Mystic meant so much

Mystic meant so much

by Pininvest Analysis

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A force at the heart of Apple's joust for beauty in technology during more than two decades, Jonathan Ive, the company's design chief, will be departing before year-end

Mr. Ive has been Steve Jobs' sparring partner in the wild creative drive which came to define Apple for the world

Receding into the mists of  oblivion, Jony Ive is also the symbol of an era true and well gone as Apple must confront new challenges

At a turning point, Tim Cook will be weighing his options to position the company in a service-driven environment, so different from the tech world Apple took by storm

Apple 1.0, what a trip it has been...

 

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A perfect storm has been thumping Apple lately

  • a severe slowdown in Chinese iPhone sales
  • a risky dependency of the supply chain on a single country, China....
  • a failed attempt to strong-arm a semi-conductor licensor, Qualcomm
  • an unexpected ruling by the US Supreme Court, which could lead to court decisions redefining the relation between e-commerce platforms and users

Considered on their own, these events are troublesome, but they remain unexceptional occurrences in a global company, deeply intertwined with powerful national interests,  exposed to economic backlash around the world and to competitive challenges

 

Mystic's evanescent fragrance

If the first six months of 2019 stand out, it is in the brutal build-up, stripping away the veil, a carefully crafted illusion of superiority

Asserting that Apple was still somehow inspired by the creative spirit of Steve Jobs, the company was unrepentant in promoting its uniqueness, aloof of the more pedestrian competition

The mystic around Steve Jobs' Apple engaged clients one by one as individuals sharing their faith in the company's line-up

Steve Jobs - iPhone4 presentation credit Wikimedia
  • not 'products' but unique 'creations' devised by inspired designers - and ultimately by Jobs himself
  • shortening the range dramatically, ideally to a single invention - perfect combination of genial software and wondrous hardware
  • carefully staged at orchestrated events, proving to the media (and the world) that Apple indeed stood apart - forever

 

By handing the baton over to Tim Cook, towards the end of his life, Jobs confronted reality head-on

  • for the 'mystic' to survive his own demise, operations, the nuts and bolts of an intricate supply chain, had to come first
  • Mr. Cook would lead as architect of an extraordinary operational success, still a key differentiating factor of the company today
  • the reputed design team was tasked with keeping the 'magic' alive...without its inspirational leader

 

The talent of Jony Ive

As design chief, Jonathan Ive has been at the heart of Apple's joust for beauty in technology during more than two decades

An unmatched business success, the design operation has been like no other in world-beating industry

  • a double act between sparring partners, bonded by creative drive - the Steve and Jony show
Steve Jobs & Jonathan Ive - credit theapplepost
  • a source of inspiration spreading beyond the design department, infusing audacity into the entire company

With the death of Mr. Jobs, the infinitely delicate balance between the creator's inspired design and destructive self-doubt, between a visionary future and bleak nothingness was no more

If the sudden silence was hard on Mr. Ive, whose talent had undoubtedly flowered in creative dialogue, Apple's intent to keep the 'mystic' on the road made matters conceivably worse

  • a promise extracted by Steve Jobs from Mr. Ive to keep the design department running is a probability (we would not know for sure...)
  • the gradual shift away from creative master to 'figurehead' of a design department revisiting past inventions, and running dry for lack of provocative ideas, took, in all likelihood, a heavy toll
Mr. Ive (lef) with Mr. Cook iPhone Xr presentaion Sept '18 credit Apple

This is how we believe Apple came to accept Jony Ive's departure at the end of June 2019, capping a dark 6-months for the company

 

The talent of Tim Cook

Much 'story telling' will be made of Jony Ive's failure to keep the design department in top form 

  • creative types (good) loose out to financial bean-counters (bad)
  • Tim Cook, an engineer by training (not so good), never 'understood' design 
  • tight financial controls side-tracked promising new products (maybe)

The list of ready-made explanations goes on, pandering to the preconceptions of analysts and investors

Grasping at straws, careful students of the company will come to a different conclusion, recognizing that, with Mr. Ive, the symbol of another era, true and well gone, Apple is at a turning point

  • Sales of  hardware (iPhones, tablets and PCs) have been stablilizing in the face of a widening array of competitive products on growth markets (China), high penetration rates in mature markets (US) and slowing renewal rates
  • Services tethered to Apple hardware, an approach the company is familiar with (music, news), may not support ambitious growth targets, even with planned expansion in video and TV programs

Faced with uncertainty on both fronts, hardware and services, Mr. Cook, and the company he leads, seem to be at a cross-road, as we noted in 'A cultural revolution'

  • Services tightly integrated with Apple phones - or mobile devices still to be invented - are probably the safest route, protective of the company's deep seated certainties and expected as such by its existing client base
  • Services seen as potential growth drivers in their own right, supported by - but not exclusively dependent on iPhones, might open entirely different  - and exciting - venues of growth, catering to new client categories

 

Mr. Cook's visionary leadership, which contributed much to the world-beating success of Apple 1.0, Steve Jobs' brain child, will be sorely tested

Starting from a strong base, Apple's service revenues today, the company has to find ways to break with tested market strategies which served it so well, while nurturing its brand and culture

It might be Apple 2.0 or Steve Jobs unbound  - as our follow-up note will be entitled