Apple disrupted an entire industry with the Mac, did it again with the iPod, then transformed the world with the iPhone. Steve Jobs, who once proclaimed that it was better to be a pirate than in the navy, spearheaded a series of industrial innovations that still shape the technology of today. Jobs may have been the captain, but Apple's products required his collaboration with Jony Ive, Tony Fadell, Scott Forstall, and a host of lesser-known lieutenants working within Apple's magical kingdom.
Now a Sir, Jony Ive was not just a design visionary but a whisperer of Steve Jobs - the two drew the best from one another, forming a creative partnership that reached the pinnacles of perfection. Tim Cook, a self-described 'numbers guy,' joined the band in 1998, initially to reinvent the supply chain and transform the visions of Ive and Jobs into profitable possibilities. For a time the trio thrived, but after losing his creative partner in 2011, Ive grew increasingly frustrated with his innovative ideas falling on the creatively deaf ears of Cook. Whereas Jobs wanted Apple to be pirates, 'the round pegs in the square holes,' Cook was there to increase the bottom line, rallying Apple around the infamous Lance Armstrong line: "I don't like to lose. I just despise it". To shareholders, Cook is an exceptional CEO, growing Apple's market capitalization by $1.5 trillion in his 12-year reign; but this came at the cost of driving away the company's star performers.
With the iPhone representing 60% of Apple's revenue in 2022, the magic that Jobs and his team created is still sustaining the company, but when Ive left in 2019, many began wondering if the magic had left too.
Note: The following are excerpts from After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul by Tripp Mickle.
[Steve Jobs] had been troubled by how the Walt Disney Company had floundered after its cofounder’s death; he had lectured Polaroid’s leadership after it had forced its founder, Edwin Land, out of the company; and he had become alarmed as Sony had lost its way without the direction of Akio Morita, the marketing virtuoso behind the Walkman. He believed that once-great companies often declined after they became monopolies, innovation slowed, and the products they made became an afterthought. Eventually, they put salespeople in charge and prioritized how much they sold instead of what they sold. Companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard were different. “They created a company to last, not just to make money. That’s what I want Apple to be,” he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. (In 2015, Hewlett-Packard was split up after a seventy-five-year run. By 2020, Intel was falling behind rivals in manufacturing more compact and powerful silicon chips.)
Jobs was skilled at finding creative partners. Apple had sprouted out of his partnership with Steve Wozniak. His relationship with Ive over the next few years would become central to his second act at Apple. They balanced each other like Jobs’s favorite bandleaders, the more cynical John Lennon and the more sentimental Paul McCartney. Whereas Jobs was voluble, direct, and insistent, Ive was quiet, steady, and patient. Jobs could be blunt about what he liked or didn’t like in a way that directed Ive’s work, and Ive could calm Jobs down when he erupted or frame ideas in ways that caused Jobs to reconsider them. Attuned to the importance of their dynamic, Jobs treated Ive differently from his other lieutenants. Prone to bullying and demeaning others, he never intentionally wounded Ive, who considered ideas fragile. He empowered the designer and made him central to product development. “Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He’s not just a designer.”
Upon his return to Apple in 1997, Jobs had eliminated 70 percent of the products the company was making and drawn a four-square chart on a whiteboard. He had written “Consumer,” “Pro,” “Desktop,” and “Portable” in the squares and said the company needed to make one great product for each quadrant—four products in all.
Jobs and Ive discovered that they had overlapping design sensibilities. Ive’s affinity for Dieter Rams’s less-but-better philosophy mirrored the concept Jobs included in a 1980s Apple brochure: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Their minimalist instincts seemed to spill over into their lives, with Ive shaving his mop of dark hair to a clean stubble and Jobs wearing the same Issey Miyake black turtleneck every day. They also shared a compulsion to dissect the materials used in a product and how it was manufactured. Their critical eyes fueled an unspoken competition, colleagues said. Each wanted to beat the other in catching minor flaws that would make an Apple product fall short of the greatness to which they both aspired.
