Apple: On the art of entering a (corporate) corner

Apple: On the art of entering a (corporate) corner

Summary: Apple's reconstituted design organization is beginning to work together again.


When Scott Forstall left his post as the leader of the iOS team at Apple, some called it a return to the minimalist designs championed by Jonathan Ive, the leader of the industrial design team at the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

The design concept known as "skeumorphism" -- in which digital resources mimic their real-world counterparts -- was a hot topic then, and several articles about the management change framed the issue as a battle over these two different design approaches: natural versus native.

Ive clearly won this battle of visionaries, but it goes beyond taste. The real winner? Chief executive Tim Cook, who excised a key point of tension within his team of team leaders. The biggest prize: collaboration, in a clearly defined direction.

The Wall Street Journal's Jess Lessin reports:

For years, even the esteemed designers of Apple’s mobile iOS operating system, were cut out of the loop on specifics related to new mobile devices their software would be running on, according to several people familiar with Apple’s process. Apple’s industrial design team, led by Jonathan Ive, tapped its own stealth group of software developers to help with prototypes.

That dynamic is changing, according to the people close to the company. The stealth software developers still exist. But now, Apple’s mobile software, or “human interface” team, which has been led by executive Greg Christie, is being briefed about industrial prototypes earlier, these people said. The person described the change as “a thawing.”

This sort of ebb and flow happens in the corporate world all the time; the significance here is that Apple has staked part of its reputation on design leadership. These kinds of changes matter more to this company than others.

The question is how far behind (or ahead) the company feels it is relative to its competition, most prominently Samsung. While Apple may continue to believe that its platform is superior, it clearly lost momentum entering this period of transition.

When a driver takes a turn at speed, the basic strategy is "slow in, fast out." Has Apple's design team passed the apex of this curve? And where will the competition be when it makes its exit? 

Topic: Apple

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Apple loosing the lead

    Apple to a product segment, the smart phone, and turned it upside down with the iPhone. The iPhone did everything so much better then any of the then competition. Apple lead in hardware, design, UI, etc. Same with Mac in that comparing Win XP to Mac OSX was a joke, Mac had the "wow' factor.

    Fast forward to today and now Microsoft is leading in UI design with their minimalistic Metro. Even the Surface RT has a lot of "wow" that was previously reserved for Apple. Samsung is taking the Android platform and making innovative enhancements that make iPhones look so 2010.

    Apple can still turn it around, they have the money, the people (minus Jobs of couse), they still have the iFans. Microsoft and still fumble as W8 and Surface and Win Phone are sputtering. Or Apple can blow it. It will be interesting to see regardless of the outcome.
    Rann Xeroxx
    • Forgive the typos

      Ha, I blame my iMac.
      Rann Xeroxx