Scott Forstall, Apple’s SVP of iOS Software, and John Browett, SVP of Apple Retail, have been unceremoniously dumped in a major board-level reshuffle in the world’s largest company. Forstall’s ability to rub execs up the wrong way has been well-documented, and Browett’s astonishingly rapid destruction of previous SVP Ron Johnson’s unique retail empire has been a matter of outrage among Apple’s retail employees.
Critics are concerned that Forstall’s removal may impact to the detriment of the company – not least because of the possibility of Scott finding a home with one of Apple’s increasingly powerful competitors. So what’s going on behind the scenes, and could we see Apple under fire? And what repercussions will this reshuffle have on other members of the industry – most notably Apple’s competitors like Microsoft, Sony, Lenovo, and Samsung?
Browett’s removal is unsurprising, and stock prices suggest that the announcement had a positive effect on Apple Retail’s investor performance predictions. However, Forstall’s abrupt dismissal came as a bit of a shock to both fans and investors alike.
Forstall is credited with several of the unique advances that got Apple where it is today. He’s credited with introducing UNIX to Mac OS X, which gave it a stable developer foundation as well as being one of the most-touted security features of the OS even today. He oversaw the move from OS X 10.4 ‘Tiger’ to 10.5 ‘Leopard’, a much-updated operating system that introduced several critical features that are now considered fundamental to Apple’s desktop operating system. He also created the ‘Aqua’ interface, which still hangs on in Apple’s latest OS X 10.8 ‘Mountain Lion’. Perhaps most importantly, he ran the iOS division, creating the world’s first touch-only operating system (a paradigm that almost every other smartphone manufacturer has since adopted).
Apple is therefore in serious danger of stumbling without Forstall’s experience and creative input. Some are arguing that competitor products are getting close to equaling or surpassing Apple’s own product lines across a wide range of sectors, with the recent development of notebooks, ultrabooks, and Android and Windows tablets, all produced by a range of manufacturers, including Google, Samsung, Lenovo, and Asus. Android tablets are taking on the dominance of the iPad and are set to account for nearly a third of all tablet sales this year, according to a report by Gartner. Should Forstall leave Apple to take the helm of a different tech company – which, of course, he will – Apple could find themselves facing their own creative powerhouse on the open market. That would be very bad for Apple (but potentially very good for consumers!).
Forstall was also reportedly responsible for the ‘skeumorphic’ interface design approach favoured by Apple’s in-house apps. Skeumorphism is the introduction of anachronistic or analogue features to a digital interface – like the leather stitching in the iOS calendar app. With Forstall gone, minimalist design guru Jonny Ive has been put in charge of User Interfaces, so we can expect a twist away from the skeumorphs. While this is something critics have been waiting for, it risks putting the iOS UI very close to the new Windows 8 UI that was recently released and to Android’s own minimal UI. Both of those operating systems emphasise functionality and lack of clutter – if Apple abandons skeumorphism, it could see itself becoming too similar to the competition.
All of this comes at a time when Windows 8 and a slew of new ultrabooks and notebooks look to take a chunk out of Apple’s market share. Analysts predict potentially stormy times ahead for the computing giant; losing a key member of their core team may have come at precisely the wrong point.