif­fi­cult to re­assem­ble it. I couldn’t get the main­spring re­wound.” Thirty years later, he did the same to his iPhone one day. Just to prove he still could.

A love of mak­ing is some­thing he shared with Jobs, Ap­ple’s for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive who died three years ago. It helped the two men forge the most cre­ative part­ner­ship mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism has seen. In less than two decades, they trans­formed Ap­ple from a near-bank­rupt also-ran into the most valu­able cor­po­ra­tion on the planet, worth more than £400 bil­lion (Dh2.4 tril­lion).

“Steve and I spent months and months work­ing on a part of a prod­uct that, of­ten, no­body would ever see, nor re­alise was there,” Ive grins. Ap­ple is no­to­ri­ous for mak­ing the in­sides of its ma­chines look as good as the out­side. “It didn’t make any dif­fer­ence func­tion­ally. We did it be­cause we cared, be­cause when you re­alise how well you can make some­thing, fall­ing short, whether seen or not, feels like fail­ure.”

For a man whose prod­ucts are all called iSome­thing, it’s sur­pris­ing that “I” is one word Ive scarcely uses. He talks con­stantly about his team or Jobs, us­ing “we”. This is not “aw-shucks” false mod­esty. “I don’t like be­ing sin­gled out for at­ten­tion. De­sign­ing, en­gi­neer­ing and mak­ing these prod­ucts re­quires large teams,” he says.

Ive re­ally does keep a low pro­file – or at least as low a pro­file as you’d ex­pect one of the world’s most highly paid de­sign­ers to keep. He has only one house – in the swanky Pa­cific Heights district of San Fran­cisco, where his neigh­bours in­clude Or­a­cle’s Larry El­li­son, PayPal founder Peter Thiel and the ac­tor Ni­co­las Cage. He lives there with his Bri­tish wife, Heather Pegg, a writer and his­to­rian, and their twin sons. He avoids pub­lic­ity – he and his de­sign team have only been seen in pub­lic once: in Lon­don two years ago when they all turned up to ac­cept a pres­ti­gious D& AD de­sign award.

The sim­ple truth is, Ive hates fuss and rel­ishes sim­plic­ity. You can see that from his prod­ucts. They may be rev­o­lu­tion­ary, hi-tech magic boxes, but they look so el­e­gantly sim­ple that you know what they are for and how to use them the mo­ment you first pick them up. The iMac ban­ished

com­pli­cated PCs from our desks and made com­put­ing easy. With just a tiny white box with a scroll wheel, he put 1,000 songs in our pocket. The iPhone was so touchy-feely, it trashed the fid­dly Black­Berry in a heart­beat. Five-year-old kids can pick up and use the iPad – and fre­quently too.

His love of sim­plic­ity and di­rect­ness ex­tends be­yond tech. He col­lects point-’n’-shoot cars – the kind that are hewn from a sin­gle block of alu­minium. It was his teenage love of cars that made Ive de­cide to be­come a de­signer.

When he left school, he checked out a few car-de­sign cour­ses in Lon­don, in­clud­ing one at the Royal Col­lege. He swiftly changed his mind. “The classes were full of stu­dents mak­ing ‘Vroom! Vroom!’ noises as they drew,” he re­calls, still hor­ri­fied. So he headed to New­cas­tle Polytech­nic to study in­dus­trial de­sign. His work there – no­tably a tele­phone and a hear­ing aid – was so good it was ex­hib­ited at the De­sign Mu­seum.

Af­ter leav­ing New­cas­tle, he went to work for Roberts Weaver Group, the Lon­don de­sign agency that had spon­sored him through col­lege. He left a year later to join Tan­ger­ine, a new de­sign agency in the cap­i­tal’s Hox­ton Square. (He ob­vi­ously has a thing about firms named af­ter fruit.) There, he de­signed ev­ery­thing from microwave ovens to tooth­brushes. But he quickly be­came dis­il­lu­sioned work­ing for clients he didn’t like or whose val­ues he didn’t share.

The last straw came one rainy day when he drove to Hull to present his de­sign for a new hand basin and toi­let for Ideal Stan­dard. It was Comic Re­lief day and the boss lam­pooned his work as too mod­ern and too ex­pen­sive to build – while wear­ing a gi­ant plas­tic red nose.

But there was one Tan­ger­ine client Ive ad­mired – Ap­ple, for which he had started work­ing as a con­sul­tant. He came up with the early de­signs for a por­ta­ble com­puter that be­came the power­Book in 1991. He had first come across Ap­ple af­ter “hav­ing such prob­lems with com­put­ers” dur­ing his stu­dent years that he feared he was “tech­ni­cally inept”.

