Technology's greatest polisher and refiner finally had some big news for us this year. It wasn't a taller iPhone 5 or smaller iPad mini or some such other technical tinkering the company can do in its sleep, but something much more important: it gave the impression change is afoot. For those outside of tech circles the signals were subtle, but in axing 15 year Apple veteran Scott Forstall the company was doing much more than moving on its 'senior vice president of iPhone Software'. It was daring to do something which might have angered Steve Jobs.
Forstall was Steve Jobs' golden boy. A 43 year old high flyer who, rightly or wrongly, carried a reputation for being charismatic, ruthless, difficult to work with and a fierce backer of Jobs' love of skeuomorphism. Forstall was Jobs' prodigy, squint your eyes and he even looked a little like his older mentor. Tim Cook was meant to keep the CEO's seat warm for him, not sack him.
Reading industry reports, Forstall had been asked to leave because of the launch problems with Apple Maps and Siri, both projects he headed up. More specifically "sources said Forstall refused to sign a public apology" for Apple Maps when complaint levels became critical. Forstall apparently didn't believe an apology was needed… sound like anyone familiar? Consequently Cook broke with Apple's and Jobs' long running approach of blamelessness and issued an iOS 6 maps apology, the most open and heartfelt apology seen from the company in decades.
For Cook this is said to have been the final straw, but it was preceded by "years of friction" between skeuomorphism advocates Forstall and Jobs on one side (Jobs' famously chose the leather finish in iCal by matching them to the seats of his private jet) and a Jonathan Ive led opposition which thought the software should match the hardware's minimalist, clean lines. In the reshuffle this week Jonathan Ive was appointed 'Senior Vice President of Industrial Design' giving him command over both hardware and software design. Forstall lost, so by extension did Jobs.
This is extremely exciting and very, very dangerous. "What would Steve do" has been a mantra proclaimed inside Apple and outside by its most loyal customers ever since Jobs' passing last year. Yet less than 13 months later is now clear diversion from his rigid template has begun. Why? Because Cook realises Apple cannot keep battery farming the geese which lay the golden eggs. In the last few years Apple has become the biggest company in the world, but it has done so largely pitching evolution of revolutions...