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.
I personally think that Jobs put an amazing team together at Apple but each individual had their own strong opinion on various aspects of the companies business. Cook is way to laid back to get some of these rouge VPs to fall in line. This move might be exactly what was needed to wake these guys up.
A thought - if you think Maps as not a single app but as a new content aggregation platform - i.e. linking to various services such as nearest stores, public transit etc then the move might make more sense? I think maps was one of the more static elements - the new Maps while not flawless is in many ways an improvement though it still needs a LOT of work (and better data) but hopefully it will also be able to incorporate new sources of content perhaps directly (and indirectly via being embedded into many iOS applications)
I also believe Cue's ability to manage Apple's partnerships with various companies providing content and CDN bodes well for Maps. Although Google's secret Map sauce isn't so secret: they've been willing to throw millions of dollars on brute force techniques (a fleet of cars taking photos and Indian call centers scanning geo data) and elegant, powerful software and algorithm engineering. It'll be interesting to see how partnerships can effectively compete with that.
Siri and Maps going to Cue is a spectacular move. Both Siri and Map's current issues is content related; technically speaking, both services are sitting well and work great — it's the content that they lack, and that's where Cue shines.
I find a little bit of revolution every now and then is a healthy thing. And I'm sure that many people around the world, irrespective of Android and Windows Phone Series UI accomplishments, feel let down by IOS 6. Apple have been so focused on UX that they forgot that a key ingredient is UI. Bring on the shift.
Ryan - very astute how you pulled everything together. I was really happy to see this news come across the wire also. However, I wouldn't have put SOME of those negative things on Scott.
For one, I would like to hear you elaborate a bit on Siri. I'm not an Apple apologist by a long shot, but you see Siri as a failure? I see it as a HUGE marketing success. It's not a world changer when it comes to us as tech enthusiasts. It's good at doing a few things well. (Siri - make an appointment. Set a reminder. What day does Dec 23 land on this year? Set an alarm for tomorrow.) It got Google's attention with Google Now, didn't it?
I don't know as much about OS 10 development as I do iOS, but there's just as much skeuomorphism in the desktop OS. Actually WAY more!!
I'm excited at the potential for a new direction, but this has the potential to be really bad. Jony Ive knows about hardware design and I love the way he thinks. (I was actually hoping he'd make his way into the CEO seat someday.) But I don't know that it's a slam dunk that an iOS with an Ive-driven UI is going to be amazing. I hope so, but what other software examples do we have from him?
Overall, I just don't want to totally dump on Scott. I COMPLETELY agree that iOS was moving way too slow. But the way I see it, Apple is somewhat married to the design of iOS it created in order to keep compatibility with all those hundreds of thousands of apps -- ironically in the same way that Windows had been treated.
Siri's strange. It's an impressive technology that's captured people's imaginations, but it's also getting an increasingly poor reputation as the months wear on. Services like this should get better with time -- not worse, or stay the same level of quality -- and that alone is proof that something is very wrong with the Siri group.
Great point. This is especially inexcusable with that gargantuan server farm that they purchased. I guess (just as Apple learned with their foray into maps), sometimes you can't just throw money at a solution.
I did think the marketing campaign went really well, tho. So many non-techies who hadn't considered an iPhone seemed to be drawn in by Siri. But forget Siri. I can't WAIT to see what they reveal at the iOS Developers Preview in March/April!
Is Siri really getting worse, or is it just peoples' perception of it? I've thought of it sort of like the Kinect or Wii. They're imperfect technologies from the start, but when you first get it most of your exposure to it is through messing around with it, showing it off, and testing its limits. So you overlook or forgive a lot of their shortcomings initially.
As you try to incorporate them into your usual habits over time, that's when you start getting frustrated with them because they don't live up to the expectations that you formed in more controlled environments and in more forgiving circumstances.
Hard to know for sure. I can definitely say that it's only gotten worse in the last 1-2 years, and that the buck stopped with Forstall -- not Ive -- when it came to matters of mobile UI. So whether it's Forstall's "doing" is no longer the concern, as the right guy has been handed that responsibility: Jony freaking Ive.
"When I mention the fake stitching, Ive offers a wince but it's a gesture of sympathy rather than a suggestion that he dislikes such things. At least, that's how I read it. He refuses to be drawn on the matter, offering a diplomatic reply: 'My focus is very much working with the other teams on the product ideas and then developing the hardware and so that's our focus and that's our responsibility. In terms of those elements you're talking about, I'm not really connected to that.'"
