Jonathan Ive: Steve Jobs' successor?

The press were wondering who will take over when Steve is no longer there. Fortune Magazine, Cnet, and Engadget published articles that looked to Jonathan Ive as heir to the kingdom. Each article recognises the head designer as the catalyst behind the products that saved and strengthened Apple.  

The company’s batting rate for both sales and design awards has skyrocketed since Jonathan joined the team. At first, Jonathan almost quit Apple whose leadership under Gil Amelio had overlooked Jony’s ideas. When Steve returned to the helm, he embraced the Brit and the rest is silicon history. Apple’s  website describes Jonathan as “reporting directly to the CEO” – a gentle reminder that his stellar ideas still require Steve’s royal seal. Not unlike a rare bird kept in a cage, Jony labours away in a studio forbidden to most Apple staff.[1]


Jonathan chooses to live further away from the office than Steve. His house is deep in the forest among the Twin Peaks mountains where he raises twin boys with his wife, Heather - a writer of histories. He finds solace in watching episodes of The Office – a British satire that exposes the puerile politics of working in a corporate beehive.[2] After two decades of working magic for Apple, there is only one lonely book on the market written about him: Jonathan Ive: Designer of the iPod [3]. You can imagine the hours of brainstorming that went into that inspired title. The book is aimed at high schoolers and only one person bothered to give a review of two stars on Amazon.com. The main obstacle to biographers is that Jonathan seldom speaks to anyone. Apple won’t even release his date of birth. Perhaps they don’t know the date because Jonathan won’t tell them. Interviews with Jonathan are even more scarce than those with Steve. When a journalist is finally granted an audience, he speaks only about the noble philosophy of his craft. He seems tethered by the invisible hand of Steve. British Channel 4 journalist, Nicholas Glass dared to ask him about the defective iPod battery. Patiently, Jonathan leans forward to listen to the question, leans right back, and politely replies, 


“Actually not going talk about the battery.”
“Not allowed to?”
“Probably not allowed to.” 


Jonathan’s amiable smile broke only for a moment. 


Battery issues did not deter Queen Elizabeth II from asking her son, Prince Andrew, to fetch a silver 6 Gig Mini iPod from the Regent Street Apple Store in 2005 (she owns the building).[4] The Monarch was so impressed that the following year she awarded Jonathan the title of Commander of The British Empire.[5] Fellow awardees included fashion legend Vivienne Westwood. His title is two rungs higher than John Lennon's MBE. The singer received the title in '65. Four years later, he met Yoko and decided to make a big silly deal about rejecting his MBE “as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts”.[6] Unlike Lennon (Steve’s idol), Jonathan accepted his title with good grace like a proper English gentleman. After all, it’s only a New Year’s gift from a nice elderly lady.

Jonathan’s resume looks pretty slick so far. He excelled himself at Northumbria University’s Industrial design course – the same school attended by Steve’s friend, Sting. Two years after the iPod, he stepped into in the sizable footsteps of his idol, Dieter Rams, by receiving The Royal Designer for Industry Award. A year later, he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal. The Medal is awarded to “a global ‘big thinker’, an individual who … is deemed by the RSA to be significant to our core enlightenment values of developing human progress.”[7] Colin Powell won the previous year’s medal. When Jonathan won the National Design Award in 2007, Business Week stated “Jonathan Ive and Apple Win Again …It's no surprise Cooper-Hewitt honoured the doyen of computer design”.[8] His iPod and even his lovely and over-over-priced Apple G4 Cube are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His designs sit self-importantly beside other high-minded artistic endeavours such a very large paper clip, a partial photograph of a bag of cat litter, and Dieter Rams’ little Braun T3 transistor radio.


Jonathan was number two on The Daily Telegraph’s 2009 fifty most influential Britons in technology. Number one was Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It’s hard to compete with the guy who invented the world wide web. Number twenty was Stephen Fry who seems to have found a way to twitter his love for Apple even as he sleeps. The Telegraph remarked that Stephen promotes that “a love of technology is an essential part of a sophisticated intellectual life, giving us all an excuse to buy shiny toys that go beep.” [9]


Stephen interviewed Jonathan for his BBC1 television series, Stephen Fry in America. As they both looked over the San Francisco skyline, Stephen asked,


“It could be said that the two most influential Britons of the past thirty years are Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web, and you who’ve given us the iPod and all the train of Apple products. Yet you both choose to live and work in America. I wonder if that says something about Britain or more importantly about America?”

Jony replied, “I think that there's just a conspicuous lack of cynicism and scepticism and ideas are so fragile aren't they? It's so easy to sort of miss an idea, because they can be so quiet, or to snuff an idea out.  I think that the sense of the inquisitiveness and the willingness to try is so important for design, for developing those tentative, fragile ideas into a real product.” [10]


Several design companies use this quote to inspire them forward in their endeavours.

Everybody loves Jony. His DJ chum, the prolific John Digweed, marvels at Jony’s humility despite his global status. It took the DJ months before he realised Jonathan was THAT Jonathan.[11]  His good friend, elite Australian designer, Marc Newson, gave him one of his five thousand dollar Ikepod timepieces. The man is surrounded by friends, and why not? It’s difficult not to like the softly-spoken gentle giant. You can even buy Jonathan Ive t-shirts. Although they are a little more difficult to find than those emblazoned with Steve’s image. Apple was built by a fierce loner who understood from the very beginning that nice guys finish last.


Jonathan may have the artistic soul of Apple; but Apple’s deluxe products and deluxe price tags require a CEO who can sell deluxe ice to Eskimos (so long as it isn’t cube-shaped ice). Nice guys like Jony aren’t salesmen. No one sells with as much panache and vigour as Steve.



[1]CnnMoney Smartest People in Tech. Smartest Designer: Jonathan Ive. Retrieved from: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/technology/1007/gallery.smartest_people_tech.fortune/6.html

[2] Arlidge, J. (2003, December 21) Father Of Invention.  From The Observer Comment in The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,1111276,00.html

[3] Hirschmann, K. (2007) Jonathan Ive: Designer of the iPod. Michigan: Kidhaven.

[4] Ricker, T. (2005, June 17) Queen Elizabeth II: diminutive royal, iPod user. Engadget. Retrieved from http://www.engadget.com/2005/06/17/queen-elizabeth-ii-diminutive-royal-ipod-user/
[5] Sullivan, L. (2006, Janaury 3) Apple's iPod Gets Royal Honor. Information Week.

[6] NME (2009, January 6) John Lennon's MBE found in royal vault. 

[8] Scanlon, J. & Walters, H.92007, June 7) Jonathan Ive and Apple Win Again. Business Week.

[9] Beere, C. (2009, September 24) The 50 most influential Britons in technology. Daily Telegraph.

[10] BBC1/Sprout Pictures (Producers) (2008)Stephen Fry In America. Episode Six.

[11] Arlidge, J. (2003, December 21) Father Of Invention.  From The Observer Comment in The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,1111276,00.html

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