New Profile Delves Into Background of Jony Ive Successor Jeff Williams

When Jony Ive announced that he is leaving Apple to start his own design firm, Apple confirmed that chief operating officer Jeff Williams is set to oversee many of the product design responsibilities previously held by Ive. In a new profile today by The Wall Street Journal, Williams’ history at Apple is highlighted, including his potential as a future successor to CEO Tim Cook.

According to people who work closely with Williams, he has been “more visible” in the development of Apple products than Cook. Williams has displayed interest in the look and feel of certain products, and helped pivot the Apple Watch away from its fashion-focused launch to one predominantly concerned with health and fitness features that can be achieved without a connected iPhone.

Additionally, Williams was on the product development team that was responsible for the iPhone 4, and his contributions reportedly “quieted doubters” within Apple about his ability to contribute to the design stage. One unnamed source described Williams’ knowledge in a thermal-engineering meeting: “It was impressive for a negotiator, and spreadsheet guy, and it just came naturally to him.”

Yet, some people wonder if Williams’ executive skills are enough to lead Apple product design, and live up to Ive’s legacy.

Mr. Williams is an operations executive at his core, the people said, and his skills at logistics and planning make him more implementer than inventor. “He sees where we are, not where we need to be in years to come,” said a former colleague, who also praised Mr. Williams’s leadership, versatility and encyclopedic memory.

Apple chose to promote from within instead of finding outside blood to replace Ive, which analyst Bob O’Donnell said would have been almost impossible anyway. “What they’re doing is saying, ‘let’s reallocate how we think about this and put someone else overseeing a few young designers to give them leeway.’ It’s time for fresh blood. The last few iPhones have looked really similar.”

Many of WSJ’s sources wondered about Apple’s future and what its next major product invention will be, and how that will be achieved without Ive’s leadership. “You could have looked at Jony and said: ‘He’s the soul of Steve Jobs,'” said Ensemble Capital president Sean Stannard-Stockton. “I just wonder about their ability to invent the future now.”

Ive is set to leave Apple sometime later this year.

Tags: Jeff Williams, Jony Ive
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