Jul 3, 2019

Apple's design-visionary void

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Apple has long prided itself that it knew what consumers wanted even before they did. Now, with Steve Jobs long gone and design guru Jony Ive now out the door, the big question is who at Apple can see what's around the next corner and bring it to market.

Driving the news: Apple pushed back hard this week against a Wall Street Journal story that portrayed Ive as checked out and disaffected and declared that his departure "cemented the triumph of operations over design at Apple."

  • In an email to NBC's Dylan Byers, CEO Tim Cook called the story "absurd" and said, "A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality.”

Why it matters: As the iPhone market stagnates, Apple is looking for new growth via revenue from services, new products such as the Apple Watch, and new applications in realms like health. But what the world really wants from the company is surprises, breakthroughs, magic.

  • The "design vs. operations" storyline fails to capture the full scope of the challenge the company now faces. It's less a company with an executive vacancy than a monarchy without an heir.

The big picture: Like the movie directors celebrated by critics as "auteurs" for the personal stamp they placed on factory-generated films, Jobs used technical knowledge, confidence in his own taste and sheer force of will to lead armies of artists and engineers to share his vision.

  • Jobs etched his own signature (and those of his team members) inside the case of the original Macintosh, and when he returned from exile in 1997 he continued to put his stamp on Apple products culminating in the iPhone.
  • Ive was the other half of a creative partnership with Jobs that produced Apple's amazing winning streak of the 2000s.
  • After Jobs' death in 2012, Ive's continued presence at Apple provided the most visible link between the living company and its founder.
  • Tim Cook was Jobs' hand-picked successor as CEO, but Ive was his creative heir.

Between the lines: The Jobs/Ive approach was all about wowing customers with "one more thing" they weren't expecting. As Jobs put it, "People don’t know what they want until you show it to them." But once companies reach Apple's size, they have a hard time surprising people.

  • Jobs' formula for routing around market research and design-by-committee involved both outward-facing showmanship and internal clout.
  • Ive carried on that tradition, but his successors — one design chief each for hardware and software, both reporting to the company's chief operating officer — lack that kind of reputation for now, and no one else at Apple seems ready to pick up the mantle.
  • Maybe Apple is hatching all sorts of wonders inside its ginormous new headquarters, under the guidance of a battalion of design geniuses. You and I will never know, thanks to the company's rigid secrecy and inward focus.

Our thought bubble: Each year that goes by without a new home-run innovation from Apple reinforces the Apple-doubters' case. But just one new hit will disprove it.

Go deeper: Apple needs a next act

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,500

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 8,500 in the U.S. early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest week, between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. should expect to see deaths continue to rise in this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 1,203,485 — Total deaths: 64,784 — Total recoveries: 247,001Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 312,237 — Total deaths: 8,501 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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In photos: Life in the era of coronavirus across the U.S.

Lauryn Morley, a lower school substitute teacher for the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, Maryland, works from her home in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. has grown from one on Jan. 21 to over 312,000 by early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins.

The big picture: Roughly 3/4 of the American population is on lockdown, with social distancing measures and other orders in place across the country. Here's how Americans are coping with the massive upheaval the outbreak has brought, in photos.

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