“In the design team at Apple . . . many of us believe in the poetic possibilities of the machine,” he said. He added, “Our goal has always been to try to create objects that are as beautiful as they are functional; as elegant as they are useful.” “Deep care is critical to determine authentic, successful design,” he said before noting the beauty of the fashion on display. “Regardless of whether it has been made by hand or by machine, it is creation led by great consideration, rather than driven by a preoccupation with schedule or price.” The speech put into words his philosophy of design. In his view, just as it had been for Jobs, art should lead commerce, not the other way around.
Ive's perfectionism intensified under Jobs. In 2002, Apple’s leadership agreed to change its laptop cases from titanium to aluminum, a more versatile metal. It tapped a Japanese manufacturer to produce the computer casing, and Ive traveled to Tokyo to evaluate their work with Bart Andre, the product’s design lead, and Nick Forlenza, an engineer who brought designs to life on the factory floor. Ive arranged to meet at the Hotel Okura Tokyo, one of the city’s oldest luxury hotels. On the day of the meeting, the delegation from Apple and the manufacturer breezed through the hotel’s gold-hued lobby past shin-high tables to a private room. A Japanese executive pulled several aluminum laptop casings out of a manila envelope for Ive to review. The supplier had polished the parts to a shimmering satin silver that reflected the artificial light from the ceiling. Ive hovered over a casing and lifted it toward the light. His hands trembled with panic as his eyes glimpsed small deviations from his design specifications. He abruptly rose and left the group, upset. Worried that the part was flawed, Forlenza grabbed a red Sharpie and handed it to Ive. “Circle the things that are wrong,” he said. “I’ll get them to fix them.” Ive glared at him. “I’ve got a different idea,” he said. “Get me a bucket of red paint. I’ll dip this in it and wipe off the things that are right.” Ive held an aluminum sheet above his head and rolled it beneath the overhead lights, showing Forlenza how the reflection revealed almost imperceptible blemishes. He wanted them eliminated. Forlenza explained the problem to the supplier, and when the group returned two weeks later to review the part again, the blemishes were gone.
When Ive and Forlenza went to the Hong Kong airport to return home days later, it was still almost empty because of the epidemic. They grabbed seats at an empty bar in the airport lounge and ordered coffee. As Ive sipped on a cappuccino, he stared down the stainless-steel bar and quietly said, “I can see every seam in this bar.” Forlenza followed Ive’s gaze down the bar. He saw nothing but thirty feet of smooth silver metal. He decided that Ive, who had a glum look on his face, must have X-ray vision. “Your life must be fucking miserable,” he said.
[Cook] whipped staff forward through interrogation with a precision that reshaped the workplace. Intense, detailed, and exhausting, there was little margin for error. He seemed to absorb and retain all the information his underlings provided and learned the business faster than anyone had expected. Jobs had asked [Joe] O’Sullivan to spend four months with Cook to teach him Apple’s operations; Cook mastered them in four or five days. He peeled away at issues with question after question. Silence followed. His Socratic style created a tense atmosphere that caused staff to squirm. “Joe, how many units did we produce today?” Cook would ask. “It was ten thousand,” O’Sullivan would answer. “What was the yield?” he asked, referring to the percentage of units that passed quality assurance before shipment. “Ninety-eight percent.” Unimpressed by the efficiency, Cook would probe deeper. “So how did the two percent fail?” O’Sullivan would stare at Cook, thinking, Fuck, I don’t know. The operations team learned to scour every aspect of production and prepare answers to any question Cook could imagine. They drilled down into the performance of specific parts and each assembly line’s production results. Their boss’s appetite for specifics led everyone to become “almost Cook-like,” O’Sullivan said.
About six months after Cook joined, Jobs approached O’Sullivan on campus, energized by Cook’s performance. “What do you think?” he asked. “I don’t know,” O’Sullivan said. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” Jobs asked. “There’s no magic,” O’Sullivan said. At a company that had thrived under Jobs’s charisma, Cook quickly proved himself to be the CEO’s foil. He was stoic and reserved, seldom showing emotion. He focused on numbers and gorged on spreadsheets. He worked long hours, hitting the gym before dawn and working into the evening. He rallied his team behind the Lance Armstrong quote “I don’t like to lose. I just despise it.” His disciplined approach delivered results. In his first year, the company cut its inventory from a month of product to six days. A year later, he slashed it down to just two days’ worth and watched as the savings flowed to Apple’s bottom line. “He’s like a relentless holding midfielder,” said O’Sullivan, describing his new boss in soccer terms. He compared Cook to Roy Keane, a legendary defensive midfielder who had anchored Manchester United’s defense through a series of title-winning seasons. “He’s not the center forward, scoring goals and getting photographed at the nightclub,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s the quiet guy who does it all and goes home.”
