Apple’s ‘two spiritual soulmates’ have left the building

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Walter-Isaacson-Jony-Ive
Without Jobs and Ive, Apple can’t design, Isaacson says.
Photo: CNBC

Walter Isaacson says Apple has lost “these two spiritual soulmates who just lived and breathed the beauty of products.”

The Steve Jobs biographer believes the company still know how to execute, but that it has missed out on a number of opportunities for exciting new products — including an Apple TV set.

Very few people got to be really, really close to Steve Jobs. But Isaacson quite literally wrote the book on Apple’s former co-founder and CEO.

Over the course of two years, Isaacson conducted more than 40 interviews with Jobs’ closest friends, family members, competitors, and colleagues to learn all he could about Jobs and Apple.

In a new interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box, Isaacson gave his thoughts on the state of Apple today — just a week after the company announced that design chief Jony Ive is leaving.

Jobs and Ive a great loss to Apple

Isaacson doesn’t hold back in his criticism of Apple under Tim Cook, which he believes has long been lacking in design prowess. He also feels that Cook is not a “product person” like Jobs and Ive.

His comments won’t sit well with many Apple fans — but plenty of others will agree with them.

Today’s Apple “is a company that knows how to execute pretty well, but it doesn’t have at its core these two spiritual soulmates who just lived and breathed the beauty of products,” Isaacson said.

Apple Park the only great design in 15 years

Isaacson was asked whether there was anything left for Apple to design.

“[That’s] like in 1900 when they said everything that can be invented has been invented,” he replied. “And no, there is really great stuff to be invented.”

“In the last 15 years, the only great design Apple has done has been the Apple headquarters.”

Isaacson obviously doesn’t rate products like Apple Watch, AirPods, and HomePod — which all launched in the last 15 years — as highly as the iPhone, iPod, and iPad.

Apple isn’t the same anymore

There’s certainly some truth in Isaacson’s comments, but I think even some Apple critics would argue that those products are well-designed. And we can’t ignore the spectacular new Mac Pro.

But Apple executives don’t obsess over the details like Jobs and Ive used to.

With Apple Park — the last project Jobs had a hand in — for instance, Jobs and Ive “made sure they knew the curve of every piece of glass, because that wonderful round building, it doesn’t have straight pieces of glass,” Isaacson said.

The problem with Apple Park, Isaacson believes, is that it took Apple’s attention away from making another special product.

Apple’s missed opportunities

“I think that you could have created an amazing Apple TV, an end-to-end integrated product that was both the hardware and software and the content,” Isaacson said.

“Which is what Steve did in every other industry from the iPhone to the iPod that he went into. You could’ve created a camera that was truly an awesome piece of design.”

Isaacson admits that if he knew more about what Apple could have done, he would be doing it himself. “But Jony Ive and I think Steve Jobs would’ve figured out more designs,” he said.