Scott Forstall was fired from Apple 10 years ago today

It may be hard to believe, but it’s been a decade since Scott Forstall was fired from Apple. Forstall was replaced by Craig Federighi on October 29, 2012, and remained in a perfunctory advisor capacity for approximately six months thereafter.

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

Mapping Forstall’s demise

Forstall was one of Steve Jobs’ closest allies at Apple. They would have lunch and work together constantly. But following the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, rumors began to circulate that Forstall was not particularly well-liked within the executive ranks. Many saw Forstall as an imitation of Jobs’ ego. In particular, Forstall is said to clash with Jony Ive, head of industrial design, so they refuse to hold meetings together.

Although Forstall was known to be unpopular (at least at the executive level, many who reported to him have published entirely positive praise for his leadership in the years since), the iPhone and iOS took off, and Forstall’s political cred made Apple’s mobile software division seem somewhat insurmountable. He may not have had many friends on the executive team, but it was hard to deny his team’s results. However, September 2012 came and iOS 6 was launched.

iOS 6 includes a new Maps app that replaces Google Maps as the stock Maps app on the phone, with Apple data and cartography. The launch was a widespread disaster. Data sources for Apple Maps were widely inaccurate or incomplete. Navigation was unreliable and the fancy 3D city flyover feature exhibited model rendering issues for several landmarks. Apple Maps is making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Some joked that Apple only tested it in California (which actually turned out to be half true). A week after the release of iOS 6, Apple published an open letter admitting that the quality of Maps was not up to standard. The letter directed consumers to download third-party maps apps such as MapQuest and Waze.

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This open letter is signed by Tim Cook. The news came in leading newspapers etc The New York Times Cook wanted Forstall to sign the letter, but Forstall refused, seeing complaints about Mapes as too high. Cook saw this failure to take responsibility as the last straw and finally decided it was time for Forstall to go.

The significant executive team shakeup was publicized 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). Add Siri and Maps to Eddie Q. In addition to hardware design, Jony Ive will take control of the human interface group.

John Browett left about the same time

While Scott Forstall’s departure was the headline news, Apple retail SVP John Browett was also fired at the same time. His reign over the retailer was a disaster, resulting in layoffs within the same calendar year. Most notably, he instituted a new retail hiring formula that cut part-time staff hours to a minimum (and some layoffs), apparently in an effort to cut costs. Employee satisfaction and customer experience in stores were immediately impacted. In August, Apple reversed the policy entirely, and the PR group released a statement openly describing the changes as a mistake. In all, his appointment was announced in January 2012, he started working in April and was fired in October – lasting just seven months in the role.

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the fall

Jony Ive’s high profile led directly to the introduction of flat design aesthetics into Apple’s software. Soon after Ive took over, he began working on the iOS 7 design system.

The skeuomorphic objects and rich textures in Apple apps have been replaced with stark white backgrounds, line art icons, and buttons so they can only be distinguished by color, without any kind of border or background. Engineering teams will deliver the biggest visual change to iOS on a highly accelerated development timeline.

The first (buggy) beta of iOS 7 shipped at WWDC in June 2013. iOS 7’s Reception Controversial; Some loved it, some hated it. iOS 7 bucked various industry trends, but missed the mark. Future revisions to iOS saw a gradual return of things like borders around buttons, fewer shadows, and rounded softer iconography with thicker default line weights and fonts.

To its credit, Apple invested heavily in Maps to make up for the initial rollout mess. They have invested and hired around the world to advance their mapping technologies, including one of the first major engineering bases in India. Early versions of Maps aggregated data from partners such as TomTom. In 2018, Apple unveiled that it was rebuilding Maps from the ground up and creating a new proprietary data layer, a major initiative that included operating its own fleet of ground-truth vans. This rollout was well received and Apple Maps is competing with Google Maps in many respects these days. Notably, Maps has remained under Q’s remit since the 2012 shuffle, but Siri’s oversight has ping-ponged around various groups — and seen little progress.

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It took Apple a while to find a replacement for the retail SVP. It tapped Angela Ahrendts in 2014 to help unify Apple’s online and brick-and-mortar experiences and work with Ive to introduce major design changes to retail stores. Some of Ahrendt’s ambitions to turn Apple stores into public city squares were less successful, although the essence of Apple Sessions continues in today’s diverse range. Ahrendt left in 2019 and was replaced by Apple veteran Deirdre O’Brien.

Forstall himself kept a low profile in the intervening years. He has invested privately in some tech startups and was an advisor to Snapchat in 2015. He focuses on philanthropy and has helped produce a handful of Broadway plays. He made this clear in a televised interview given to the Computer History Museum on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

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