Apple's reorganization is about more than replacing Scott Forstall

Credit: Macworld

In the roughly 24 hours since Apple announced a major restructuring of its executive management, virtually every technology publication and much of mainstream media has weighed in on the change. Most have focused on the decision to remove Scott Forstall as Senior VP of iOS, a decision that is largely seen as benefiting Apple.

But the reorg actually has much broader effects. In particular, removing iOS from Forstall's control, and putting it under Mac OSX leader Craig Federighi, could have important implications for how enterprises use both products.

There are a range of reasons believed to be involved in the decision to remove Forstall from his post (though he will remain with the company as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook).

  • Forstall allegedly refused to sign a letter to Apple customers apologizing for the recent iOS 6 Maps debacle -- Apple's CEO Tim Cook signed an apology instead. Leading iOS meant that Forstall had ultimate responsibility for Maps (and iOS 6 in general) as well as Siri. Both features have been major embarrassments for Apple, largely because the company portrayed them as being much more polished solutions than they actually are.
  • Forstall was reportedly a fiery individual who was difficult to work with -- so difficult in fact that Apple's industrial design guru Jony Ive refused to sit in meetings with him.
  • Forstall was a vocal proponent of skeuomorphic design and is reportedly the source of the various real-life visual references in many of Apple's iOS apps and features including the leather-bound stitching in the Calendar app, the green felt gaming table background of Game Center, and the wooden bookshelf view in Newsstand and iBooks. This has apparently put him at odds with Ive and other Apple execs in terms of user interface design.
  • Forstall has also reportedly been trying to consolidate his power and influence at Apple in the year since Steve Job passed away. He was a long-time associate of Jobs and had worked with him at NeXT, the computer company Jobs founded after leaving Apple that was also his vehicle to return when Apple purchased NeXT in 1997. It's believed that his long association with Jobs was one reason that his brand of fiery and divisive leadership was tolerated during his years at Apple.

Perhaps, however, the simplest and most major reason for the change has been the assessment of Daring Fireball's John Gruber:

Thinking about it some more, though, and considering what I know about Forstall’s reputation within the company, I think that headline, euphemistic though it is, tells the plain truth: Forstall was an obstacle to collaboration within the company. Now he’s gone, and his responsibilities are being divided between four men who foster collaboration: Ive, Mansfield, Cue, and Federighi.

The reasons that Forstall was fired are major parts of the story. So is the presumed reason that he will remain a paid Apple employee until some time next year. As Cult of Mac's Leander Kahney pointed out, California law prevents enforcement of non-compete clauses in employee contracts -- that means that once Forstall leaves Apple, he is free to work for any technology company that he chooses. Given all of his experience at Apple, it's easy to assume that any company would be thrilled to hire him as soon as possible. Keeping him on the Apple payroll for as long as possible is therefore essential.

Beyond the story of Forstall's downfall at Apple, however, there's the question of what the reshuffled management means for the company going forward. That may turn out to be the far bigger story here.

Apple's press release seems to make it clear that this reorganization is about more than just axing Forstall. It implies that the company is looking to leverage its resources across different product lines and disciplines. For a company that is focused on design, the human experience of its products, and a compulsive desire to push technology forward, enabling internal collaboration and technical cross-pollination is a key to furthering those lofty ambitions.

Thus the real story becomes how will Ive's vision translate across all levels of a product's design? How will Eddy Cue deliver a new level of value, one that's more about context than data itself, across iCloud, Maps, Siri, and the combined iTunes-based storefronts (iTunes, iBooks, iOS apps, Mac apps)? How will combining all the underlying technologies -- microprocessors, cellular antennas, and wireless networking -- into a single overarching group under Bob Mansfield help Apple to create technological advantages that other companies might not be able to duplicate?

Perhaps most intriguing and underreported is how placing both iOS and OS X under the leadership of Craig Federighi, who has led Apple's OS X team, will impact the future development of both Apple's mobile and desktop platforms. While the other adjustments will all deliver value, this one seems the most likely to deliver business and enterprise value.

Both iOS and OS X have enterprise features and functionality built into them, but they don't always share the same enterprise integration mechanisms or capabilities.

One of the best examples of this is that both platforms support integration with Microsoft Exchange, but do so in rather different ways. iOS relies on Exchange Active Sync, the technology that most mobile platforms rely on because it offers the ability to enforce security policies and to remotely wipe a lost or stolen device. OS X, on the other hand, relies on Exchange Web Services to connect its Mail, Calendar, and Contacts apps to Exchange (as does Microsoft's Outlook for Mac). Both deliver the same effect, but with different requirements and different functionality.

Apple has already done some work in bridging enterprise functionality between its two platforms. Beginning with the release of OS X Lion last year, Apple began supporting Mac client management using lightweight configuration profiles - the same underlying structure for iOS device management. Apple extended those capabilities with summer's release of Mountain Lion. The new approach allows mobile management vendors to configure virtually the entire Mac experience for users as well as to lock down Mac systems -- a feat that was previously reserved for very specialized solutions, those sysadmins willing to extend the Active Directory schema to support for Mac manage, or the integration of Mac and Windows directory servers within a network. The new approach obviously makes life easier for Windows IT professionals needing to support, manage, and secure Mac notebooks and workstations.

The new synergy may drive a lot more enterprise features across Mac and iOS devices or, at least, provide additional options for existing features. That doesn't mean Apple will ultimately merge iOS and OS X into a single product as Microsoft is doing with Windows 8, but it does mean that the company will be more agile and capable when it comes to anticipating the needs of businesses of any size and meeting them across the two platforms.

Forstall wasn't the only the Apple exec to be removed this week. The ouster of John Browett as head of Apple retail was also announced. The move didn't come as a surprise to Apple watchers as Browett had made some serious missteps in his few months on the job, mostly related to treating Apple retail and the company's retail employees like any other major retail chain. The success of Apple retail stores comes largely from the fact that they are distinctly different from the vast majority of retail operations and that they serve as a way to introduce users to Apple products and solutions or to get help with problems. Those goals are actually more important for Apple than simply selling products.

Ironically, Apple's retail model and its genius bar have become a template for companies looking to capitalize on many consumerization trends, particularly mobile and BYOD (bring your own device), more than it has become a model for retail. Of course, in a BYOD world, the Apple store and genius bar have also become resources for employees that rely on Macs or iOS devices for work.

Ultimately, this move is about more than removing either Forstall or Browett. It's about Tim Cook ensuring that Apple remains a competitive force in the technology world as well as a leader in the consumerization trends that it helped unleash.

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