When criticisms or questions came Cook’s way, he could always point to the numbers. Since his promotion to CEO in August 2011, Apple’s market capitalization had increased by more than $1.5 trillion and its total shareholder returns, including reinvested dividends, had been 867 percent, or about $500 billion. In late September of 2021, Apple’s board of directors rewarded Cook with what amounted to a five-year employment extension from late 2020, awarding him a performance-based package of an additional 1 million shares by 2025. Over the course of a decade, he had vested the entirety of the 1.12 million performance-based shares he’d been granted since 2011 and become a billionaire. The eye-popping figures were tucked into a dry corporate filing as discreet and understated as the man himself. They were a testament to his persistence.
Whereas Jobs had made instant, instinctive decisions, relying on his gut as much as his brain, Cook moved slowly and preferred analysis. Rather than demand that his staff create a larger iPhone, as Jobs might have done, he suggested exploring different sizes to evaluate the benefits of a change. Some team members complained that he couldn’t make a decision. Others accepted that he would provide direction after he gathered information."
Soon after becoming CEO, Cook planned to announce that employees who had spent ten years at Apple would receive a commemorative gift: a crystal cube with a recessed etching of the Apple logo. It had been created by Ive’s design team, and—just like every other product Apple made—it came in a custom box and unique packaging. Usually, the design team watched with eagerness as Jobs, who appreciated every aspect of what they did, enthusiastically unboxed their latest creation like a birthday present. The showmanship infused an extra dose of magic into what they made. They hoped that Cook would do the same. After staff members packed into Town Hall, Cook told everyone about the award. Then he matter-of-factly held the cube up for everyone to see. It was less like a magic show and more like an elementary school show-and-tell. The designers looked at their new leader with horror and wondered, Does he get it? That was when they knew things were going to be different.
Cook wanted to find more ways to squeeze sales out of the iPhone from services the company created. Standing before everyone, he clicked to an image of an X-shaped chart that showed Apple’s hardware profit margins declining and its services profit margins rising. His message to the attendees was that Apple’s legacy business, the one most associated with Ive, had become a drag on its performance as the costs of adding more cameras and components to the iPhone had risen while the phone’s sales price remained flat. Meanwhile, services such as iCloud subscriptions were lifting the company’s bottom line because they had relatively fixed costs and more and more people were signing up to pay monthly fees for them. Stern’s job was to find a way to generate more of that easy money. The presentation alarmed some people in the audience. It depicted a future in which Ive—and the company’s business as a product maker—would matter less and Cook’s increasing emphasis on services—such as Apple Music and iCloud—would matter more.
In the wake of the new financial targets, Cook met with Peter Stern, a former Time Warner Cable executive, and Eddy Cue, head of services, to map out how to proceed. The company’s biggest service at the time was iCloud, which charged as little as 99 cents a month to back up people’s photos. Stern, who led the iCloud business, proposed increasing the number of subscribers and the amount they paid by bundling iCloud with other subscription apps. The strategy mirrored Amazon, which created a Prime delivery service and attracted subscribers by including access to its Prime video app with TV shows and movies. Stern championed the idea of an Apple bundle. Cook recognized the services possibilities were endless. Apple could create a fitness app with yoga classes, design a news service with magazines, or build its own Netflix. Those apps would cost relatively little for Apple to develop but potentially bring the company millions of subscribers, creating what financial gurus called recurring revenue, a steady stream of monthly payments that would fill Apple’s piggy bank as reliably as a child’s allowance. Subscribers would pay Apple more over the lifetime of their memberships than the $1,000 cost of an iPhone. It could be a business breakthrough.
