Sunday, February 25

Apple’s iPhone design chief enlisted by Jony Ive, Sam Altman to work on AI devices

Legendary designer Jony Ive (picture) and OpenAI’s Sam Altman are enlisting an Apple Inc. veteran to work on a new artificial intelligence hardware project, aiming to create devices with the latest capabilities.

As part of the effort, outgoing Apple executive Tang Tan will join Ive’s design firm LoveFrom, which will shape the look and capabilities of the new products, according to people familiar with the matter. Altman, an executive who has become the face of modern AI, plans to provide the software underpinnings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the endeavor isn’t public.

The work marks one of the most ambitious efforts undertaken by Ive since he left Apple in 2019 to create LoveFrom. The iconic designer is famous for the products he helped devise under Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, including the iMac, iPhone and iPad. His hope is to turn the AI device work into a new company, but development of the products remains at an early stage, according to the people. The efforts so far are focused on hiring talent and creating concepts.

Tan will lead hardware engineering at the project while working at LoveFrom, the people said. Bloomberg News previously reported that the executive was stepping down as Apple’s vice president of iPhone and watch product design. He isn’t slated to depart until February, though his responsibilities were already divided up this month.

Altman, who was fired as OpenAI chief executive officer in November and quickly restated, irked some board members by raising funds for other endeavors. That included the effort with Ive, Bloomberg News reported in November. Altman had courted SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman Masayoshi Son about making a multibillion-dollar investment in the new company.

Projects in the concept stage include devices for the home. OpenAI referred questions to LoveFrom, which declined to comment. Apple also declined to comment.

For Apple, Tan’s departure underscores an exodus of design talent. Since 2019, about 14 members of Ive’s former team at Apple have left. Only roughly half a dozen of the designers who once reported to Ive still remain at Apple.

Earlier this year, Apple lost Ive’s successor, Evans Hankey, after only a few years in the role. The brain drain left the company without an obvious replacement for her. Instead of naming a new executive to lead design, Apple tapped Jeff Williams, its chief operating officer, to oversee the company’s designers directly.

LoveFrom, meanwhile, has assembled a roster of high-profile clients, including Airbnb Inc., Ferrari NV and Moncler SpA. The firm also had a three-year deal with Apple to continue providing consulting services, but that relationship ended in 2022. In all, more than 20 former Apple employees have joined the design firm.

The Apple departures have continued more recently. Patrick Coffman, one of Apple’s most important user interface design leaders, has left. Colin Burns, a former design executive at the British Broadcasting Corp. who joined Apple after Ive stepped down, is departing in January. He runs Apple’s Interaction Architecture team, which is responsible for exploring early hardware and software concepts.

Shota Aoyagi, another member of Ive’s storied industrial design team at Apple, has also exited. He just started at LoveFrom. – Bloomberg

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