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Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook on Monday fiercely disputed a report about the departure of design chief Jony Ive and the company's ability to uphold its commitment to innovative design.
In a rare, scathing statement sent exclusively to NBC News, Cook took issue with a report published Sunday night by The Wall Street Journal that said Ive had grown frustrated with Cook’s leadership and alleged lack of interest in the design production process. Cook said the report does not match reality and fails to understand how Apple's design team actually works.
"The story is absurd," Cook said in an email. "A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality.”
Cook does not often publicly rebut news reports but he appeared compelled to do so given his frustrations with the article, which said that the company is prioritizing operations at the expense of design.
“At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works,” Cook said. “It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don’t recognize the company it claims to describe."
Colleen Schwartz, senior vice president of communications for The Wall Street Journal, said in a statement that the newspapers stands by its reporting.
The rebuttal from Cook, who took over the top job at Apple after the death of Steve Jobs, comes as the company is trying to demonstrate that Ive's departure is not a sign of greater troubles.
Ive, who was responsible for the look of many of Apple's most iconic products, including the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and the Apple Watch, announced Thursday that he would leave the company to start his own design firm, though he will continue to work with Apple as a contractor.
“While I will not be an employee, I will still be very involved — I hope for many, many years to come,” Ive told the Financial Times. “This just seems like a natural and gentle time to make this change.”
But on Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal's Tripp Mickle reported that Ive "had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership" in part because he was frustrated with Cook's "more operations-focused company,” according to several sources familiar with his departure who were not named.
"People in the design studio rarely saw Mr. Cook, who they say showed little interest in the product development process — a fact that dispirited Mr. Ive," Mickle reported.
"Mr. Ive grew frustrated as Apple’s board became increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology or other areas of the company’s core business," the report stated.
While Apple has in the past decade become one of the world’s most valuable companies, it now faces scrutiny over its ability to continue creating new products that change the way consumers interact with the world. It remains massively profitable, with $30 billion in earnings over the last six months, but analysts have expressed concern over the fact that it hasn't had a major product hit since the iPad, in 2010. (Sales for the Apple Watch and AirPods, while popular, remain relatively small by comparison.)
While growth in hardware sales slows, Apple has spent years investing more heavily in software and services. Nevertheless, Ive's departure caused some alarm among analysts who closely watch Apple. Ive and Jobs worked hand in glove to create many of Apple's best products, and he was long seen as one of the most influential figures at the company. Mickle describes him as "Jobs’s protégé — and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit."
Responsibility for Apple's future design will now fall to Jeff Williams, the chief operating officer; Evans Hankey, who oversees industrial design; and Alan Dye, who oversees user interface design.
"The design team is phenomenally talented," Cook told NBC News. "As Jony has said, they’re stronger than ever, and I have complete confidence that they will thrive under Jeff, Evans and Alan’s leadership. We know the truth, and we know the incredible things they’re capable of doing. The projects they’re working on will blow you away."