Did Feud With Jony Ive Keep Tony Fadell From Returning To Apple?

Google's acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say.

Google’s acquisition of Nest will allow the company to monitor you in your home, some say.

The big intrigue in the tech world today is why Google bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion and Apple didn’t.

A lot of the speculation is paranoid: Google wants to track everyone offline as well as online, and Nest’s thermostat and smoke alarms give the Googleplex motion sensors right in peoples’ homes.

But wouldn’t Apple be a more natural fit for the home-automation startup? Nest was co-founded by two former Apple staffers, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Fadell was one the fathers of the iPod — a key hardware engineer who led the music player’s development over 17 generations. Rogers was one of Fadell’s top lieutenants.

With great design and easy interfaces, Nest’s combination of hardware and internet software services makes its products very Apple-like. And as home automation is poised to take off (thanks largely to the iPhone and iPad), Apple is surely interested in this potentially huge market.

So why didn’t Apple didn’t pick up the company? Maybe it’s because Jony Ive, Apple’s head designer, was responsible for getting Tony Fadell pushed out of Cupertino.

L to R: Tony Fadell, Jon Rubenstein, Jony Ive, Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller

Left to right: Tony Fadell, Jon Rubinstein, Jony Ive, Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller.

Reports say Apple wasn’t interested in buying Nest, and Fadell says his former employer was never part of the conversation. One intriguing reason may be that there’s lingering bad blood between Fadell and Ive, who was instrumental in getting Fadell removed from Apple in November 2008. As I reported in my recent book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products:

“Tony got canned…. He was paid off with his salary for a number of years plus so many millions to leave. Tony was canned because he was battling with Jony. He went to Steve so many times bitching about Jony, but Steve had such a tremendous amount of respect for Jony and their relationship that he sided with Jony not Tony.”

Ive was also responsible for getting Steve Jobs to remove Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s longtime head of hardware and his former boss. I’m pretty sure he got former iOS head Scott Forstall removed too, but I never really nailed it in my reporting. One designer told me Ive did, but then everyone else stonewalled the question, so I wasn’t able to pin it down.

Ive is now Apple’s overall creative lead, responsible for both hardware and software — a job previously held by Jobs. If he got Fadell fired, it’s extremely unlikely he’d want him back.

When I was working on the book, Fadell declined to comment on the record. Rubinstein gave me a very diplomatic statement about the “difficulties” of his relationship with Ive.

I’m inclined to take Fadell’s explanation of the Google aquisition at face value. In various interviews and a blog post about the deal, Fadell has explained that Google wants a toehold in this space and will give Nest huge resources but leave the company alone (for now).

In his blog post, Fadell says Google has been involved since the start. Fadell personally showed a prototype thermostat to Google honcho Sergey Brin before Nest launched. Google led the initial investment and backed Nest again in a subsequent round.

Google itself hasn’t really explained its interest in Nest, but from Fadell’s point of view, it’s about using Google’s huge resources to build out his vision of what he calls the “conscious home.”

“Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone,” he says in his blog post. “We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship.”

Fadell says he isn’t selling out — he doesn’t want the money and doesn’t want to retire. He wants to build that connected home, one innovative product at a time.

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  • iSteve

    As long as Jony is here, we have nothing to worry because he is far better than Tony…

    Besides, Doodle, oops, I mean google like to take the used ressources of Apple and make copycats of Apple products…

  • Whodakat

    Apple probably thought that for $3.2 billion, they could make their own thermostat and smoke detector.

  • MacAdvisor

    The real problem — and I know I will get slammed for stating the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes — is Ive isn’t really a very good designer. His stuff often looks nice, but the use and feel in the real world has been going down in terms of quality the more and more power Ive has. His mouse for the original iMac was a great example of a pretty product that was a nightmare to use daily. The first thing one does with an iPhone or iPad is buy a case for it to protect from a fall. A good design would have such protection built in. iOS 7 is horrible to use if one is over 40. With super thin letters and tiny type, us older folks can’t read things easily. Thicker, bolder letters would help as would serifs. The new MacPro is another good example of something that looks great, but isn’t as practical as the older version. The lack of interior space for drives and add-ons took a back seat to “design.” It looks nice until it sitting in a sea of external peripherals. Then, not so hot. In many ways, Ive is like Frank Lloyd Wright, whose stunning homes were often very difficult live in and often fell apart.

    When Ive was forced to compromise with people like Fadell, products were better, more useable out of the box, and sturdier. Ive’s got some good ideas and he does design pretty stuff, but I want more than pretty. Having voices that spoke up for the needs of real users tempers Ive back down to earth. Now left to his own devices, I fear we will see ever more art pieces and less function.

  • Gregory Wright

    @Macadvisor – yet, Apple’s market share in the fore mention product areas keep growing.

  • rogifan

    Wait, so we’re supposed to believe that Jony Ive alone got Jon Rubinstein, Tony Fadell and Scott Forestall fired? Sorry but I think you give him way too much power.

  • rogifan

    The real problem — and I know I will get slammed for stating the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes — is Ive isn’t really a very good designer. His stuff often looks nice, but the use and feel in the real world has been going down in terms of quality the more and more power Ive has. His mouse for the original iMac was a great example of a pretty product that was a nightmare to use daily. The first thing one does with an iPhone or iPad is buy a case for it to protect from a fall. A good design would have such protection built in. iOS 7 is horrible to use if one is over 40. With super thin letters and tiny type, us older folks can’t read things easily. Thicker, bolder letters would help as would serifs. The new MacPro is another good example of something that looks great, but isn’t as practical as the older version. The lack of interior space for drives and add-ons took a back seat to “design.” It looks nice until it sitting in a sea of external peripherals. Then, not so hot. In many ways, Ive is like Frank Lloyd Wright, whose stunning homes were often very difficult live in and often fell apart.

    When Ive was forced to compromise with people like Fadell, products were better, more useable out of the box, and sturdier. Ive’s got some good ideas and he does design pretty stuff, but I want more than pretty. Having voices that spoke up for the needs of real users tempers Ive back down to earth. Now left to his own devices, I fear we will see ever more art pieces and less function.

    Tony Fadell had nothing to do with Macs, he only worked with iPods, and early iPhone generations. The people running Mac hardware are the same ones who did when Jobs was around. Word on the street is Jony. Ive and Bob Mansfield get along very well same with Ive and Dan Riccio. If you think all Ive does is design pretty boxes, then you really have no clue what his team does. The Mac Pro is an engineering marvel. Apple leadership made a product decision to go modular with external storage. It wasn’t so Ive could create a pretty box.

  • iWin773

    $3.2 billion? Apple don’t need a smart thermostat right now. If they did they would have bought them. Bottom line Google overpaid, they’re gonna try and use those ex Apple employees to gain secrets.

  • JohnnyMonkeyseed

    $3.2 billion? Apple don’t need a smart thermostat right now. If they did they would have bought them. Bottom line Google overpaid, they’re gonna try and use those ex Apple employees to gain secrets.

    What secrets? How Apple works is actually very simple. They look at entire industries which haven’t been updated or modernized with technology.

    Apple modernized Music, TV, and Books. I’m not sure there are any other industries which Apple can re-align along iTunes; but if there was, it’d have to be something you could touch, see, or hear because Apple distributes electronic assets.

    Apple ran out of ideas and products; Steve Jobs (who worked in TV/Video at Pixar) killed himself because he couldn’t cope with the idea of stepping down from the company he led.

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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