Apple’s Jonathan Ive and Craig Federighi: The Complete Interview

  • September 26, 2013


Bloomberg Business Week has followed up their interview with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook with his trusted  lieutenants Sir Jonathan Ive and Craig Federighi.  When Senior Executive of iOS – Scott Forstamm was removed from office last year, Tim Cook said the move was meant to foster collaboration between departments at Apple.

This is what Tim Cook had to say about Scott Forstall dismissal: “But the thing that ties us all is we’re brought together by values. We want to do the right thing. We want to be honest and straightforward. We admit when we’re wrong and have the courage to change. And there can’t be politics. I despise politics. There is no room for it in a company. My life is going to be way too short to deal with that. No bureaucracy. We want this fast-moving, agile company where there are no politics, no agendas.”

But did he get it right?

Based on the Jonathan Ive and Craig Federighi interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, I will say he did.

Here are key quotes from the interview:

It’s been roughly a year since both of you were given sort of expanded portfolios. How has your day-to-day job changed in the past year?

Ive: It’s really changed more for Craig than it has really for me.

Federighi: Yes. If you look at the role that I had just prior to this, I was leading OS X and a lot of the common infrastructure that sits under OS X and iOS. You know, our graphics layers, our core operating system and kernel, and so forth.

I and my team were already engaged in iOS at one level of the system, and last year I started getting engaged in the rest of iOS. So it wasn’t coming in from the outside, in a sense, but taking on a different role in a team that I was already working with in a different capacity.

I think both Jony and I knew early on we wanted to do something big. We were both new to taking that task on together. And so, for the two of us together to figure out how we were going to accomplish this big thing was a new engagement for us, as well as bringing together some of the different disciplines that had been previously not working as close together. ID [Industrial Design] and HI [Human Interface] weren’t working together as much, and that became an intense collaboration, along with Engineering. These are teams that had a creative relationship going back a long time, but this became now a very intense relationship in the construction of iOS 7.

Ive: When you think about the roles changing, I think what happens is you think about this as the task at hand. So I don’t think we ever talked about our roles. We talked about how we can most effectively extend the collaboration that always existed.

I mean, for example, we sit a minute away from each other. Now that didn’t just change. We always have. And the design community as a whole is a closely knit one. I mean, again, Craig is looking at the HI team, and my team, again, we’re a minute away from each other. But I think what we manage to do is give them the task at hand and the project that we wanted to collaborate on. That becomes the all-consuming focus.

I think that when you have a focus that’s that clear, what could be barriers sort of real or virtual would—in effect, just [waves hands in a dissipating gesture]. And it’s not even a conspicuous fading away—it’s just you’re so consumed by sort of trying to do something as well as you possibly can and enjoying the broad collaboration.

Federighi: I think to your point, these were groups that all had existing relationships, but suddenly because the mission for iOS 7 became so clear and so critical that everyone who needed to contribute jumped in and did [it] with great intensity. So we found ourselves working maybe more with the people we had all worked with in the past.

Ive: You know, the design studio is a sort of fairly self-contained physical space, but it’s a real hub for collaboration. I mean, I’m talking for 15, 20 years. But I have always found—and I know the ID team has always found—that the discoveries you make when you are lucky enough to sit next to somebody who represents a completely different expertise, those discoveries can be really profound, and they’re really exciting.

So there is a rule, a sort of propensity we have to intertwine work with people that represent very different areas of expertise. And I think that’s one of the things at Apple that’s really special. There are just an awful lot of really, really smart people. And as we talked about here, the experience here—whether by intention or not—our experience of a product is the combination of hardware and software. Whether it’s intended or not, it is. It’s just going to be that way.

So I think we had an awful lot of intent to try and very carefully make that experience the best that it could be. I think yesterday, I think people partially got a view of iOS 7 in … was it June?


Ive: And I think yesterday the whole story starts to emerge. Of course, it’s not the complete one. We didn’t stop working months ago, but it’s the beginning. You know, it’s the beginning of the story.


Can you give me an example of what you were just describing?

Federighi: We can talk about the parallax [effect, which gives iOS 7 a 3D-like appearance]. I mean, that’s an interesting case of kind of a journey we were on to get to something that everybody loved.

