Former Apple SVP Scott Forstall, Skeuomorphs, and Windows Live Tiles


OK, we all know that all good things come to an end. So when did Scott Forstall’s good thing with Apple come to an end?

Most of the media has its money on Forstall refusing to sign the now famous Apple apology letter for the company’s failure to deliver the highest quality possible for its iOS 6 Map App with which the company replaced Google Maps.

It is certainly believable that Forstall got on the wrong side of Tim Cook with that one on several levels.

Another side – and this one probably has many Apple employees on its side – is that Forstall was the singular voice that kept insisting that Apple follow a “skeuomorphic” design paradigm. What the heck does this mean? Art imitating life. Life imitating art? Think, for example, of auto hubcaps that imitate old fashioned wheels with spokes (ugh!). Think of those Apple design elements that do the same.

The most obvious within iOS is the wood grain look and feel of the iBooks bookcase.

The severity of the break – full removal rather than a mere pushing aside and subtle shifting of responsibilities – suggests perhaps it was a matter of both issues. Forstall was also, despite his fairly entertaining stage presence, apparently unloved by his colleagues, and Forstall apparently had a fair measure of disdain for some of them as well.

This probably was the final nail in the departure coffin.

Forstall’s responsibilities have now been scattered among two or three other Apple SVs – who these responsibilities went to is not all that important – the next release of iOS will be the only measure of failure or success on this front and that is what matters.

We only have one question. Will these new execs-in-charge-of-iOS be paying attention to all the cool new things Microsoft is doing on the Windows 8 and Win Phone 8 UI/UX front? They had surely better be doing so! No skeuomorphism there – just Live Tiles and plenty of UI innovation.

A Windows 8 Interlude

When Windows Phone 7 first launched in 2010, two things became immediately evident: First, what was then referred to as the “Windows Metro UI” (the use of “Metro” was recently dropped due to trademark issues) was clearly a potential mobile UI game changer. It wasn’t quite yet what it has become today – but Microsoft did not drop the ball on it – they have indeed possibly created a UI game changer – on every possible hardware front, not solely on the mobile front.

Second, Joe Belfiore – the godfather of all things Windows Phone – first became familiar to most of us that day. The day of the formal WP7 launch Steve Ballmer fell entirely flat, but Belfiore saved the day with an energetic, appealing and winning demo of the new Metro UI and its possibilities. 

This past Monday, during WP8’s coming out party, there was Belfiore once again, now showing off the first real possibilities of the new “Windows 8 style interface” and its live tiles – there is huge promise there. In fact, it is clear that the potential we saw back in 2010 has been attained, and that there’s plenty of room for innovation.

By the time 2015 rolls around, the competitive edge may very well have shifted dramatically back in Microsoft’s direction.

Nokia no doubt made the right choice in moving to Windows Phone, although the company has other issues we believe should lead to Nokia-Hewlett-Packard M&A action. Nokia, by the way, also happens to hold the key patent to creating multi-user accounts on smartphones – something that, along with other significant patents Nokia holds, may prove to be quite valuable to Nokia WP8 innovation.

There is a patented reason why the new Android Jelly Bean 4.2 supports multiple user accounts on tablets but not on smartphones.

Back to Apple and Forstall

We’ve been arguing for some time now that Apple needs to return to powerful innovation and needs to leave litigation behind. It may very well be that Tim Cook has come around to fully understanding that as much as the current crop of iPhone 5, iOS 6 and iPad products continue to win the day, their shelf life is very likely coming to an end. Apple needs a new innovation homerun, and perhaps Cook sees Scott Forstall and his collection of issues noted earlier as a roadblock to hitting that innovation homerun. 

This is where we place out money on the Forstall exit. Apple needs to innovate and Microsoft looks to us to be on the verge of an innovation roll. We believe Cook sees the same thing. Not necessarily for today – but in thinking ahead to 2015.

Last week, when Cook was asked what he thought of the new Microsoft Surface, he claimed that he had heard it was a confused and compromised product (we stress that he “heard this” as he also noted he hadn’t played with it directly). That is exactly the kind of statement that can come back and haunt a CEO (such as when Steve Ballmer was famously quoted as say “Android is just a press release”), and we believe Cook may have a sense of the future being a haunted one if Apple fails to innovate in a big way – a game-changing way.

Forstall simply ran out of innovation (which meant his collection of issues could no longer be overlooked). Cook clearly knows that hardware captures the eye first, but it is the OS (and the apps it leads to) that keeps users coming back.

Edited by Braden Becker
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TechZone360 Senior Editor

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