Analysis: Scott Forstall and retail chief John Browett out at Apple

Wow.

Did not expect to see this coming.

Well, John Browett I saw coming. His tenure as the head of Apple retail has been very tumultuous and there have been a lot of complaints in the less-than-a-year that he headed it up. He didn’t get what made Apple retail stores unique, and didn’t really have experience running a luxury brand. He tried to turn Apple’s retail stores into a nickle-and-dime operation, when the real allure was in the upscale, laid back experience mixed with great service.

Scott Forstall is much bigger news. He’s been with Steve Jobs and his companies ever since he graduated from Stanford. He started with NeXT and came over when Apple purchased NeXT. He was instrumental in bringing the NeXT core and APIs over to Mac OS and was the person who wanted Apple to adapt OS X for iOS instead of using Linux.

Forstall was Jobs’s right-hand software man. But Steve is no longer with us, and changes are afoot.

The press release doesn’t say one positive thing about Forstall. He was pushed out. Word on the street is that it’s related to Siri and Apple’s new Maps app. Both weren’t overly polished and remain buggy to this day.

Maybe Forstall also left because the company has changed so much in the past five years. Apple is primarily the world’s largest mobile company. But being a mobile company is so much me than just a mobile operating system; it’s also doing Web services, hardware and integration in larger ecosystems.

So what does this mean for Apple?

  • Skeuomorphism is out at Apple — Jobs and Forstall were the big skeomorphism guys in Apple. Neither is around anymore. Expect to no longer see user interfaces that try to mimic real-world objects.
  • The Jony Ive-ing of Apple’s UI/UX — Apple says that Ive will, “provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design.” I’d expect to see the modern, clean lines of Ive’s design aesthetic being applied to iOS and OS X. The mobile OS that fits that description the best is Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro UI. I expect to see less embellishment, cleaner lines and less faux textures. I also expect to see Apple’s UIs complimenting Apple’s hardware even better. But Ive is a hardware guy, and user experience and user design is really about how something works, not how it looks. But since mobile device design is so much about the marriage between hardware and software, doesn’t it make sense for one guy and his team to head up both?
  • Silos being torn down — That seems to be the big message from today’s announcement. In addition to Ive handling hardware and software design, Senior Vice President, Mac Software Engineering Craig Federighi is now in charge of both iOS and OS X. Could this mean that they one day become one OS that works on both touchscreen and mouse and keyboard computing systems? Perhaps. In the short term, I think this means we’ll be seeing iOS and OS X sharing even more technology and looking more similar (which has been the big push with Lion and Mountain Lion). Did it really make sense for two different people to control Apple’s operating systems? It makes sense for one person to have the ultimate say over both and to have both teams work together.
  • A more mobile focused company — Bob Mansfield stepped down as senior vice president of hardware engineering, but stayed on as a senior vice president of nothing. Originally the move was announced as a retirement, and maybe it was supposed to be, but Mansfield is staying on as the new senior vice president for technologies, a new group at Apple in charge of all wireless teams across the company, including semiconductor teams. Apple has made a big play with semiconductor technology with the A4 and A5, but the A6 is really a custom piece of hardware that differentiates Apple from competitors.
  • iOS will see some big changes — Forstall lead the team that created the best mobile OS in the world. He has laid the foundation for a very successful future for iOS and Apple. But some people feel that iOS has become conservative. iOS has clung to the successful SpringBoard home screen focused on apps since the original iPhone, while competitors have begun integrating more information and services into home screens. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and 8 in particular offer home screens that are more flexible and powerful. A lot of people really like the simplicity of SpringBoard, but it was a design for much less powerful devices. It was the original design. The iPhone 5 is many times me powerful than the original iPhone. I think it’s likely we’ll see bigger changes in the jump from iOS 6 to 7 than we saw from iOS 5 to 6. This doesn’t mean that SpringBoard is going away, but iOS 6 was a very iterative change over iOS 5, and this space is so young that there are big gains to still be made.