Apple said on Thursday that its chief design officer, Jony Ive, credited with the design behind the iPod and its successor iPhone, would leave the company and become an outside contractor.
Ive, who was a close confidant of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, plans to step down this year to form a design company that will have Apple among its primary clients, the Cupertino, Calif., based company said in a statement.
The move to an outsider role will give Ive the freedom to pursue non-Apple creative interests, and he already has passion projects in mind that he wants to pursue, according to a person familiar with his plans who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Ive himself did not give a reason for the change but told the Financial Times: “This just seems like a natural and gentle time to make this change.” He said he plans to call his new company LoveFrom.
While Jobs was at the company, Ive’s influence at Apple was unmatched by almost any other employee.
“He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me,” Jobs once told biographer Walter Isaacson. “There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.”
CEO Tim Cook said Ive was a “singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated, from 1998’s groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park,” the company’s new headquarters.
Cook added that Apple would still work directly with Ive on “exclusive” projects.
Apple’s future will include exploring the potential of wearable electronics such as the Apple Watch, Ive told the FT. “We saw we could use technology to be extraordinarily useful in relation to our health and wellbeing. This area is one that I’ve been fascinated by,” he said.
Shares in Apple fell about 1 percent in after-hours trading after the company’s announcement.
Ive already has a long list of products that bear his signature and have come to define a generation of electronics and influence countless other industrial designers.
The iMac desktop computer, which Ive was responsible for designing the look of, helped to revive Apple from near bankruptcy in the 1990s. With a curved shape and bright candy-hued colors, the iMac stood out from competitors’ rectangular boxes in black and grey that dominated market and led to a parade of imitators.
A few years later he was charged with designing the iPod, which, backed by a large marketing campaign, quickly became a popular new way to listen to music in electronic format before the development of modern smartphones. It, too, had a distinctive look, with a sleek shape and “click wheel” for navigating between songs.
Ive said in the company’s statement that Apple’s design team will thrive without him. “After nearly 30 years and countless projects, I am most proud of the lasting work we have done to create a design team, process and culture at Apple that is without peer,” he said.
Dozens of people still at Apple have been influenced by Ive, helping with continuity while Ive continues in the outside role, the person familiar with Ive’s plans said.
Apple named two people, Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, to lead its design team going forward, although the company also said that Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, would spend more of his time working with the design team in their studio.
Ive, a native of Britain, was made a knight in recognition of his design work in 2012. He joined Apple in 1992 after working for the company as an outside designer