Tonight Apple will unveil the iPad 2 and the most important person at Apple will not take the stage. That man is not Steve Jobs. It is Jonathan Ive.
Like Jobs, recent tabloid speculation has suggested Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design may have to leave the company. Unlike Jobs this is not down to illness, but family. The Sunday Times reports London born Ive wants to return to the UK to have his children educated in England, a move Apple allegedly does not support.
"They have told him in no uncertain terms that if he headed back to England he would not be able to sustain his position with them," claims The Sunday Times' source. Apple has declined to comment, a decision it knows will only lend the story further credence â€“ true or not. To lose Jobs would be gravely unfortunate, to allow Ive to walk out the door would be suicidal.
Why is Ive so important? Because he is the one man who suggests Apple can work without Steve Jobs.
You know the story: when Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985 the company floundered and was on the brink of collapse until his return in 1997. Like so many good stories, it is partly myth. Apple was already experiencing an industry wide sale slump in 1984 and â€“ though struggling - it was actually a far larger company on his return. In Jobs' absence Apple was an erratic, but wildly creative company and much of the highs were down to the appointment of Ive in 1992.
Ive evolved the PowerBook, the inspiration behind modern laptops, and when Jobs returned he proclaimed the revolutionary iMac to be the saviour of Apple. Ive had already been working on the iMac, he was the man who designed it. As you can see in the graphic above, Apple products have never looked the same since and the newly promoted Ive went on to design the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad as well as every subsequent generation of Apple MacBook and iMac. If Jobs is the creative vision behind Apple, Ive is the man that makes those visions reality. Ive is the power behind the throne.
Does this make Ive more important than Jobs? With Jobs aged 56 and in failing health and Ive a famously gym-toned 43 year old in the archetypal Apple image, I'd say yes.