Most people don’t know who Scott Forstall is. But to those who do, he’s something of a demigod. If the future of mobile is software, and Apple is the company in pole position, then Forstall, Senior VP of iOS, is arguably the guy driving and defining the future. And as of today, he’s officially out at Apple.
But don’t panic, this is actually probably going to be a very good thing. Here’s why:
- After Steve’s death, Forstall was known to be consolidating power among the ranks at Apple.¹ This kind of thing never bodes well — for anyone. Blatant power grabs lead to infighting and dysfunction as senior management all of a sudden have to start watching their backs instead of collaborating on product and direction. It’s simply never healthy, and definitely never sustainable. Something has to give, and it looks like we know what.
- Although iOS has proven to be an incredibly successful platform that started with a huge lead in the modern smartphone era, it’s been criticized as evolving far too slowly in the face of the competition (namely: Android). This became apparent around the launch of iOS 5, which added far too few marquee features; I’d say this felt especially acute in iOS 6, which overall felt fairly incremental by comparison to Google’s advances.
- Relevant, but perhaps not directly Forstall’s fault: he was supposedly the guy who convinced Steve to let some iPhone 4 units run around in the wild during late testing. And we all know what happened there.²
- Scott was the man in charge of Siri. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say much more on that matter.
- Scott was also in charge of the new Maps product, one of Apple’s most visible (if not monumental) failures of a flagship product in quite some time. SOMEONE’s head was going to roll, it was just a matter of whose. (The last time Apple had something blow up this badly in its face — iPhone 4’s Antennagate — iPhone hardware executive Mark Papermaster was unceremoniously fired.)
- (Am I forgetting anything else?)
Scott’s responsibilities have been divvied up among Apple senior management. My thoughts on each:
- Great news: Jony Ive will be “providing leadership and direction for Human Interface” across Apple. This is the best news I’ve heard at Apple in years. It’s time for Cupertino to ditch the tacky skeuomorphism and get the UI to the same level of sophistication as the hardware Ive’s been crafting for so long.
- Good news: Craig Federighi, who currently runs OS X, will take over iOS. He’s done a great job of getting OS X on a yearly release schedule with great, mobile-inspired features. I think Apple will probably be fine seeing stuff get built and released.
- Interesting news: Bob Mansfield, former lead of hardware engineering, will lead a new group called Technologies, which should organize everything mobile under one roof (including semiconductors). This is a fascinating move that underscores Apple’s ongoing focus on phones and tablets.
- We’ll-see news: Siri and Maps go to Eddy Cue. Eddy already oversees iTunes, the App Store, iBookstore, iCloud, etc., so this makes sense. He’s gone from being the content guy at Apple to taking on its massive and numerous cloud services — but Siri and Maps strike me as being a different breed of cloud product, so it’s a little unclear to me right now how he’ll handle the absolutely IMMENSE technical challenge they present. I’d put odds that he’ll do well, though.
Overall, this is probably a very good, very healthy move on Apple’s part.