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The all-new Apple: The Head, the Heart, and the Voice

Change at Apple's executive level has been inevitable since Steve Jobs' passing. It's easy to get caught up in the gossip behind these moves, but I'm more interested in what they mean long term. 

The team that was in place was built to support Jobs' strengths and weaknesses as a decision maker but that doesn't translate for someone with Tim Cook's strengths and weaknesses as a decision maker. Since the old team was built for Jobs, it was no longer obvious how it worked. Today I think it's much clearer, both internally and externally.

Apple's major areas of strength and focus are:

  • Marketing
  • Design (Industrial, UI/UX)
  • Software (iOS, Mac, Apps)
  • Services (iCloud, iTunes, App Store, Siri, Maps, iBookstore, iAd)
  • Hardware (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, Laptops, Desktops)
  • Operations
  • Retail

But that's not how Apple was organized as of last Friday. Just look at Software and Services:

  • Craig Federighi (Mac, Mac Apps, UI/UX?)
  • Scott Forstall (iOS, iOS Apps, Maps, Siri, UI/UX?)
  • Eddy Cue (iCloud, iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, iAd, UI/UX?)

Scott Forstall was responsible for not only iOS, but Siri and Maps. Possibly even UI/UX. This created a leadership postion that stradled the Software, Services, and Design areas. The removal of Forstall means that Craig Federighi's and Eddy Cue's new roles are a smart consolidation. Federighi is responsible for Apple's Software. Eddy Cue is responsible for Services. Instead of being responsible for products, they are now responsible for disciplines. Simple.

Bob Mansfield's unretirement becomes more interesting. He's staying on for two years to lead a group called "Technologies" that is responsible for Apple's wireless and semiconductor teams. Dan Riccio is still in charge of Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod engineering as SVP, Hardware Engineering. This leads me to believe that Riccio is in charge of bringing products from design on through production, whereas Mansfield has almost an R&D like role. Said more succinctly: Riccio = Mechanical, short term implementation, Mansfield = Electrical, long term implementation. I would not be surprised to eventually find out that Mansfield is responsible for some of Apple's longer term projects, specifically improving battery life while reducing it's size.

Jony Ive gains the role of directing Apple's "Human Interface" (HI). This is implied to mean software UI/UX. I can't see how this will be anything but good. Worst case scenario? All of the inconsistencies, misused skeuomorphism, and cruft in Apple's user interfaces will be streamlined out. Best case scenario, we see an integration of hardware and software heretofore unseen. 

There are a bunch of implications to naming Ive in this role. The first and most obvious is instant respect. The minute he walks into the room, his new UI/UX team members will respect him. His background may not be in UI/UX, but a designer of his caliber can excel in any medium. He won't be pushing pixels or pumping CAD himself, but his taste level and eye for detail will be able to build consensus. 

Second, working with Ive has to be a pretty good recruiting tool. Go work for the guy who led all of Apple's amazing hardware design for the past 20 years? Yeah, sign me up.

Third, this could lead to a realignment of how Apple's UI/UX teams work within the company. The ID studio has always been a seperate entity, working as a group and attacking problems together. Once the design is refined to a certain point, they involve project teams. UI/UX designers get assigned to product teams (iOS, MacOS, etc.) and are spread throughout the company. This leads to issues where designers for the iOS team at odds with designers for an app team for example. If Ive restructures UI/UX the way I think he will, he would pull those designers out from their teams and into one group, in the mold of his own ID studio. A likely outcome of a restructiong along these lines would be new VPs of ID and UI/UX acting as studio managers reporting to directly to Ive.

The downside to this approach is the UI/UX designers may have less day-to-day contact with software engineers, but the positives could outweigh this. It would yield more consistency and focus for the designers and allow them to work together to help set the product agenda, much in the same way the ID group already does. I personally have worked in situations where the design team had its own studio and situations where individual designers worked on seperate teams away from other designers. The studio approach was always superior for both speed and quality.

Stepping back, the biggest question post-Jobs was how would decisions be made and who would make them. Now it seems that there are the makings of a leadership group within the leadership group. Cook, Ive, and Schiller.

You get the sense that though each may recognize they are the best at what they do, they aren't angling for more power inside Apple or elsewhere. Amazingly, they seem to know that they can do the best work of their careers and make the biggest historical impact by working together at Apple. Their individual talents and demeanor perfectly compliment each other and I think could be best summed up in this way: the Head, the Heart, and the Voice.

Cook is the Head. He may be the CEO, but his greatest strength seems to be that he knows what his strengths and weaknesses are. It's very hard to be the defacto leader and let other people lead, but he is perfectly happy to delegate the high profile, "sexy" tasks. Let Jony dictate to the design group. Let Phil do the product announcements. Let Eddy negotiate with the labels. He knows that he is ultimate protector of Apple and it's up to him to make sure the company keeps humming and the trains run on time. Something he is pretty darn good at.

Ive is the Heart. The creative soul of the company. Ive has always seemed to me to be the ideal designer for someone like Cook to work with. Both show a real passion for simplifying, consistency, and efficiency, they just approach it through different media. I could easily see them geeking out about the same parts of a project. Cook may not have a designer's eye, but he can trust Ive's completely because they speak the same language. Ive can trust Cook because his worldview lines up with Cook's philopsophies.

Schiller is the Voice. Other than Jobs, no one else has impacted the way the world thinks about Apple over the past 15 years. Without him you wouldn't have such succinct and vivid stories complementing product launches. Ive seems comfortable letting Schiller voice his opinion on products. It was Schiller who came up with the idea for the iPod's click wheel. He also trusts Schiller to tell the right story about his work. Schiller trusts Ive because Ive isn't looking for the spotlight, allowing Schiller to play the showman as the lead presenter at keynotes. But best of all, he's got great products to sell. For any marketer, thats 90% of the battle.

Cook's task of molding the executive team to work best for him is set for the next 5-10 years. Instead of individuals running product teams, he now has them geared towards discipline teams. This allows the executive team to function with the flexibility of a small startup. They are responsible for coming up with Apple's strategy and product, and each member is amplified by the strength of the team that reports to them. It should be pretty exciting to see how this plays out.