Rumours have been flying today that Sir Jony Ive, the design guru behind most of Apple's most celebrated hardware of the past decade - not to mention a lot of its recent software - has been fired/resigned/left the company through mutual consent.

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So, has Sir Jony left Apple? In this article we'll round up the rumours and the evidence for his departure, and discuss what it would mean for Apple (and Apple’s shareholders, customers and fans) it the rumours are true.

And of course, when the truth emerges and/or Apple issues a statement clarifying matters, we'll update this article with the latest information.

Update: According to Dave Lee, a technology reporter on the BBC, Apple has responded to the rumours with the following statement:

"We're in the process of updating the Exec Profiles and Jony's profile will be back up online shortly."

And... Jony is back in the US Apple Leadership section. No need to panic, everyone. Jony's back.

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Has Jony Ive been fired?

It was noticed by alert Apple watchers today that Jony Ive's bio and photo had been removed from the 'Apple Leadership' section of Apple's US site.

Jony Ive removed from Apple Leadership page

No Jony!

(Interestingly - given that Jony is British-born - the UK site currently still had him listed.)

Jony Ive still on UK Apple Leadership page

Does this mean Jony Ive is about to depart? Well - probably not.

Firstly, the departure of an exec as important as Jony Ive would require a carefully stage-managed announcement by Apple. It's the sort of thing that would significantly affect the company’s share price, for one thing, and it's hard to imagine Apple letting it gradually leak out.

It would want to take charge of the story and make sure it got the right message out - telling concerned shareholders who would be taking over Ive's duties, how the company planned to deal with his departure and so on. There would probably be legal ramifications involved if Apple failed to properly notify shareholders about such a major change to its leadership.

Secondly, the main precedent for this, as MacRumours points out, is Bob Mansfield, who was removed from the Leadership page last year - but he wasn't fired, he simply moved to another part of the company to work on special projects.

What would it mean if Jony Ive left Apple?

A glance at the interest this rumour has generated - as I'm updating this article, I can see it's the second most popular article on our entire site - illustrates how critical Jony Ive is perceived to be to Apple's fortunes. In our Jony Ive profile I described him as "Apple's secret sauce, its stardust, its trademark and its bread and butter all rolled into one".

In short, Jony Ive is what makes Apple different - the design group he has assembled and runs is the driving force behind Apple's unique product philosophy, and his obsession with quality control (and admirable lack of concern over small financial considerations) has resulted in some of the finest computer hardware of the past decade and, ironically enough, some of its greatest commercial successes.

There are plenty of geniuses in Ive's team, and he himself constantly reminds his fans that Apple's design successes are a team effort. So if Ive left, it's not like Apple would have no one left to design the iPhone 6. But Ive is the public face of Apple's design ethos, and it would be a massive PR blow if the company's last megastar departed.

Indeed, Apple's desire to keep Chingford's finest on their books has been illustrated time and time again. Ive, despite being a seemingly genial and kindly chap, has won several battles of wills with colleagues at Apple - most notably with Scott Forstall over iOS design (that one is 'alleged', I should add) and with Jon Rubinstein over some expensive screws Jony wanted to use on the G4 - because higher-ups always sided with the British upstart.

Ive is handsomely rewarded by Apple, and when he nearly killed himself in a car wreck his bosses were so scared by the idea of losing him they gave him a pay rise.

One day, presumably, Jony Ive will decide he's bored of earning stupendous amounts of money and having near-total creative freedom and move on from Apple. When he does, it will be Apple's biggest - and most carefull orchestrated - announcement of the year. But we hope he's not going anywhere just yet.