Apple’s move to bring its product designer extraordinaire, Jony Ive, into its “C suite” should surprise no one, given how large he looms over the company’s products. At the same time, the news of Ive’s new position as Chief Design Officer—which broke on Memorial Day—seems to have come out of left field.

Three years ago, CEO Tim Cook gave Ive dominion over Apple’s mobile software interfaces and hardware design. The new responsibilities gave him control over the way the company’s devices looked and behaved, from the inside out. Now, according to The Telegraph, he will travel (possibly back to his native England), leaving his managerial and administrative responsibilities split between two Apple staffers. Reportedly, Ive’s new assignment will have him working with London’s Foster and Partners to design Apple’s Spaceship Campus 2 and weighing in on the growing Apple Retail Stores springing up worldwide.

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Despite the fancier title, the new designation seems like a goodbye, which is notable because Ive always represented the “old guard,” a remaining legacy of Steve Jobs’ rule at Apple. Sentimentality aside, though, the larger concern is over what the move means to Apple devices.

Thanks For Everything, Sir Jony

When the company shunted software chief Scott Forstall aside in 2012, it essentially added those duties to Ive’s plate. The changes were positioned as the company marrying its software and hardware efforts, which seems to have paid off. Apple just can’t stop bragging about its monster iPhone sales. From its initial October to December timeframe, iPhone shipments amounted to 74.5 million units, up 46% against a year earlier.

Now we’re on the precipice of what looks like a divorce between Apple’s hardware and software development, at least when it comes to the daily nuts and bolts. Effective July 1, Alan Dye will become VP of UI design, and Richard Howarth moves into the VP of industrial design role. 

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Ive supposedly won’t step completely back, according to what appears to be an Apple internal memo from Cook to staffers about the change. From 9to5Mac: 

His new role is a reflection of the scope of work he has been doing at Apple for some time. Jony’s design responsibilities have expanded from hardware and, more recently, software UI to the look and feel of Apple retail stores, our new campus in Cupertino, product packaging and many other parts of our company…

As Chief Design Officer, Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives. On July 1, he will hand off his day-to-day managerial responsibilities of ID and UI to Richard Howarth, our new vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, our new vice president of User Interface Design. 

Translation: Ive will still weigh in on the broad strokes on both sides. But it won’t be his hands guiding and managing daily development. (Update: Perhaps not. The two newly minted VPs will report to Cook instead, not Ive. See below.)

The impact of this re-shuffling likely won’t show up right away, at least not for the iPhone 6S (or whatever the new model will be called) or for the next version of iOS that Apple will showcase next month at its Worldwide Developers Conference. Those changes, if any, will likely materialize in the company’s following product development cycle. 

The only thing we might be able to count on in the short term is that Dye and Howarth will probably take on bigger roles at the company’s WWDC keynote. We’ll see then if they can wax as breathlessly poetic about Apple products. 

Photo courtesy of Apple

Update July 3, 2015: Looks like Ive won’t manage Dye and Howarth directly after all. According to their new bios, notes Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, they will report to CEO Tim Cook—adding fuel to the notion that Ive really may be stepping back.