Do we know that the skeuomorphism thing was all Forstall, and that Ive has a different opinion about it? I find it a little hard to believe that this far he's had absolutely no input into Apple's UI design. For all we (or at least I) know, he could have been the one who suggested it in the first place.
I couldn't agree more particularly with the first point. However, I see huge speculation coming around, on how Apples is currently run by a cohesive senior leadership team. All this rotation may not seem to be good trigger to the markets nor, fundamentally, in the social media circles which may influence negativelly (for Apples) the way consumers look at Apple products in the future. After all, Scott Forstall is considered to be the face of iOS.
Yeah. Especially after having seen Jobs' yacht, which is undoubtedly the most hideous floating thing I've ever seen. And I'm counting bright red, overweight British tourists stuffed in a floating ring off Marbella in that analysis.* I mean god, that boat is awful! Proof that Ive is very important to Apple!
Of all the Apple products I've used (most iPods, iPhones and major Mac designs), the one thing I've always thought was best in class was design. The visual appeal and quality of build on my late-08 unibody MacBook Pro quite simply made everything else look embarrassing, and aside from other MBPs I've still never felt the same sense of quality in any other laptop.
I think blaming 1 person for any issue at apple is very short-sited. You don't develop and release any product in secrecy - everyone on the exec team knew what was coming out. Personally I think more than anything this worries me because it shows that there is no one strong in charge of the exec team. I am worried that this is a sign that apple is about to start the decline as it once had when Jobs left except this time there is no one to return.
I also wonder who is the main visionary now that Jobs is no longer around? That will speak to the long term strategy of the company and will be most telling.
In the end I think this recent move is a bit of a coup, power-grab and scape-goating move and will only hurt Apple in the long-term.
I am not so convinced this is good news. It may mean that Apple as a company is less willing to hear a different view. That's very easy when the "different" is coming from the top. Steve Jobs protected Forstall, probably because he saw him as a challenging voice. He may be wrong, but you need to protect those dissenting voices, otherwise you end up in a bubble, where everything you hear is how much better you are from the competition. I think this is what may have happened at RIM, Nokia, Palm, HP, and Microsoft. They got rid or disregarded dissenting voices, what happens to a company that hates those who say the truth? And how do you know who is saying the truth?
Siri is more a platform (a language) that's unexplored. It's a casual medium that needs moderation, often human moderation just like maps. It needs interpretation and context if its ever to mature.. and an A.I. or Algorithm will probably never do unless it sits at home eating Bon Bons all day watching Big Brother. (well) at least it needs to read the major news outlets and put things into context for the near term. The more it knows about the user the better.. which I'm sure they have your credit card.. this is Apple anyway.
Ryan your spot on about Maps needing human moderation, there's no getting around that, but even there it kind of needs cultural specific moderation. Left versus Right side of the road for example. For now cheap human labor is probably the best A.I. they can ramp up in short order. Crowd sourcing with something like the little image boxes in captura would be another way. How to present it and offer a carrot to a hapless websurfer stuck in the honey pot (all I want are my search results.. puleezzze!) is the problem though.. bitcoins anyone?
There's probably a professional market for people who would like to make a living interpreting Siri requests and Map quests like a Fortune teller on the Psychic hotline. The better they get at guessing the correct or a satisfying response the more they are paid. But it really wouldn't be all that impossible. It would be like temporarily hiring an interpretive assitant who runs search engine and wikipedia searches for you to support the aural or vocal media you can use while driving or walking.
They really are just concierge services "on demand" in a more one sided less collaborative human interface sort of way. "I want" -- "You get for me" is about the level of commitment we're expecting.
Until we get the whole remote brain sensing thing down to the level of a Kinetic without the "mime time" we'll have pretty low expectations. But like Lieutenant Commander Data's emotion chip.. perhaps we could get better "a little" with an emotion chip that you wear on the back of your hand.. that senses "mood ring like" the contextual attitude your placing your request in.. it could evolve into sensing urgent emotions, seriousness.. and maybe even eventually non-verbal requests.. until your one with the device.
