On the Spot

January 14, 2013

Former Apple SVP Scott Forstall, Skeuomorphs, and Windows Live Tiles

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility Magazine.

OK, we all know that all good things come to an end. So when did Scott Forstall’s good thing with Apple come to an end?

Most of the media has its money on Forstall refusing to sign the now famous Apple apology letter for the company’s failure to deliver the highest quality possible for its iOS 6 Map App with which the company replaced Google (News - Alert) Maps.

It is certainly believable that Forstall got on the wrong side of Tim Cook with that one on several levels.

Another side – and this one probably has many Apple employees on its side – is that Forstall was the singular voice that kept insisting that Apple follow a “skeuomorphic” design paradigm. What the heck does this mean? Art imitating life? Life imitating art? Think, for example, of auto hubcaps that imitate old-fashioned wheels with spokes (ugh!). Think of those Apple design elements that do the same. The most obvious within iOS is the wood grain look and feel of the iBooks bookcase.

The severity of the break – full removal rather than a mere pushing aside and subtle shifting of responsibilities – suggests perhaps it was a matter of both issues. Forstall was also, despite his fairly entertaining stage presence, apparently unloved by his colleagues, and Forstall apparently had a fair measure of disdain for some of them as well. This probably was the final nail in the departure coffin.

Forstall’s responsibilities have now been scattered among two or three other Apple SVs, but who these responsibilities went to is not all that important. The next release of iOS will be the only measure of failure or success on this front, and that is what matters.

We only have one question. Will these new execs-in-charge-of-iOS be paying attention to all the cool new things Microsoft (News - Alert) is doing on the Windows 8 and Win Phone 8 UI/UX front? They had surely better be doing so! No skeuomorphism there – just Live Tiles and plenty of UI innovation.

We’ve been arguing for some time now that Apple needs to return to powerful innovation and needs to leave litigation behind. It may very well be that Tim Cook has come around to fully understanding that as much as the current crop of iPhone (News - Alert) 5, iOS 6 and iPad products continue to win the day, their shelf life is very likely coming to an end. Apple needs a new innovation homerun, and perhaps Cook sees Forstall and his collection of issues noted earlier as a roadblock to hitting that innovation homerun. 

This is where we place out money on the Forstall exit. Apple needs to innovate, and Microsoft looks to us to be on the verge of an innovation roll. We believe Cook sees the same thing, not necessarily for today – but in thinking ahead to 2015.

When Cook was recently asked what he thought of the new Microsoft Surface, he claimed that he had heard it was a confused and compromised product (we stress that he “heard this” as he also noted he hadn’t played with it directly). That is exactly the kind of statement that can come back and haunt a CEO (such as when Steve Ballmer was famously quoted as say “Android (News - Alert) is just a press release”), and we believe Cook may have a sense of the future being a haunted one if Apple fails to innovate in a big way – a game-changing way.

Forstall simply ran out of innovation (which meant his collection of issues could no longer be overlooked). Cook clearly knows that hardware captures the eye first, but it is the OS (and the apps it leads to) that keeps users coming back.

Tony Rizzo (News - Alert) is TechZone360 senior editor at Technology Marketing Corp. (, the parent company of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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Rich Tehrani,
Since 1982 Rich has led TMC© in many capacities. Rich Tehrani is an IP Communications industry expert, visionary, author and columnist. He founded INTERNET TELEPHONY® magazine...Read More >>>
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