SAN FRANCISCO – Jonathan Ive, six months into an expanded role as Apple’s top product visionary, has embarked on a sweeping software overhaul that leaves the company at risk of falling behind on a new version of the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Already in charge of product design, Ive assumed oversight of the look and feel of software running all Apple electronics in a shakeup by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook last year that included the departure of software chief Scott Forstall.
Ive, 46, has begun revamping iPhone and iPad applications, shunning realistic images, such as wood bookshelves for the Newsstand feature, and he’s exploring more dramatic changes to the email and calendar tools, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.
Ive is also methodically reviewing new designs, seeking to avoid a repeat of last year’s release of map tools that were widely panned, and he’s encouraging collaboration between the software and hardware divisions, which operated in silos under co-founder Steve Jobs, people said.
The introduction of new features, along with an emphasis on cooperation and deliberation, comes at a cost for Apple. Engineers are racing to finish iOS 7, the next version of the mobile software, in time for a June preview at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference.
While the company still expects to release iOS 7 on time as soon as September, internal deadlines for submitting features for testing are being set later than past releases, people said. Staffers from Apple’s Mac team have also been roped in to help the mobile-software group finish the job, people said. Apple has made similar moves in the past, including with the first version of iOS in 2007.
Apple is really under tremendous pressure to come out with something different and something new, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research in San Francisco.
Ive has a tremendous sense of design, and he’s been the guru behind a lot of these enormously successful products, but he’s always had someone like a Jobs to push back on him and give him some guidance, and it’s not clear that Tim Cook is capable of playing that role. Maybe without a collaborator, he’s not as strong.
Ive has a storied place in Apple’s history. After Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, Ive’s design of the iMac helped the company regain its footing after nearly falling into bankruptcy. Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that Ive was his spiritual partner at Apple, a person to whom he gave more operational power than anybody else at the company.
Ive is widely credited with working with Jobs to create the company’s most famous products, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Even so, his specialty has been hardware – designing a product out of materials like aluminum and glass – not software, which is based in code.
Apple hasn’t changed the look of many mobile-software programs like e-mail since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. Social-networking features are limited, and applications don’t always work well together, said Benedict Evans, an analyst at Enders Analysis in London.