After years of being hounded by the same question—What’s the next new device?—Cook had finally delivered his answer: There isn’t one. His message hadn’t been aimed at Main Street; it was for Wall Street. He wanted investors to see that Apple was making a major shift. Rather than its products creating glory, Cook outlined a future in which Apple basked in the glory of others. He didn’t want to merely update the iPhone every year; he wanted people to pay Apple subscription fees for the movies they watched on that iPhone. He didn’t want to enable digital payments; he wanted Apple to be the processor of every transaction. And he didn’t want Apple to make the screen on which people read articles; he wanted to sell access to the magazines they read. For years, Cook had seen new revenue opportunities in each of those businesses. He had plotted a path to get there, buying Beats in 2014, courting Hollywood agents and directors in the years that had followed, and forging strong ties with Goldman Sachs throughout that time. He saw in all of it a way to shed the burden of a device business that was running out of juice and enter a world of services that promised unlimited growth. As Wall Street digested the strategy, Apple’s share price soared. It nearly doubled by the end of the year. The longtime darling of Main Street had become a darling of Wall Street. Cook’s conquest was complete.
"Jobs had anticipated the pitfalls ahead. He had been troubled by how the Walt Disney Company had floundered after its cofounder’s death; he had lectured Polaroid’s leadership after it had forced its founder, Edwin Land, out of the company; and he had become alarmed as Sony had lost its way without the direction of Akio Morita, the marketing virtuoso behind the Walkman. He believed that once-great companies often declined after they became monopolies, innovation slowed, and the products they made became an afterthought. Eventually, they put salespeople in charge and prioritized how much they sold instead of what they sold. Companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard were different. 'They created a company to last, not just to make money. That’s what I want Apple to be,' he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson."
Jobs said he had studied what had happened at the Walt Disney Company and how it had been paralyzed after its cofounder Walt Disney had died. Everyone had asked: What would Walt do? What decision would he make? “Never do that,” Jobs said. “Just do what’s right.” The selection surprised some outsiders because—as Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson—Cook wasn’t a “product person.” But insiders understood the choice. Cook ran a division devoid of drama and focused on collaboration. Apple needed a new operating style after losing someone irreplaceable.
Work to revive Apple began immediately. Jobs bet that a “network computer” focused on connecting to the internet would be the next wave in PCs. He wanted Apple to be at the forefront of that transition with an all-in-one desktop that omitted the floppy-disk drive and encouraged people to turn to the web for software and information. He tasked Ive with the design. With the company’s future in doubt, Ive pulled together the entire team to work on the project. Previously, they had had so many products to design that the members had worked independently, but Jobs had eliminated most products in favor of making fewer and better computers. Apple’s designers sat around a table in the Valley Green studio to discuss ideas. Loose sheets of paper, colored pencils, and pens were laid out for sketching. Ive prodded the group with questions based on Jobs’s encouragement to make a computer that was joyful. He asked: How do we want people to feel about this computer? What part of our minds should it occupy? How do we make something that looks novel but not threatening? The group began to coalesce around the idea that the computer needed to be like The Jetsons TV cartoon: futuristic but familiar. As they talked at meetings, Satzger drew an egg-shaped computer reminiscent of some contemporary TVs, while another designer, Chris Stringer, sketched a colorful candy dispenser. The team had recently made a laptop with translucent plastic, and Ive liked the idea of using that material because it would make the computer’s monitor look as though it were floating in space. He and Danny Coster took the lead on the design. The egg shape, color, and translucency were combined into models to show Jobs. Ive had high hopes for the concept, but Jobs rejected a dozen models. Ive persisted, pointing to another model and explaining it descriptively. “It has a sense that it’s just arrived on your desktop or it’s just about to hop off and go somewhere,” he told Jobs. The toylike description stuck with the CEO. When he saw a refined version at a later review, he loved the model so much that he started carrying it around campus to show others. He saw its potential as Apple’s one hit.
With its direction set, the design team focused on selecting materials and color. For the shell, they chose one of the strongest plastics available, polycarbonate, because it held color well. The team made models in three colors: orange, purple, and a blue-green shade inspired by a piece of beach glass that one of the several designers who surfed had brought into the studio. They decided to call it Bondi blue, a reference to the brilliant blue waters off Sydney’s Bondi Beach, one of project leader Coster’s preferred surf spots. Because the inside of the computer would be visible, they laid out the components as well. Ive was invigorated to learn that Jobs treated costs as an afterthought. The plastic shell his design team had developed required a custom process to make it sturdy and translucent. It cost $60 per unit, three times the cost of a standard computer case, but Jobs supported the expense. Ive also pushed for the addition of a handle, not so people could pick the computer up but because it made the computer approachable. He wanted to make it something that people felt compelled to touch. Jobs immediately grasped it. “That’s cool!” he said. Some engineers objected to the feature because it increased manufacturing expenses, but Jobs overruled them. There was a new way of doing things: Design came first.
