It’s fair to say that Apple has been suffering something of an image crisis of late. The untimely death of its visionary leader, Steve Jobs, happened just as Google’s Android platform began seriously snapping at the company’s smartphone heels, and as legal patent wranglings with Samsung, HTC and others began to rumble in the background. It all served to knock the previously invincible-seeming tech giant quite off kilter.
For a while the company seemed to be losing momentum, running for the past few months on little more than the fumes of its past smash hits, such as the iPad and iPhone. Then, just a week after the launch of the iPad Mini and 4G iPad, things really came to a head when news broke that two senior executives had been told to clear their desks.
Scott Forstall had been in charge of user interfaces for iOS devices, while John Browett had only recently been installed as the head of Apple’s international retail business.
So are the departures a sign that Steve Jobs’ successor as CEO, Tim Cook, is now ready to do things his way? After being accused for so long of running the company in Jobs’ shadow, is he showing the world he’s ready to flex his muscles with these high-profile staffing reshuffles?
Forstall’s exit is the less surprising of the two. Forstall was heavily involved with Apple’s much-derided Maps app, and indeed he demonstrated the software at WWDC 2012 back in June. After the app crashed and burned, Forstall became the public face of Apple’s first big failure in a five-year run of success – a run that had begun with the first iPhone, the interface of which he had played a key part in designing.
Forstall was also the project manager of the less than universally acclaimed voice-recognition search engine, Siri.
When a message, personally signed by Cook, appeared on Apple’s website soon after the launch of iOS 6 suggesting that people use other products such as Google Maps instead, it became clear that heads would have to roll. But Forstall, who will leave Apple for good in early 2013, is a controversial sacrifice.
Forstall had joined Apple in 1997 when it acquired niche computer maker NeXT – the deal that brought Jobs back into the first company he founded.
Forstall has long been described as one of Jobs’ key lieutenants. Heading up iOS development for several years, he can easily claim a large chunk of the credit for the platform’s success.
Various rumours have suggested that Forstall was unpopular with Apple staff at large. Indeed, rumour has it that top hardware engineer Bob Mansfield decided against “retiring” early following news of Forstall’s exit. Then there is the antipathy in the organisation against his apparent love of “skeuomorphic” (the art of making the new feel familiar) design.