Skip to main content

Jony Ive AI device could get $1B funding from Laurene Powell Jobs

We first heard last year that former Apple design chief Jony Ive and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman were working on some kind of AI hardware project. It was later reported that Tang Tan, Apple’s chief iPhone and Apple Watch designer, was also joining the project.

A report now suggests that the pair are now seeking a billion dollars in funding, and are in talks with Steve Jobs’ widow, founder and president of the Emerson Collective, Laurene Powell Jobs …

Jony Ive

Jony Ive was Apple’s chief designer for more than two decades. His translucent iMac design was credited for transforming the fortunes of Apple, and he went on to lead the design of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The final Apple product he designed was the 2019 Mac Pro.

Ive finally left Apple in 2019, though it is widely believed that he had essentially taken a back seat some time earlier. He founded his own design agency, LoveFrom, working with fellow designer and long-time friend Marc Newson. While Apple was, on paper, a client of the company, it’s likely this was a fiction intended to prevent stock market panic, and that relationship was terminated back in 2022.

Sam Altman

Sam Altman is one of the leading figures in generative AI. He’s been CEO of OpenAI since 2019, which created the best-known generative AI product, ChatGPT.

Altman was briefly fired by the OpenAI board in November 2023. The tech world came out in support of Altman, and major OpenAI investors worked to get him reinstated. Microsoft offered jobs to Altman, Brockman, and anyone else from the OpenAI team who wanted to join them. Almost the entire staff then sent an open letter to the board stating that they would resign unless Altman was reinstated and the board fired. The drama was all over bar the paperwork in less than a week, and Altman formally resumed his duties last month. No explanation was ever offered beyond a vague statement about loss of trust.

Sam Altman and Jony Ive AI device

We still don’t know any specifics about the project, but The Information reports that it “wouldn’t look like a phone.”

The report says the pair are in investment discussions with the VC and advocacy company founded by Laurene Powell Jobs.

The startup has discussed deals with Emerson Collective […] according to a person involved in the process and another person with knowledge of the talks. Ive wants to raise up to $1 billion in funding, said a second person who has been involved in the process […]

Emerson’s founder Laurene Powell Jobs is close personally to Altman and Ive, whom she has known for decades.

Another potential investor is Thrive Capital, a major investor in Open AI.

Ive competing with his former employer?

Both The Information and ArsTechnica suggest that the launch of an AI device could see Ive competing with Apple.

Although we don’t know anything about the device yet, it would likely put Ive in direct competition with his former employer, Apple.

The reasoning is Apple’s big push into generative AI in iOS 18.

9to5Mac’s Take

There’s no doubt that the combination of Ive’s hardware design skills and Altman’s generative AI expertise make the two an incredibly formidable team.

At the same time, nobody has yet demonstrated a persuasive case for an AI hardware device, rather than a smartphone app. The best-known example to date is Humane, a voice-controlled wearable badge with a built-in camera.

After years of teasing, Humane today fully unveiled its Ai Pin, a wearable camera with laser projector, for $699 and a $24 per month subscription to access cellular connectivity and other services […]

A “Laser Ink Display” will project a green user interface (with a 720p resolution) on the palm. You navigate with various gestures like tilting and rotating your hand to select, while you bring your thumb and forefinger together to basically tap.

To me and many others, however, Humane looks like a solution in desperate search of a problem. Most of its functions seem better done by an Apple Watch, with an iPhone filling in the gaps.

There’s also Rabbit r1, a far less expensive $199 device. But despite cute hardware and seemingly powerful AI software, it’s again unclear why it’s a plastic box rather than an app.

Perhaps the two are working on a device for the home, rather than a mobile product?

Whether Ive and Altman’s venture can produce something genuinely compelling remains to be seen. Suggesting that they will be directly competing with Apple does, however, currently seem something of a stretch – unless it’s a domestic robot, perhaps …

Photo by Zaeem Nawaz on Unsplash

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel



Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

Ben Lovejoy's favorite gear