Under New Management

Apple’s executive-level restructuring. It’s huge. Everyone’s talking about it.

What bothers me, though, is that everyone is flinging around cheap shots at ‘skeuomorphism’ (set to be awarded the Most Misused Term of 2012 award), as Jonathan Ive gaining leadership over Apple’s famous software HI team is somehow assumed to significantly change Apple’s subjective design decisions in the future.

People are jumping to conclusions and making assumptions on design processes at a company that’s so well known for being design-driven and perfectionist. However, it doesn’t tend to be that clear cut when you’re essentially leading the trend of software design. I can’t see things changing in such a black-and-white way: Ive was, after all, closely involved in the design of iOS 1.0.

I’m a designer, and I’m far more curious to see what changes we’ll see in the, um, strategy. You know, that thing managers and executives tend to do. They manage things. Set plans. Develop strategies. Yes, they make decisions on visual design – in fact, I was surprised at the level of detail Steve gave feedback on design when I worked there – but they do far more than just that.

Jonathan Ive’s hardware division is always the subject of much conversation. When I think about it, its biggest purely managerial quality is its tendency to work on things for a long time until they’re absolutely perfect. They took a long time to make the nicest laptop body in existence (everybody has taken to copying it). They designed a tablet, and then spent years upon years to make it just right. It’s been said they’re working on something for the ‘Pro’ Mac market, and in the meantime they haven’t rushed to release a stopgap product or an hasty excuse of a Mac Pro: nope, they’re done when they’re done. For the Mac Pro, that’s about 826 days and counting – if you are. In which case you may want to stop.

Contrast to the criticism iOS features have been getting lately: unfinished and unpolished. Maps is often slammed by critics as being not ready for prime time, and Siri’s ‘beta’ badge has earned Apple a good amount of hate. It could be said Apple’s (Forstall’s or not) focus was more on deadlines, rather than getting the job done right.

In the wake of the news that iTunes has been delayed a whole month, I think there may be something to this. If anything, an Apple that collaborates better and more transparently internally on hardware and software iterations can get more done than one that has possibly different styles of management. And in the future, as we move from evolutionary steps on the existing iOS user interaction paradigms to bigger, revolutionary changes, Apple will need this tight coupling of hardware and software. For instance, I would not be surprised if sensors for gestures, biometrics and other novel technologies will be a key part of a next-generation iOS – all examples of tightly integrated hardware and software.

But what do I know: I don’t work there (anymore).

But I, for one, won’t assert that with one leadership restructure, the defining aesthetic and look-and-feel of the most profitable technology company in the world is going to change dramatically.