Apple, the multinational technology company renowned for groundbreaking innovations, has recently indicated a shift away from its conventional product-development model, making a move that is indicative of a departure from the approach set by its co-founder, Steve Jobs. This change is embodied in the Vision Products Group, dedicated to the development of Apple’s latest offering, the Vision Pro headset.

The Steve Jobs Product Development Legacy

Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple in the late ’90s, revolutionized the company’s product-development process by adopting a “functional” management structure. This resulted in Apple not having dedicated units for iPhone, iPad, AirPods, or Mac. Rather, the company was organized by functional departments such as software engineering, hardware development, machine learning, design, and services. Contributions from these departments were funneled together to birth new products and features.

A New Direction with Vision Pro

However, Apple’s recent approach to its latest product, the Vision Pro headset, demonstrates a shift in the company’s strategy. Instead of utilizing the existing structure, Apple set up a dedicated Vision Products Group (VPG) within the company, helmed by Mike Rockwell. This change represents a move away from the traditional, function-based model towards a more product-centric approach.

The VPG operates independently of Apple’s main software and hardware engineering departments, and it comprises its own teams in software engineering, hardware development, machine learning, strategy, computer vision, content, app development, and project management. This structure contrasts with the way Apple would usually develop its products, wherein the likes of Craig Federighi, John Ternus, and Eddy Cue would take the lead in software engineering, hardware development, and content management respectively.

The Vision Products Group is not entirely separate from the rest of the company, though. It collaborates closely with Jeff Williams’ design and operations teams, as well as the chip unit led by Johny Srouji. It also utilizes the frameworks and other building blocks developed by Federighi’s group and receives support from the main hardware organization.

Apple’s Rationale for the Change

There could be several reasons behind this apparent shift in Apple’s approach:

  • The Vision Pro’s dedicated unit operates in a startup-like environment that enables swift development and fosters secrecy, a trait Apple is known for.
  • The complexity of the mixed-reality headset could necessitate a dedicated team of specialists.
  • Apple might be holding off on integrating this new product line with its biggest revenue generators, to avoid siphoning resources away from the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Future Implications

The new structure of the Vision Products Group suggests that Apple is looking to continue developing its headset offerings. The plural in “products” implies that the Vision Pro is just the first of many headsets Apple plans to launch.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Apple has deviated from its traditional approach. For instance, during most of its development, the Apple Watch’s engineering teams were under the supervision of the COO, Jeff Williams. The company’s self-driving car initiative, the Special Projects Group, also operates as a dedicated unit with its own software engineering, computer vision, machine learning, hardware engineering, industrial design, cloud services, project management, and quality assurance staff.

These changes point towards a flexible and adaptive future for Apple, where the company isn’t afraid to rethink and reinvent its processes, much like its founder did decades ago. As Apple continues to explore new territories of technology and innovation, the evolving structure of its product development teams may just be the first of many transformations to come.