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My Thoughts on the Recent Leadership Shakeup at Apple

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I’m not going to pretend to know everything that goes on at Apple. I have no little birdies on the the inside, and at times I find the internal politics far less interesting than the products that the company produces. However, when something bubbles to the surface, in regards to an internal struggle that might affect products, the company has managed to grab my attention. Yesterday, Apple announced that their new retail chief, who left Dixons an electronics retailer in Europe, to take the post in April, has been canned effective immediately.

John Browett, the new (well, not anymore) head of Apple’s retail effort, seemed like an odd choice from the start. He was CEO of Dixons from 2007 until he took the job at Apple. He then misstepped earlier this year, and began, intentionally or not, to cut back on Apple retail staffing. This I believe was the beginning of the end for Browett.

Browett really isn’t the main story though. Scott Forstall, the man behind iOS, and a driving force at the company since the introduction of iOS and the company’s various devices that rely on the software. He’s good at what he does, and that has been recognized. Forstall had been with Steve Jobs all the way back to the Next days, and during the Jobs 2.0 era at Apple. I think this is why he stayed around as long as he did- Steve Jobs personally liked him, and he could perform his job well.

Now that Steve is gone, is seems that Forstall had forgotten his place, and who was in charge. John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame seems to think that Forstall was forced out of the company, and several other reports from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times seem to back that up. Forstall was sticking his nose in other departments’ business without much need to do so.

What fascinates me most though, is how Apple is handling the removal of both of these men. Cook, and the rest of the executive team are not allowing Microsoft-like fiefdoms to form inside the company. Collaboration is key. Tim Cook is personally taking over Browett’s responsibilities, at least until they can get another person to fill the post. The search for someone else seems to be underway as we speak, as Apple’s leadership page makes no mention of Browett.

As for Forstall’s departure and the area in which he was in charge of, that has been carved up and dealt out to the other executives. Eddy Cue who was elevated to SVP of Internet Software and Services after Jobs passed, will now take over Siri and Maps, which had been under Forstall’s control.

Craig Federighi, who has been in ascension since he returned to the company in 2009 and after Bertrand Serlet stepped down as Apple’s OS X chief, will take over iOS as a whole. This is in addition to his responsibilities in regards to OS X.

Bob Mansfield, who was due to retire, but who has managed to stay around, is now in charge of “Technologies”. Previously Mansfield had been in charge of Apple’s Hardware Engineering, but after his false start to retirement, was replaced by Dan Riccio. Mansfield will lead his Technologies team in developing new wireless and semiconductor technologies.

Then there is Jony Ive. Ive has lead Apple’s design team for years now, and is damn good at it. Ive will now also be taking on the responsibilities of Human Interface design. This is what I find most interesting.

From everything that is known, Forstall was a proponent of the skeuomorphic design decisions when it comes to app design. The simulated leather in the iOS and OS X calendar app (you can pick many other examples, but this is the one that comes to mind) was largely backed by Forstall. This design movement was also seemingly backed by Steve Jobs himself, and that is where the issue stopped. Jobs was in charge, he liked the aesthetic, and that was that. On the other side of the rift was Ive (and others) who believed skeuomorphism was cheeky, unnecessary, and got in the way of what an application should really be. Ive will now have total control over almost every design decision at Apple, including the software.

Apple’s design taste in hardware is unparalleled in the tech industry. I don’t think that will change. It could be argued that their taste in software design was also unparalleled. That is, if you liked the aesthetic they went with. This will change. I think it will change drastically and I think it will change as soon as possible. The only thing stopping a massive design overhaul, I think, is public adoption and understanding. If you quickly change everything, some customers will become confused. I would wager heavily that a gradual, but rapid design change will filter down to Apple’s iOS and OS X applications in coming updates.

In a nut, it seems that Forstall was getting in the way, both in regards to personality and professionally. He’s out. Collaboration and great design are still at the heart of Apple, and this shakeup is intended to realign the talent to that ideal. The men who are in charge now, have a history of collaborating with the other departments. Ive will have total control over nearly every design aspect of Apple’s products. If we thought Apple created tightly integrated products before, 2013 will most certainly be an exciting year in terms of the look and feel coming out of Apple.

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