Tim O’Reilly broke the news late last night that the CTO of Segway, Doug Field, is leaving to become VP of product design at Apple. Doug had been in charge of Segway’s entire engineering team since day one.
Doug has been the driving force in making the Segway what it is today and will be sorely missed at the company. However, with every change comes good and bad. So while it’s bad the rich history and experience of Doug is leaving, it’s good in that perhaps the team will get a fresh perspective into possible engineering solutions for future versions of the Segway (or Segway-like applications).
When Steve Jobs first saw the Segway before it was introduced to the public, he was quoted as saying, “”I think it sucks” and “Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic.” Apparently that wasn’t enough to scare Doug away from joining Steve & Co a few years later.
Jobs appeared frail and spent little time on stage during his recent keynote at the world-wide developer conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. His appearance led to much speculation about the status of his health, and his ability to lead Apple in his usual aggressive manner in the long term. Apple PR responded by saying that Jobs had been suffering from a common flu, and was in the recovery stages during WWDC.
Regardless of what you believe about how much longer Jobs will be able to lead the company, Apple does have a problem with replacing the man who rejuvenated the company and made it what it is today. Bringing in somebody like Doug Field is a likely first step in steadily reducing the work load on Jobs and the beginning of a gradual transition of responsibilities. With the team being built out with more top designers and operations people, it would allow Jobs to ease his load and focus on product direction and broader strategy.
While the beginning of a transition of responsibility from Jobs onto others is not a surprise, the part of this news that is surprising is that they have hired externally rather than promoted from within their internal team. Apple has a very specific culture and is not very friendly with those outside of their sphere of influence. Reaching out and hiring Doug Field may be a sign that the transition process away from Jobs within Apple is being accelerated – in a similar way that Apple has previously reached out and used external products or components to accelerate product strategy (eg. Safari and open source).