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Jony Ive, the industrial designer who helped shape the look of Apple’s most iconic devices from the iPod to the iPhone, is stepping down later this year.

Apple announced the senior executive’s departure Thursday, saying he will leave later this year to form an independent design company that will count Apple as a client. Ive has been an integral part of the company’s device designs, from 1998’s iMac to the company’s new headquarters.

Ive’s departure marks the end of an era for the company after helping it make a major transformation from a cult computer business to a dominant device company under the leadership of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Long a protege and confident of the former CEO, Ive helped meld form with function and in the process turned Apple devices into part computer, part fashion accessory.

Ive has become a symbol of the enduring culture that the legendary CEO created. He’s also been a counterweight to current CEO Tim Cook’s image as someone known more for his ability to manage supply chains than dream up new consumer devices. Ive’s presence has helped deflect some criticism that the company has lost some of its innovative flair after Jobs’ death.

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