Ap­ple’s in­tu­itive mouse-driven sys­tem sud­denly made it all seem so sim­ple. The com­pany had been ask­ing him to work full-time for two years, but he had hes­i­tated. Ap­ple was in trou­ble at the time and the firm was half the world away. This time he signed up. It was 1992.

His first few years were frus­trat­ing. Back then, Ap­ple’s prod­ucts were dull. Re­mem­ber the New­ton? Thought not. De­sign didn’t mat­ter much. He al­most quit sev­eral times. But when Steve Jobs, who had been ousted in 1985, re­turned to try to save the firm in 1996, he spotted Ive’s talent and the two men set out on their ma­ni­a­cal jour­ney to re­make what they saw as the bland, lazy world around them – or at least the bits of it they thought they could change. Un­like other elec­tron­ics gi­ants that make ev­ery­thing from com­put­ers to cam­eras to fridges, Ap­ple has only ever made three things: com­put­ers, en­ter­tain­ment de­vices and phones.

Ive works in a de­sign stu­dio in a build­ing in one cor­ner of ap­ple’s cam­pus at 1 In­fi­nite Loop, the firm’s made-up ad­dress. It looks like all the other dull, un-Ap­ple-like glass and beige con­crete blocks. With one re­ally big dif­fer­ence. The glass is opaque and no one other than Ive, his core team and the top Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives is al­lowed in. “The rea­son is, it’s the one place you can go and see ev­ery­thing we’re work­ing on – all the de­signs, all the pro­to­types,” Ive says.

His team, from Bri­tain, Amer­ica, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, “is re­ally much smaller than you’d think – about 15. Most of us have worked to­gether for 15 to 20 years”. That’s use­ful. “We can be bit­terly crit­i­cal of our work. The per­sonal is­sues of ego have long since faded.”

The large open-plan stu­dio is, like most of Ive’s per­sonal ap­ple prod­ucts, all-white. A large wooden bench is de­voted to new prod­ucts. At one end

are a lot of CNCs – hi-tech ma­chines that are used to make pro­to­types.

Ive starts a project by imag­in­ing what a new kind of prod­uct should be and what it should do. Only once those ques­tions are an­swered does he work out what it should look like.

Ive seeks ad­vice in un­likely places. He worked with con­fec­tionery man­u­fac­tur­ers to per­fect the translu­cent jelly-bean shades of his first big hit, the orig­i­nal iMac. He trav­elled to Ni­igata in north­ern Ja­pan to see how me­tal­work­ers there beat metal so thin, to help him cre­ate the ti­ta­nium Power­Book, the first light­weight alu­minium lap­top in a world of hefty black plas­tic slabs.

He spent “months and months and months” work­ing out the ex­act shape of the stand for the desk­top iMac com­puter be­cause “it’s very hard to de­sign some­thing that you al­most do not see be­cause it just seems so ob­vi­ous, nat­u­ral and in­evitable”.

When he has fin­ished a prod­uct, even one as fresh and iconic as the white head­phones that came with the first iPod, he is haunted by the idea: could I have done it bet­ter? “It’s an af­flic­tion de­sign­ers are cursed with,” Ive frowns.

It was an af­flic­tion he shared with Jobs, al­though he seemed to ap­ply it to ev­ery­thing, with – al­most – funny con­se­quences. Ive re­calls trav­el­ling with Jobs. “We’d get to the ho­tel where we were go­ing, we’d check in and I’d go up to my room. I’d leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t un­pack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the in­evitable call from Steve: ‘Hey Jony, this ho­tel sucks. let’s go.’

“Jobs’ pres­ence still looms large at Ap­ple. Out­side the room where Ive and I meet is one of his say­ings printed in huge letters on the wall. It reads: “If you do some­thing and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do some­thing else won­der­ful, not dwell on it for too long. Just fig­ure out what’s next.”

What made the two men work so well to­gether? Af­ter all, they are very dif­fer­ent. Ive has a gen­tle, easy-go­ing man­ner. The laser-sharp in­ten­sity of his ideas is leav­ened by warmth and hu­mour, much of it self-dep­re­cat­ing. No one ever de­scribed Jobs as easy-go­ing or self­dep­re­cat­ing. “When we were look­ing at ob­jects, what our eyes phys­i­cally saw and what we came to per­ceive were ex­actly the same. And we would ask the same ques­tions, have the same cu­rios­ity about things.”

Was Jobs as tough as people say? Sto­ries abound of him hu­mil­i­at­ing un­der­lings and even – per­haps es­pe­cially – ex­ec­u­tives. “So much has been writ­ten about Steve, and I don’t recog­nise my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a sur­gi­cally pre­cise opin­ion. Yes, it could st­ing. Yes, he con­stantly ques­tioned. ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ But he was so clever. His ideas were bold and mag­nif­i­cent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he de­cided to be­lieve we would even­tu­ally make some­thing great. And, oh, the joy of get­ting there!”

