Scott Forstall was fired from Apple 10 years ago today

Scott Forstall was fired from Apple 10 years ago today

It may be hard to believe, but it’s now been a decade since Scott Forstall was fired from Apple. Forstall was replaced by Craig Federighi on October 29, 2012, although he stayed on as a cursory adviser for about six months after that.

Here’s a look at what happened…and what happened next.

Mapping the disappearance of Forstall

Forstall was one of Steve Jobs’ closest allies at Apple. They lunched and worked together constantly. But after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, rumors began to circulate that Forstall was not particularly popular in the executive ranks. Many saw Forstall as mimicking Jobs’ ego and quick to deflect blame. In particular, Forstall was said to have been in conflict with Jony Ive, the head of industrial design, to such an extent that they had refused to take meetings together.

While Forstall was known to be hated (at least at the executive level, many who pointed him out posted entirely positive praise of his leadership in the years that followed), the iPhone and iOS were booming, and Forstall’s political credit as the face of Apple’s mobile software division seemed somewhat insurmountable. He might not have many friends in the management team, but it was hard to deny his team’s results. However, then came September 2012 and the launch of iOS 6.

iOS 6 included an all-new Maps app, using Apple data and mapping, replacing Google Maps as the stock maps app on the phone. The launch was a widespread disaster. Apple Maps data sources were largely incorrect or incomplete. Navigation was unreliable and the fancy 3D city flyover feature had model rendering issues for many landmarks. Apple Maps was making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Some joked that Apple only tested it in California (this actually turned out to be half true). Just a week after the release of iOS 6, Apple issued an open letter of apology admitting that the quality of Maps was not up to par. The letter even urged customers to download third-party map apps such as MapQuest and Waze.

This open letter was signed by Tim Cook. It was reported in major newspapers like the New York Times that Cook had wanted Forstall to sign the letter, but Forstall had refused as he felt the complaints about Maps were exaggerated. Cook saw the refusal to accept responsibility as the straw that broke the camel’s back and decided it was finally time for Forstall to leave.

The significant executive team shake-up was made public in a press release titled “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software and Services.”

Craig Federighi would assume ownership of all of Apple’s operating systems, iOS and OS X (now known as macOS). Eddy Cue has been assigned Siri and Maps. Jony Ive would take control of the human interface group, in addition to material design.

John Browett also left at the same time

Although the departure of Scott Forstall made headlines, John Browett, SVP of Apple Retail, was also fired at the same time. His retail reign was a disaster, going from hired to fired in the same calendar year. Notably, he implemented a new retail hiring formula that minimized the hours of part-timers (and some layoffs) across the board, ostensibly in an effort to cut costs. The impact on employee satisfaction and customer experience in stores was immediate. By August, Apple had rolled back the policy entirely, and the public relations group released a statement openly describing the changes as a mistake. In total, his nomination was announced in January 2012, started work in April and was ousted in October – lasting just seven months in the role.

The consequences

Jony Ive’s elevated role directly led to the introduction of the flat design aesthetic into Apple’s software. Almost as soon as I took over, he started working on the iOS 7 design system.

The skeuomorphic objects and richly detailed textures of Apple apps were replaced with white backgrounds, line art icons, and buttons so simplified they were only distinguishable by color, devoid of any kind of border or background. Engineering teams would bring the biggest visual change to iOS on a very accelerated development schedule.

The first (bugged) beta version of iOS 7 was delivered in June 2013, at WWDC. The reception of iOS 7 was controversial; some loved it, others hated it. iOS 7 arguably caught up with broader industry trends, but overshot the mark. Future revisions of iOS saw the gradual return of things like borders around buttons, some shadows, and softer, rounded iconography with thicker lineweights and default fonts.

To its credit, Apple invested heavily in Maps to make up for the initial mess of the rollout. They invested and hired worldwide to advance their mapping technologies, including one of its first major engineering bases in India. Early versions of Maps brought together data from partners like TomTom. In 2018, Apple disclosed that it was rebuilding Maps from the ground up and creating a new data layer that it wholly owned, a major undertaking that included running its own fleets of ground truth vans. This rollout was well received and Apple Maps is competitive with Google Maps in many ways these days. Notably, Maps has remained under Cue’s purview since the 2012 revamp, but Siri monitoring has ping-ponged around various groups – and arguably seen much less progress.

It took Apple a while to find a replacement for the retail SVP. He picked up Angela Ahrendts in 2014, who helped unify Apple’s online and physical experiences and worked with Ive to introduce major design changes to retail stores. Some of Ahrendt’s ambitions – to turn Apple stores into city squares – have not been so successful, though the bulk continues with the various Today at Apple sessions. Ahrendts left in 2019, replaced by Apple veteran Deirdre O’Brien.

Forstall himself kept a low profile in the years that followed. He privately invested in some tech startups and was named an advisor to Snapchat around 2015. He apparently focused on philanthropic efforts and helped produce a handful of Broadway plays. It surfaced for the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, in a television interview with the Computer History Museum.

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