Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Will Jonathan Ive replace Apple's Steve Jobs?

December 8, 2007: 5:47 PM ET

picture-28.jpgOne of the nicest things about Jonathan Ive, chief designer of the iPod, the iPhone and just about every other Apple (AAPL) product since the original candy-colored iMac, is that he has displayed absolutely no ambition to rise to the top of Apple Inc. He seems content to lead a design team that is without equal in the world of consumer electronics.

Which is what makes the two questions at the top of the long profile of Ive in today's Times of London so bizarre:

Could Jonathan Ive, the publicity-shy Essex boy who started his career designing toilets and combs, be close to performing one of the most extraordinary coups in American business history?

Could this 40-year-old gym-toned, shaven-headed, Aston Martin-driving Brit, who lives in Twin Peaks, San Francisco, with his wife, who is a historian, and their twin sons, be the next man to run Apple Computer? (link)

Does Rupert Murdoch's Times know something we don't? Is Apple PR paving the way for Steve Jobs' succession?

No, no, no and no. If you read the Times story closely you will see that it is what journalists call a write-around -- a profile written without the cooperation of the main subject or his handlers.

"Jony feels his time would be better spent doing his job than doing interviews," an Apple spokesperson tells the Times' Chris Ayres in the last sentence of the piece.

With nothing new to say and no access to Ive, why run the story at all?

Why indeed. If there is a Murdochian agenda at play here, it seems to be to stir the embers of the nearly dormant Apple stock option backdating case, a train of logic that starts in paragraph 10 and leads to Ive by the most circuitous route:

No matter how remote the possibility of Mr Jobs standing down might be, some investors would be happier if Mr Ive was named officially as the Apple CEO's successor to avoid future doubt.

Mark Molumphy, the lawyer who is filing the revised lawsuit against Apple, conceded to The Times that Mr Ive was more or less untouchable as far as the stock options litigation goes. "The evidence we've seen does not implicate him," he said.

Strip all that away and what you have is a local-boy-does-good story served up for The Times' homegrown readership. The fact is, Ive shows no appetite for the spotlight that shines so brightly on Apple's CEO, as even Ayres must concede:

There are sceptics, of course. Some have suggested that Mr Ive lacks the charisma to become "Steve 2.0", and that he could never deliver Mr Jobs's Hollywood-style press conferences, replayed endlessly on YouTube.

As it happens, Jonathan Ive does make a rare video appearance on YouTube, which 9to5Mac has kindly dusted off and which we have pasted below the fold.

Is this the next Steve Jobs? You be the judge.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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