For such a de­ter­mined maker, you might think that Ive would sin­gle out a prod­uct, prob­a­bly the iPhone, as his great­est achieve­ment. It is cer­tainly the most copied in­ven­tion of the mod­ern era. But it is an idea he likes most. He and his team have, he says, proved that con­sumers are not the price-ob­sessed philistines they are of­ten as­sumed to be. “We’re sur­rounded by anony­mous, poorly made ob­jects. It’s tempt­ing to think it’s be­cause the people who use them don’t care – just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aes­thet­ics. They care about things that are thought­fully con­ceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large num­ber of, hope­fully, beau­ti­ful, well-made things. Our suc­cess is a vic­tory for pu­rity, in­tegrity – for giv­ing a damn.”

But crit­ics com­plain about the built-in ob­so­les­cence of Ap­ple prod­ucts, its her­met­i­cally sealed op­er­at­ing sys­tems, the need to buy new charg­ers for new prod­ucts and the prices Ap­ple charges. Oh, the prices!

Charg­ers and iOS are mat­ters for Ap­ple’s soft­ware fel­las and the firm’s new boss, Tim Cook. When it comes to ob­so­les­cence, Ive him­self con­cedes he is car­ry­ing the fifth ver­sion of a phone that was only in­vented in 2007, with, yes,

So much has been writ­ten about Steve Jobs, and I don’t recog­nise my friend in much of it

a new charger. But, he says, “one of the things that is dis­tinct about our prod­ucts is that they get reused and passed on.”

On price, Ive points out that de­vel­op­ing life-chang­ing prod­ucts that we could not have imag­ined be­fore but when we see them we want at once, is very ex­pen­sive. What’s more, man­u­fac­tur­ing them the Ap­ple way, of­ten to tol­er­ances far higher than needed, costs a bomb. “We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fis­cal rea­sons. Quite the re­verse,” he laughs.

Ive picks up his iPhone to demon­strate how tech­ni­cally com­plex its con­struc­tion is. “The body is made from a sin­gle piece of ma­chined alu­minium,” he says, stick­ing to the Bri­tish pro­nun­ci­a­tion Jobs used to tease him about. “The whole thing is pol­ished first to a mir­ror fin­ish and then is very finely tex­tured, ex­cept for the Ap­ple logo. The cham­fers [smoothed-off edges] are cut with di­a­mond-tipped cut­ters. The cut­ters don’t usu­ally last very long, so we had to fig­ure out a way of mass-man­u­fac­tur­ing long-last­ing ones. The cam­era cover is sap­phire crys­tal. Look at the de­tails around the sim-card slot. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary!”

It’s pretty, all right, and doubt­less costs a pretty penny to make. But there’s some­thing else at play, some­thing Ive won’t say. As long as Ap­ple keeps on mak­ing such wildly in­no­va­tive prod­ucts – no other man­u­fac­turer, not even Ap­ple’s arch-ri­val Sam­sung, has even come close to beat­ing the iPad, and not for want of try­ing – Ap­ple can charge what­ever it likes and con­sumers will pony up. Ap­ple sells about 250 mil­lion iPhones, iPads and Macs a year and, since its launch, cus­tomers have down­loaded more than 25 bil­lion songs and 1 bil­lion TV episodes from the iTunes store – all with mar­gins that make its com­peti­tors weep. Ive talks so much more about mak­ing things than de­sign­ing them, it seems odd that he has cho­sen to work in tech, where so much of the magic is in the soft­ware, not the hard­ware. You can’t touch tech. There are no wheels or mov­ing parts in an iPad or an iPhone. Ive says tech

Mak­ing some­thing as dif­fi­cult as tech­nol­ogy so in­ti­mately per­sonal is what first at­tracted me to Ap­ple

prod­ucts of­fer some­thing unique – and uniquely chal­leng­ing. “The prod­uct you have in your hand, or put into your ear, or have in your pocket, is more per­sonal than the prod­uct you have on your desk. The strug­gle to make some­thing as dif­fi­cult and de­mand­ing as tech­nol­ogy so in­ti­mately per­sonal is what first at­tracted me to Ap­ple. People have an in­cred­i­bly per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with what we make.”

That re­la­tion­ship is get­ting closer all the time. The new big thing is wear­able tech. Google has brought out web-en­abled Google Glass spec­ta­cles. Sam­sung and Sony have in­tro­duced we­blinked smart­watches. Will Ap­ple make an iWatch? “Ob­vi­ously, there are ru­mours... and, ob­vi­ously, I’m not go­ing to talk about that. It’s a game of chess, isn’t it?”