Forstall probably over compensated and didn't sense the profound environment in which he found himself. It is his loss.. but he'll do all right. It would seem the pacing of his achievements had slowed and he felt compelled to make up for that by either over promising or overreaching.. and not following through enough with thinking the solutions to any sort of conclusion.. just on to the next thing. It caught up to him. Insecurity might also have inflicted a lot of damage with co-workers who couldn't relate to the insecurity in such a high profile and profitable company. (essentially he could have still been on an adrenalin burn since before Jobs left and never recovered.. it would take its toll permanently)
Cook and Ives seem very long term focused and take their time to think things out.. even if they have to miss a date. I'd expect the product cycle to slow down and UI to be revamped for the next couple of quarters. The improvements will probably be appreciated by the public and ultimately rewarded. The stratospheric stock prices, PE ratios and expectations however had to come to an end sometime. They probably aren't worried.
Forstall probably needs a start up or time off. The worst thing he could do is start a proxy fight or try to re-live Steve Jobs life.. it wouldn't be his life even if he succeeded. He started at NeXT, he should probably found something like NeXT and work with the next generation of programmers.. eerily similar to Steve Jobs.. but diverge from there and have a good life. Perhaps he should work to improve software on other platforms.. but stay away from Apple products and Apple platforms.. it wouldn't be a good thing for him. He's a problem solver by nature, or that's how he started out.. he should rediscover the joy in that.
Steve if most people will recall wasn't the innovative programmer in his neighborhood. He was the entrepreneurial spiritual cousin of Bill Gates.
Bill Gates took the book industry that was boosting book prices by including a software disk in the back "for free" and challenged the copyright and trademark system to make it binding you should pay for software (instead of the book).. ephemeral "bits" and "ideas" with no substance -- which had more in common with the ideals of the content of an actual "book". And turned it into a multi-billion dollar international business. (note Bill Gates also did not write DOS he is famous for selling DOS to IBM before he even owned it.. right place, right time)
Steve Jobs went another, more traditional way, following the "HP Way" -- build a product and convinced people to buy it like a kitchen appliance.
Woz was a rather traditional engineer (and proud of it) but actually produced a hobby model that Steve could wrap up and sell.
Steve was a marketer. And marketers sense the market or set out to change public opinion to make a market for their product. Steve did much of the former and more of the later as time wore on. In the beginning he had a lot more in common with the Ballmer of today, then later developed his own product markets using his success as leverage. "You'll like this because I tell you you'll like it." He flamoyantly dared people to tell him otherwise.. quite a character.
To a degree Steve Jobs was just plain lucky, right place, right time, right friends and daring enough to try things and fail - not dwell on them too much -- and moved on.
Phones were rather an easy target at the time Apple tried one, but it was far from certain it would succeed. PDAs were all the rage. If a touch surface hadn't existed it would have gone over as big as a clunky TV remote with big colored pushbuttons. Or a skeuomorphic rotary dial phone with a Click Wheel (*moan*).
Music was laughable at the time. But MP3 compression had just come on the scene and bridged the gap with "just small enough" to fit on a hard drive "just invented" that was small enough to carry in your pocket, it was a big bet.
Nothing looks personally exceptional or revolutionary in being at the right moment in history, especially when the market itself was on the verge of this happening anyway. A lot was just coincidence.. not mythical strength of will.. (we do like our heroes though don't we).
Steve Jobs and Apple have long talked about the intersection of Hardware and Software. What’s new is Apple’s recognition of services as a peer that’s equal in importance to Hardware and Software, something that’s been clearly acknowledged in the recent earnings call and the iPad Mini keynote. This executive shake-up is Apple’s yet another signal of Apple’s goal to create a single universal operating system across all of its devices. Here’s more on my take: ow.ly/f4LT5
Another thought: I don't know that Forstall can/should be blamed for the Maps debacle. He and his team were in charge of the app's functionality and design. They did an amazing job there. The reason Maps has been deemed a failure is due to the lack of data, which isn't something that would fall on Forstall. If anything, I would hold Jobs and/or Cook responsible for that.
Just to be clear, I'm not a huge Forstall fan but I just want to make sure we're all understanding the real reasons why he may have been let go. My guess is that his power grabbing went too far.
Related update: Forstall was asked by Cook to publicly apologize for the Maps situation, and he declined to. So you're responsible for a product, you screw up, your boss asks you to apologize, and you refuse, forcing him apologize in your place? I can't imagine why he was shitcanned.
As the leader of the pack and the face Apple why would anyone but Cook need to apologize to the masses? Would anyone but Jobs be writing an apology in this case? All an apology is is a PR move, isnt it?
That's not really accurate, as I understand it. Apple apparently wasn't set up to deal with the need for human-generated data, a very hard lesson learned by Google in the early days of Google Maps -- and something they've since corrected by investing heavily over the years in human moderated and generated map data.