Scott Forstall was fired from Apple 10 years ago today

It might be hard to believe, but it’s now been a decade since Scott Forrestle was fired from Apple. Forstall was replaced by Craig Federighi on October 29, 2012, although he remained in a routine counselor position for about six months after that.

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

Forstall’s demise planning

Forstall was one of Steve Jobs’ closest allies at Apple. They ate lunch and worked together constantly. But after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, rumors began circulating that Forstall was not particularly well liked within the executive ranks. Many saw Forstall as emulating Jobs’ vanity, and soon shrugged off the blame. In particular, Forstall was said to have clashed with Jony Ive, the head of industrial design, to the point that they refused to hold meetings together.

While Forstall was known to be unpopular (at least on an executive level, many of the people reporting to him have posted wholly positive praise for his leadership in the years since), the iPhone and iOS were thriving, and Forstall’s political credit as the face of the phone’s software department seemed to Mobile at Apple is somewhat unbeatable. He may not have had many friends on the executive team, but his team’s results were hard to deny. However, came September 2012 and the release of iOS 6.

iOS 6 included an all-new Maps app, using Apple data and mapping, to replace Google Maps as the stock Maps app on the phone. The launch was a full-scale disaster. Apple Maps data sources were widely incorrect or incomplete. Navigation was unreliable and the cool 3D City Flyover feature presented model rendering issues for many parameters. Apple Maps has been making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Some joked that Apple only tested it in California (it turns out that’s actually half true). Just a week after the release of iOS 6, Apple published an open letter of apology acknowledging that the quality of Maps was not up to standard. The message even directed customers to download third-party mapping apps like MapQuest and Waze.

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This open letter was signed by Tim Cook. It was reported in major newspapers such as The New York Times that Cook wanted Forstoll to sign the letter, but Forstoll refused because he realized the complaints about the maps were exaggerated. Cook saw failure to accept responsibility as the straw that broke the camel’s back and decided it was time for Forstall to leave.

The major change to the executive team was announced in a press release titled “Apple announces changes to increase collaboration across hardware, software, and services.”

Craig Federighi will take ownership of all of Apple’s operating systems, iOS and OS X (now known as macOS). Eddy Cue is set for Siri and Maps. Jony Ive will take over control of the human interface group, as well as hardware design.

Jon Pruitt also left at the same time

Although the departure of Scott Forstell was the main news, Apple Retail Senior Vice President John Browett was fired at the same time. His tenure in retail was a disaster, as he moved from hiring to dismissal in the same calendar year. Most notably the development of a new retail hiring formula that has seen part-time employees minimize hours (and lay off some workers) across the board, seemingly in an effort to cut costs. The impact on employee satisfaction and customer experience in stores was immediate. By August, Apple had completely returned to its policy and the PR group issued a statement calling the changes a mistake. In total, his appointment was announced in January 2012, began work in April, and was dismissed in October – for only seven months in this position.

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Ramifications

The elevated role of Jony Ive directly led to the introduction of flat design aesthetics into Apple software. Almost as soon as he took the position, he started working on the iOS 7 design system.

Skeuomorphic objects and richly detailed textures in Apple apps have been replaced with stark white backgrounds, linear icons, and stylized buttons that can only be distinguished by color, lacking any kind of border or background. Engineering teams will deliver the biggest visual change to iOS in a very fast development timeframe.

The first (buggy) beta version of iOS 7 shipped in June 2013, at WWDC. iOS 7’s reception was controversial; Some loved it and some hated it. iOS 7 can be said to have captured the broader industry trends, but it has crossed the mark. Future revisions of iOS have seen a gradual return of things like borders around the buttons, some shading, and nice circular icons with thicker default weights and fonts.

To Apple’s credit, it invested a lot in Maps to make up for the initial launch chaos. They have invested and employed all over the world to develop their mapping techniques, including one of the first major engineering bases in India. Initial versions of the maps collected data from partners such as TomTom. In 2018, Apple revealed that it was rebuilding Maps from the ground up and was creating a new data layer that it fully owned, a major task that included powering its own fleets of ground truth trucks. This subtraction was positively accepted, and Apple Maps is a competitor to Google Maps in many respects these days. Notably, Maps has been under Cue’s purview since the 2012 shuffle, but Siri’s oversight has been switching between different groups—and arguably seen much less progress.

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It took Apple a while to find a replacement for its Senior Vice President of Retail. It acquired Angela Ahrendts in 2014, who helped unify Apple’s online and offline experiences and worked with Ive to bring major design changes to retail stores. Some of Ahrendts’ ambitions to turn Apple stores into city squares have not been successful, though the core continues with a variety of Today at Apple sessions. Ahrendts left in 2019, replaced by Apple veteran Deirdre O’Brien.

Forstall has kept himself out of sight in the intervening years. He has privately invested in some tech startups, and was a consultant to Snapchat circa 2015. He seems to have focused on philanthropic efforts and helped produce a few Broadway plays. He appeared on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, in a TV interview with the Computer History Museum.

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