Sounds like the Jaeger LeCoul­tre sports watch he’s wear­ing is not long for his wrist – even though he de­signed it him­self for an Aid­schar­ity auc­tion and it is one of only three in the world.

That’s the trou­ble with tech. It changes so fast. Just when you think you have the best gad­get, some­thing newer, cooler, comes along – usu­ally some­thing made by Ive. Not that Ap­ple’s hun­dreds of mil­lions of fans care. The newer it is, the more they like it.

But should they? When Ive sees cus­tomers queue­ing overnight to buy the lat­est iPhone, does he worry that we have be­come too ob­sessed with the lat­est this or that?

“What people are re­spond­ing to is much big­ger than the ob­ject. They are re­spond­ing to some­thing rare – a group of people who do more than sim­ply make some­thing work, they make the very best prod­ucts they pos­si­bly can. It’s a demon­stra­tion against thought­less­ness and care­less­ness,” he says.

It’s the first time Ive al­lows him­self to be a lit­tle grand. Be­neath his stu­diously mod­est pub­lic de­meanour lies a heart of solid steel – OK, alu­minium. He’d have to have ter­abytes of con­fi­dence and re­solve to win the bat­tles Jobs fos­tered be­tween ex­ec­u­tives in a bru­tally Dar­winian ef­fort to get the best from them. I hear it again when I ask whether he is flat­tered or frus­trated when he sees his de­signs so widely ref­er­enced, re­worked – OK, copied. “It’s theft,” he replies in a heart­beat, his eyes nar­row­ing sharply. “What’s copied isn’t just a de­sign, it’s thou­sands and thou­sands of hours of strug­gle. It’s only when you’ve achieved what you set out to do that you can say, ‘this was worth pur­su­ing.’ It takes years of in­vest­ment, years of pain.”

Jobs put Ive’s anger into ac­tion. He sev­ered ties with the Google boss and for­mer Ap­ple board mem­ber Eric Sch­midt, when it emerged that Google was de­vel­op­ing its own an­swer to the iPhone. Jobs also suc­cess­fully sued Sam­sung for $1 bil­lion (Dh3.67 bil­lion) for rip­ping off Ap­ple’s ideas. Ive de­scribes Jobs as “my clos­est friend” and says he finds it odd and tough to talk about him, “be­cause it doesn’t feel that long ago that he died”. There is, per­haps, an­other rea­son. Since Jobs died, Ap­ple has hit a rough patch, at least by its lu­di­crously high stan­dards. It has not had a break­out hit since the iPad. There has been no Ap­ple TV set to rev­o­lu­tionise home en­ter­tain­ment. No spiffy watch. (Yet.) The firm’s share price has slumped and it has lost its ti­tle of the world’s most valu­able firm.

Some spec­u­late that, with­out Jobs, Ap­ple has lost its golden touch. An ac­claimed new book by the for­mer

Wall Street Jour­nal tech­nol­ogy writer Yukari Kane calls the com­pany “the Haunted Em­pire”. Oth­ers say it has killed its own fu­ture; that by cre­at­ing so many ex­tra­or­di­nary prod­ucts in such a short time, it has run out of things to in­vent. If that were true, if Ap­ple could no longer make stuff that shreds, not pushes, the en­ve­lope, would Ive give up? “Yes. I’d stop. I’d make things for my­self, for my friends at home in­stead. The bar needs to be high.”

But he adds, “I don’t think that will hap­pen. We are at the be­gin­ning of a re­mark­able time, when a re­mark­able num­ber of prod­ucts will be de­vel­oped. When you think about tech­nol­ogy and what it has en­abled us to do so far, and what it will en­able us to do in fu­ture, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.”

What’s more, af­ter all the years of toil, all the gazil­lions he’s made, he’s still re­mark­ably hun­gry. “At Ap­ple, there’s al­most a joy in look­ing at your ig­no­rance and re­al­is­ing, ‘Wow, we’re go­ing to learn about this and, by the time we’re done, we’re go­ing to re­ally un­der­stand and do some­thing great.’ Ap­ple is im­per­fect, like ev­ery large collection of people. But we have a rare qual­ity. There is this al­most pre-ver­bal, in­stinc­tive un­der­stand­ing about what we do, why we do it..” So the best of Jony Ive, the best of Ap­ple, is still to come? “I hope so.” And, with that, he gulps down the last of his now-cold cuppa and heads back through the warm Cal­i­for­nia rain to his se­cret lab. To­mor­row doesn’t wait for the man who de­signs it.

Ive’s love of ‘mak­ing’ rather than de­sign­ing was a bond he shared with Steve Jobs

Ap­ple pur­sued Ive to join it full-time for two years be­fore he agreed

While some spec­u­late that Ap­ple has lost its golden touch, Ive in­sists the best is yet to come

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