A major management shake up at Apple earlier today has left many shocked at such wide-ranging company changes likely not seen since the death of the firm's co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.
It's easy to get wrapped up in the Apple-sphere once the company announces something. The famously secretive technology giant simply exhales and the media jumps into a frenzy.
While this time is no different, it's not a product announcement or service launch: it's a shake up at the very heart of the world's wealthiest, and one of the most powerful companies on the planet. And that spells major changes at what comes next.
Scott Forstall, Apple senior vice-president for iOS software, will leave the company in the coming months and will stay on as advisor to CEO Tim Cook.
In charge of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system platform, Forstall was a controversial and often at times idiosyncratic figure within the company. A relic from the Steve Jobs days, it was argued that he didn't necessarily fit into the new corporate "design" -- in more ways than just the obvious. Jobs passed away and the company remained vastly the same, but the company's innards were given freedom and independence from the Jobsian era.
John Browett, Apple senior vice-president for retail, was shown the door immediately after less than a year in the job.
British retail expert Browett was a controversial choice from the get-go. He ran U.K.-based popular computer and technology chain Dixons and was poached at the end of January. But Dixons had already gone to the dogs and earlier this month was finally shuttered. Dixons had crumbled and Browett was lucky enough to have been given a way out.
Apple did not give a specific reason -- let alone even hint at one -- as to why the two high-ups left Apple. (For all intents and purposes, even though Forstall will remain on to advise the chief executive, he has a scheduled departure date.) That said, looking back at what the two were responsible for, and two major screw-ups later and a cultural shift, it's not difficult to deduce why the two were likely pushed rather than walked freely out of the doors of 1 Infinite Loop.
The first major collective moment of public weakness was Siri, Apple's first major software headache. In spite of its appeal and its glamor among consumers, it was in "beta" for far too long and didn't work as well as it should've done. Maps was the next major slip-up, and for a while dubbed "Map-gate," a result stemmed from the firm's decision to ditch Google Maps from iOS 6 for an unfinished and botched attempt at a rival service.
But it wasn't the firm's decision. It was Forstall's final decision to defenestrate Google from the top-floor executive suite at Apple HQ and replace the mapping app with Apple's own in-house service. And it was beyond a flop, riddled with errors, and received criticism from both the media and end-users alike.
Having said that, it does not rule out the possibility that Forstall was looking for something new.
With Apple chief executive Tim Cook at the helm and a further reshuffle away from Sir Jonathan "Jony" Ive being the chief executive officer himself -- we know the connection between Jobs and Ive was a special, unique partnership -- made it almost inevitable that he would eventually be groomed for the top-spot should Cook ever leave. With that, it rules Forstall out of the top-spot role, something he reportedly desired.
The second major blow to Apple's public image came earlier this year when retail chief Browett caused a stir amongst the firm's retail store staff. While previous company focus had honed in on customer experience and seemingly little else -- there were no pushy staff in stores, they were friendly, every store has a calm, laid back employee-to-customer feeling -- Browett was instead told to focus on sales and raking in the cash by then chief operating officer Cook and chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer.
Browett had to offer reassurances following concerns that the Apple retail stores would face cutbacks and reduced worker hours, including all-out layoffs. By publicly admitting that he had 'screwed up' a new implementation of a staffing schedule system may have tarnished the technology giant's image that it was invulnerable to injury, as it winced through the pain of the ordeal.
Also, his predecessor Ron Johnson said he wanted to expand rapidly into China, a key emerging market for Apple to crack, with more than 25 stores by the end of this year. In mainland China and Hong Kong, there are only eight stores, signaling a considerable effort still required to get the firm on track in the region. Tim Cook said on the Apple Q4 earnings call that China represented 15 percent of Apple's revenue, but it clearly isn't enough for the Cupertino technology giant.
Browett failed to achieve what Apple wanted in retail, and likely had to go for that reason alone.
With Browett out, Tim Cook will be directly responsible for retail. Considering it was he who pushed Browett into focusing on sales rather than customer experience, we can only guess at how that will work out. Any changes to the status quo will likely remain minimal and inconsequential -- strategy only, perhaps -- instead of refocusing efforts elsewhere or anything other than the customer experience.
Eddy Cue, Apple senior vice-president for Internet software and services, will take over Siri and Maps -- two 'failed' products under the Forstall command.
Bob Mansfield, now senior vice president of technologies, will be charged with above all else bringing the semiconductor and chip-making effort in-house, something the firm has wanted for some time. Not only does it give Apple the opportunity to cut out its part-rival, part suppliers in the chip-making business, but it also allows Apple to gain a firmer grip on its increasingly leaky supply chain.
Despite his brief hiccup of wanting out to face retirement head on with more than a decade employment under his belt at Apple, Mansfield will now head up the new "technologies" division. He will also oversee the consolidation of the firm's wireless efforts.
Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of Mac Software Engineering, will now take the lead the iOS software team effort from Forstall -- along with being responsible for Mac OS X software.
But with Ive now in charge of product design, device hardware and software, Ive now controls the very core of Apple's business: the iPhone. The iPhone division made more in the first quarter than Microsoft did as an entire company. Next is the iPad, but it has less prominent focus than the iPhone division. But what goes with the iPad goes with the iPhone later down the line and vice-versa.
But Ive is now the logical next in line to replace Cook when the time inevitably comes. With the experience, the company ethos, the ghost of Jobs over him, and the practical ability to take the company forward with the product design edge over anyone else at Apple, it's clear as day that Ive is next to sit in the chief's chair.
But the big news today is about Jony Ive. I don’t think it can be overstated just how big a deal it is that he now oversees all product design, hardware and software. For the last year, outside observers have been left wonder just where the buck stopped for UI design at post-Jobs Apple. That question has now been answered: Jony Ive.