Rumor: Apple to Jony Ive: 'Your career, or your kids'

By Jonny Evans

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As iPad 2.0 looms and Java-free Lion prowls, this morning's gloomy Apple [AAPL] story revolves around claims Brit-born senior vice president of Industrial Design, Jony Ive, plans to quit the firm as he and the board hit an impasse over his wish to give his children a proper UK education.

As reported by the Sunday Times, (paywall link) and also the Daily Mail, Ive and his wife "want to educate their twin sons in England." Apple's not happy about this and has told him that he can't return to the UK and stay with Apple.

The timing is pretty messy.

Ive has informed nearly all Apple's major hardware product designs since joining the company in 1996. With Jobs out of the loop on extended medical leave these additional reports will inevitably drive investor concern.

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Celebrity cult

In a sense it's a celebrity cult thing. Both Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have become utterly associated with the success of the Apple brand. Other than Jobs, Ive is perhaps the only person at the company to be seen as a personification of the ideas at the heart of the firm. Indeed, his name has been whispered as a potential future CEO.

Given Ive's central role in product design for the 'iCompany', investors will inevitably wonder if there is any truth in the Times' claims. Apple sources will only condemn the report -- which cites a 'close friend' of Ive -- as "speculation".

From his bio:

Born in London in 1967, Ive studied art and design at Newcastle Polytechnic before co-founding Tangerine, a design consultancy where he developed everything from power tools to televisions.

Ive won the Design Museum's first Designer of the Year prize for the 2002 iMac and iPod, and now has a net worth of $128 million.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

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The whole notion that Apple as a company depends on just two individuals is utterly ridiculous, of course. They are figureheads for a much larger organization. In a 2007 interview, Ive confirms he's no one man army:

"We have assembled a heavenly design team. By keeping the core team small and investing significantly in tools and process we can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare. Our physical environment reflects and enables that collaborative approach. The large open studio and massive sound system support a number of communal design areas. We have little exclusively personal space. In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work."

That point matters: Ive has a team of talented designers and within that secretive team there will be others who could perhaps rise to the challenge of leading Apple's product design efforts.

FaceTime for the rest of us?

[Above: Around three minutes into this video you'll see Apple's Steve Jobs have a short chat with the company's top designer.]

I don't think Ive wants leave Apple. Like his boss, Jobs, he clearly loves the company. Ive returns to his old art college in Newcastle every year to offer masterclasses, giving up part of his leave. This decision is about giving his kids the kind of start and emotional connection to the home country he and his wife feels is important for their children's development and future. It is not about his career.

Ive has previously said that Apple stands for something more than "just about making money". As any parent can tell you, your kids matter even more than "just making money".

Boxed into a corner in this negotiation, Ive will have no choice but to focus on the welfare of his children, no matter how inconvenient. Any good parent would feel the same.

The irony in this of course is that Apple is the world's biggest mobile technology firm -- it even offers FaceTime video chat. Surely it might be worth finding a compromise deal? It wouldn't hurt to try.

Is there any truth in these claims? At the very least the timing of their revelation suggests negotiations are reaching a critical juncture, with both sides potentially playing hardball.

How do you think this will turn out? Let me know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.   

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