Apple Inc.'s Revered Designer Gets More Power

Jony Ive, Apple's senior vice president of design. Source: Apple.

In some bittersweet news for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) investors, the company's most influential product designer, Jony Ive, appears to be swallowing up even more of the company's software design team. But the change comes simultaneously with a report that Apple's veteran vice president of human interface, Greg Christie, is set to retire. Given the much-needed flatter alterations to the iOS 7 that surfaced under his leadership, greater control for Ive over design is likely good news for investors -- despite the loss of Christie.

Is Apple better off?
Piecing together an initial report from 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman yesterday with updates that followed from from The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and the well-connected John Gruber, it doesn't look like Christie's choice to leave Apple did not happen on bad terms. Apple said in a statement to the Financial Times that Christie had been planning to retire and Daring Fireball's Gruber said that "ground-level Cupertino-area pixel-pushing designers" told him Christie was simply ready to enjoy his hard-earned money after 18 years of a high-profile job at Apple.

But Christie's leaving may, indeed, have been at least somewhat influenced by Ive's growing control over Apple's operating system development. Most reports of Christie's leaving confirm that the software VP did not always see eye to eye with Ive after the revered hardware designer was given control in the development of iOS 7. And it's notable that the announcement of Christie's departure comes hand-in-hand with the news that Christie's team will now report to Ive.

Christie brought considerable talent to Apple. Working with the company since the development of the Newton, he is listed as inventor on nearly 100 Apple patents. Most recently, he was granted a patent for the slide-to-unlock feature, and he has even more patents pending.

The Ive integration
While the loss of Christie may hurt Apple, the company will likely see an outsized gain from greater vertical integration under Ive's expanded role. As a key designer behind important products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Ive's role at Apple couldn't be understated.

The Journal's Daisuke Wakabayashi called Ive the company's "torchbearer for Apple's design sensibility," saying he is Apple's most important executive after the CEO.

iOS 7 on iPhone 5c.

And when it comes to software, Ive has already proven himself with the redesign of iOS 7, the latest mobile operating system for Apple's iPhones and iPads. iOS 7 has been adopted by 87% of active iOS devices just seven months after its release.

Ive's greater control over the design process for Apple will likely lead to more innovation.

Gurman says it best:

While Apple's executive shakeup in 2012 unlocked the silos separating hardware and software, this latest change will completely remove any internal boundaries between Apple's hardware and software design and will likely result in even more well-integrated products.

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