Scott Forstall was fired from Apple 10 years ago today

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

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

Mapping Forstall’s Death

Forstall was one of Steve Jobs’ closest allies at Apple. They had lunch and worked together all the time. But after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, rumors began to spread that Forstall was not particularly well-liked in the executive ranks. Many saw Forstall as someone who emulated Jobs’ ego and was quick to deflect blame. In particular, Forstall clashed with Jony Ive, head of industrial design, so much so that they refused to meet together.

Although Forstall was known to be unpopular (at least at the executive level, many who reported to him have since published positive reviews of his leadership), the iPhone and iOS were booming, and Forstall’s political clout made Apple’s mobile software division seem somewhat intractable. He may not have had many friends on the executive team, but his team’s results were hard to deny. However, then September 2012 came and iOS 6 was launched.

iOS 6 features a new Maps app that uses Apple data and cartography, replacing Google Maps as the stock maps app on your phone. The launch was a widespread disaster. Apple Maps data sources were widely inaccurate or incomplete. Navigation was unreliable and the fancy 3D City Flyover feature showed rendering issues for many landmarks. Apple Maps has made 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 issued an open letter of apology admitting that the quality of the maps was substandard. The letter even directed consumers to download third-party mapping apps like MapQuest and Waze.

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This postcard is signed by Tim Cook. It was published in major newspapers The New York Times Cook wanted Forstall to sign the letter, but Forstall refused because he felt the claims against Cards were overblown. Cook saw the denial of responsibility as the last straw and decided it was time for Forstall to go.

The major executive shakeup was announced in a press release titled “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software and Services.”

Craig Federighi takes ownership of all Apple operating systems, iOS and OS X (now known as macOS). Siri and Maps are assigned to Eddy Cue. In addition to hardware design, Jony Ive would lead the human interface team.

John Browett also left at the same time

While Scott Forstall’s departure was the headline news, Apple Retail Vice President John Browett was also fired at the same time. His tenure at retail was a disaster until he was let go from being hired during that calendar year. He introduced a new fractional hiring formula that saw part-time employees cut to a minimum (and some layoffs), apparently in an effort to cut costs. The impact on employee satisfaction and customer experience in stores was immediate. In August, Apple reversed the policy entirely, and the PR team issued a statement describing the changes as a mistake. In all, his appointment was announced in January 2012, he took office in April and was dismissed in October – lasting just seven months in the role.

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Decline

Jony Ive’s high profile led directly to Apple’s introduction of a flat design aesthetic into its software. As soon as Ive took over, he began working on the iOS 7 design system.

The skeuomorphic objects and detailed textures in Apple’s applications have been replaced by stark white backgrounds, line art icons and buttons so simplified that they only stand out in color, with no borders or backgrounds. Engineering teams deliver the biggest visual change to iOS with highly accelerated development times.

The first beta version of iOS 7 was delivered in June 2013 at WWDC. The reception of iOS 7 was controversial; some loved it, some hated it. iOS 7 bucked broad industry trends, but overshot the mark. Future revisions to iOS saw the gradual return of things like borders around buttons, some shading, and rounded soft iconography with thicker default line weights and fonts.

To its credit, Apple has invested heavily in Maps to make up for the mess of the initial release. They have invested and hired around the world to advance their mapping technologies, including one of their first major engineering bases in India. Early versions of Maps aggregated data from partners such as TomTom. In 2018, Apple revealed that it was rebuilding Maps from the ground up and creating a new data layer that it will own entirely, a big task that includes managing its own fleet of ground reality vans. This release was received positively and Apple Maps is now competitive with Google Maps in many ways. It’s worth noting that Maps has been under Cue’s purview since the 2012 intervention, but tracking Siri has ping-ponged around the various groups — seeing far less progress.

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It took Apple a while to find a VP of retail position. He took over from Angela Arendts in 2014, who helped integrate Apple’s online and brick-and-mortar experiences and worked with Ive to introduce major design changes to its retail stores. Some of Ahrendts ambitions—turning Apple stores into public city squares—were less successful, though the essence lives on in today’s diverse array of Apple sessions. Arendts left in 2019 and was replaced by Apple veteran Deirdre O’Brien.

Forstall himself kept a low profile in later years. He personally invested in some tech startups and became an advisor to Snapchat around 2015. He seems to have focused on philanthropic efforts and helped produce several Broadway plays. He addressed the tenth anniversary of the iPhone in a televised interview with the Computer History Museum.

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