The rumor is that Jony Ive, chief design officer at Apple, may be on the way out or at least out of designing the iPhone. This came amid reports that he is purportedly taking a more backseat role in product design.

It Began With A Tree

The speculation began gathering steam when a Christmas tree at Claridge was unveiled. It was designed by Ive in collaboration with Marc Newson, who both claim to be friends with the London luxury hotel.

If you are scratching your head, wondering how all these business are related, we can backtrack last fall when Ive gave an ominous statement.

"If I wasn't doing this, I think I would just be drawing or making stuff for friends," Ive told Charlie Rose when asked what he would do if he is no longer with Apple. "Maybe it would just be Christmas tree ornaments, I don't know."

The Apple Grapevine Bore Fruit

Now, Apple watchers are proposing all sorts of wild speculations. John Gruber, a noted Apple pundit, has suggested that Ive is already probably no longer designing iPhones because he is now merely focusing on architectural projects like the Apple campus and a handful of retail stores. Gruber has stated this in The Talk Show podcast where he also said that he is assuming a Jobs-like role at Apple, directing the development of certain products such as the gold Apple Watch or an Apple car by way of a spiritual leadership.

Some observers are joining the fray. Apple blogger Marco Arment, for example, went as far as saying burn out may be one of the reasons.

App Advice also cited that the Ive rumor came on the heels of the "Designed by Apple in California" book release. It is seen as a tribute to the designer who has made practically all of the iconic products exhibited there possible. More than the recognition of Ive's work, such kind of tribute is also often reserved for someone about to get benched or retired.

Clarifying The Apple Rumors

After kicking the hornet's nest, Six Colors founder, Jason Snell is scrambling to douse the controversy he has partly set in motion. In a blog post, he clarified that he did not say Ive is on the way out and that he is only involved in architecture at this point. However, he still cited sources that think Ive is on the way out and this has started with his promotion as chief design officer last year.

Snell cited the role is largely ceremonial so Ive can spend less time on management. He indicated that product design is now covered by the positions occupied by Alan Dye, vice president of user interface, and Richard Howarth, vice president of industrial design. Both directly report to Tim Cook.

Howarth seems to be a key figure in this narrative. He took over Ive's previous job and his bio at the Apple website provides a better insight.

"Richard joined Apple in 1996 and has been involved in the design of nearly every Apple product since the original iMac," Apple detailed. "Richard leads a multinational team of extraordinarily talented designers, CAD sculptors and model makers responsible for creating and imagining the future of Apple products."

It seems like Ive has nothing much left to do for products. In the meantime, he is off somewhere designing Christmas trees and, as the speculations pointed out, tending the Apple campus.

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