The design [for the iPod] concept struck Ive during his daily commute between San Francisco and Cupertino. While meditating on how to give the brick of components aesthetic appeal, he imagined an MP3 player in pure white with a back side of polished steel. The metal would feel significant, providing a weight that would convey the amount of work artists had put into the thousands of songs the device held, while the white player and headphones would make the device look simultaneously bold and inconspicuous, planting it between the original black Sony Walkman and its brilliant yellow successors.
The design faced resistance internally. Colleagues questioned the stainless-steel case and molded body, and challenged Ive’s vision for engraving Apple’s logo on its rear rather than on its front. They also expressed doubts about the idea of white rather than the more commonplace black headphones. Despite those competing views, Jobs supported the proposals by Ive and the design team. From its shape to its color, the device was a subtle extension of the Walkman-inspired hearing aid Ive had made at Newcastle. Apple was already working with white for its computers. The studio favored it because the designers believed that color could alienate people, especially in mass production. White was fresh, light, and acceptable, allowing them to make a single model and forgo needing to make a rainbow of colors to appeal to everyone. For the iPod, Ive wanted a new white. Satzger, who led color materials, worked with his colleagues to create a saturated white they called Moon Gray.
The design team's power made it a safe harbor for engineers exploring new ideas. When an engineer named Brian Huppi wanted to develop ways to control a computer without a mouse, he approached designer Duncan Kerr about investigating how to do so. Ive loved the idea. With his blessing, Kerr and a team of software engineers, including Bas Ording, Imran Chaudhri, and Greg Christie, started an R-and-D project to find a way to control a device with the touch of a finger. They soon discovered a Delaware-based company that made a touch pad to control a computer. The team bought one of the pads and reworked it, projecting the image of a Mac onto a table to see what it was like to navigate the screen by finger. They wrote code to zoom in on maps, drag files, and rotate images. When Kerr shared the technology with the design team, the group was gobsmacked. When Jobs visited for a private demonstration, he was less enthusiastic. He dismissed the idea. It seemed clumsy and—as it was still the size of a large table—impractically big. But Ive persisted, with a nudge as subtle as the one he’d given Jobs years earlier on the iMac design. “Imagine the back of a digital camera,” he said. “Why would it have to have a small screen and all of these buttons? Why couldn’t it be all display?” Jobs warmed to the idea, and multitouch, as they called the technology, became the foundation of the iPhone. Interest in making a phone had been simmering for several years at Apple. The company’s leaders found existing mobile phones clunky and cumbersome. They also feared that a rival might make the iPod redundant by combining an MP3 player and a phone into a single device. To avoid that fate, Jobs set what became known as Project Purple into motion.
The iPhone further tested Cook’s operations prowess. The early model that Jobs carried onstage in January 2007 featured a plastic display. When he put it in his pocket, Jobs found that his keys scratched the surface. He decided six months before launch that Apple needed to replace the plastic display with glass. Cook and others worried that a glass display wouldn’t be durable enough to survive a customer dropping their phone. They feared Apple stores would be overrun by people with cracked screens demanding a replacement. Cook’s lieutenant, Williams, even told Jobs that the technology to make more resilient glass wouldn’t be ready for three to four years. “No, no, no,” Jobs said. “When it ships in June, it needs to be glass.” “But we tested all the current glass, and when you drop it, it breaks one hundred percent of the time,” Williams said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but when it ships in June, it’s going to be glass,” Jobs said. Afterward, Jobs called the CEO of the glassmaker Corning and told him its glass sucked. The CEO, Wendell Weeks, went to Cupertino to meet with Jobs and told him about an unproven product called “gorilla glass” that had a protective compression layer. Cook and Williams worked with Corning to transition a Kentucky factory to producing enough glass in six months to fulfill the demand for history’s best-selling product. Each time Cook did the impossible, the company’s fortunes rose. His unseen work became Apple’s secret weapon.