The long, NeXT and crazy-talk of Apple's management shakeup

There are many theories over the recent management shakeup at Apple and the departure of Scott Forstall. However, the NeXT connections to Apple's software development management remain.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

There's a special skill in watching the audience at Apple launch events; one that was found in the corps of intelligence analysts who would peer intently at grainy photos of May Day Parades in the Soviet Union during an earlier age. Who was sitting where, next to whom and who was out of the picture.

Such was my feeling watching the webcast of the iPad mini/iMac 2012 event last week. For example, the camera kept focusing on Bertrand Serlet, the former senior vice president of software engineering who left Apple last year. He's reportedly woking on a cloud computing startup with a number of Apple ex-pats.

A week after the launch, the word comes down that Scott Forstall, senior vice president for iOS Software will be leaving, along with other changes that Apple said will "increase collaboration" between groups and divisions (something that we all would have assumed had been going on all along). The word is that he was asked to go. Craig Federighi will become the new operating system czar, in charge of both OS X and iOS. http://www.apple.com/pr/bios/craig-federighi.html

There are many opinions and rumors about Forstall's departure, some easy to believe and others not so much.

Jessica Lessin at the Wall Street Journal reported that Forstall refused to fall on his sword for the problems with Apple Maps, which continues to be a red mark on the new iOS 6. She said there was a continuing problem with Forstall's style.

Mr. Forstall's departure came after mounting tension with members of Apple's executive ranks. For years, senior executives had complained that he wasn't cooperative and showed off his close relationship with Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs.

This could have happened.

However, the reason hardest to swallow came from Scott Wingfield and Nick Bilton at the New York Times.

Mr. Forstall was a staunch believer in a type of user interface, skeuomorphic design, which tries to imitate artifacts and textures in real life. Most of Apple's built-in applications for iOS use skeuomorphic design, including imitating thread of a leather binder in the Game Center application and a wooden bookshelf feel in the newsstand application. Mr. Jobs was also a proponent of skeuomorphic design; he had a leather texture added to apps that mimicked the seats on his private jet. Yet most other executives, specifically Mr. Ive, have always believed that these artifacts looked outdated and that user interface design on the computer had reached a point where skeuomorph was no longer necessary.

No vice president of a computer company leaves over a disagreement of how objects in an interface are presented to users, even when that design philosphy's name is the perfect Scrabble word.

Yes, we can believe that there were personality issues between Jony Ive, who is now in charge of both hardware industrial design and human interface design. Perhaps it was that latter upward move by Ive that precipitated Forstall's leaving.

Instead, it is easier for me to believe that this week's management shakeup is the kind that comes when any new boss takes charge. Yes, CEO Tim Cook isn't so new. But with Steve Jobs gone for a while, it appears that the somewhat new boss puts in a team that he can trust and get along with. Forstall appears to be the odd man out.

What is interesting is that the NeXT connection at the highest circles of Apple's technology management still exists. Around 14 years ago, they were all over the Cupertino campus in charge of hardware and software: Avadis "Avie" Tevanian was in charge of software; Jon Rubinstein with hardware; Sina Tamaddon, applications; Bud Tribble, software technology; and Serlet, to name a just a few. Some remain, many have moved on.

Like Forstall, his replacement, Craig Federighi, is one of the programmers who came over to Apple in 1998 with the acquisition of NeXT Software. However, he left Apple to be the chief technology officer at Ariba, the "networked economy" company and returned a few years ago. No doubt, his experience and expertise in data sharing, collaboration, and cloud computing services were interesting to Apple's management team.

Editorial standards