Ive: The parallax is a nice example. One of the things that we were interested in doing is, despite people talked about this being “flat,” is that it’s very, very deep. It’s constructed and architected visually and from an informational point of view as a very deep UI, but we didn’t want to rely on shadows or how big your highlights could get. Where do you go? I mean, there is only so long you can make your shadows.

It wasn’t an aesthetic idea to try to create layers. It was a way of trying to sort of deal with different levels of information that existed and to try to give you a sense of where you were.

But the idea of how we could create this sense of depth, that was just the most phenomenal collaboration which required everything from motion graphics to sensing in the hardware to the most remarkable sort of algorithms from a software point of view.

Federighi: And it was something that I think early on we saw the promise of the idea, and as we first tried it out, there were hints that it could work, but also a number of places where it’s like maybe this isn’t quite working, but there was this perseverance to say, “Let’s keep solving these hard problems and getting the sensors to give us what we need.” Others were like, “How can we do the optimizations and the power to make sure we can do this effect, but not strip its battery life.” There were all kinds of visual details to how we made it work.

So it was pulling in from many, many disciplines, and we kept getting together, and looking at it, and perfecting it. We had HI designers working with the engineers on tuning endless parameters to get it, and then we had it. You know? But as Jony says, it’s a nice example because I think it’s so front and center in the experience of iOS 7. But I think you could look at so many other places throughout the product and say it’s pretty much the same story.

Ive: I feel that it’s lovely when as a user you’re not aware of the complexity. I think we feel our job is to try to solve tough, difficult problems, but we don’t make the complexity of the problem apparent in its resolution. I mean, there are so many examples of objects or solutions or software where they solve difficult problems, but goodness, it’s really clear how difficult the problem was they’ve solved.

What I think we’ve tried to do is not make it obvious, but just try our best to solve some of these problems. I mean, I—the complexity behind these blurs that move—you have no idea. And it would have been so easy and completely reasonable for many teams just to say the cost here is too high.

I think it was that sense of sharing the same sort of ambition and just keep pushing. Because one thing I think happens is that it’s very easy to assume, with the benefit of hindsight, that this was all inevitable. But there are many times when you’re developing something that’s challenging or difficult, there are many times when you can basically sort of acquiesce and give up.

And it takes a real—it takes a real focus and determination. I think that always happens when it’s shared. There are times when I think either one of us or members of the team can feel discouraged. So I think that’s one of the things that’s fantastic working in groups. When you really think this can’t be solved and perhaps we’ve got too ambitious here, it’s fantastic when you’ve got other people round you to keep you going.

Federighi: And that deep set of really smart people in every discipline to solve the really hard problems that come up along the way. I mean, in realizing one of these design concepts, sometimes we were down optimizing things in the GPU as to how we could execute the blur efficiently.

Ive: You know, that’s a really great example. At the end of the day, when you have been part of a team, getting to work with engineers working at that level or then can work with engineers who have been working on the gyro test, but we’re all trying to sort of deal with the same problem. The fact that we’re all united, that we are genuinely focused on trying to solve the same problem, I think those are the days that you go home feeling what a privilege it is to work at Apple.

And you don’t do it because you like this idea of collaboration. You do it because you really like the idea of trying to solve difficult problems and make better products. And collaboration is actually a requirement. But there are other consequences that I think are just fabulous.

Federighi: I think it’s a unique statement about Apple’s values in product development that it is taken as a given among everyone on the team that we will go to the most absurd lengths seemingly to get something just right, to solve, to do the level of architecture work that normally would constitute the most critical element of a product, but we’ll focus that amount of energy and more to say, “That blur has to be just right. That detail has to be just right.”

Whether it’s the engineers or the HI designers, they understand that there is no questioning why we are putting so much effort into something that seems small. Of course, that is the right solution, and we are going to put all the energy necessary from the smartest people we have to get it right. And I think we see that in every member of the team across so many areas. I think you just do that over and over again, and you get a different result.

Ive: The other thing we’ve talked about is that I think, very often, you can’t call out by attribute or name areas of value. But I do think that we sense when somebody has cared. And one thing that is incontrovertible is how much we’ve cared.

But I think that when you use a product where there has been just tremendous care taken with its development and finally where it ends up, you may struggle to say, “Why might you like it?” But I do think that people know. They know about its biography at some level. They know what it took to get it there.

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Posted by | Posted at September 26, 2013 09:41 | Tags: , , , ,
Storm is a technology enthusiast, who resides in the UK. He enjoys reading and writing about technology.

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