Refusal to sign letter reportedly ends Forstall’s tenure at Apple

Scott Forstall, Apple’s former iOS chief, has reportedly been dismissed from the company. According to The Verge.com site, he was let go at least in part because he refused to sign the letter the company released last month offering an apology for the new Maps app’s perceived shortcomings.

As head of iOS and an individual who it’s said was heavily into the development of Maps’ development, it was expected that he would sign the letter as well as (and perhaps in place of) CEO Tim Cook. Upon his refusal the decision was apparently made to release him from his duties.

I had a feeling something was up last month, while watching Apple’s “We’ve got a little more to show you” event online.

When you follow the tech business–or any business, really–you start to become familiar with the names of certain individuals and their responsibilities within the organization. When you watch a product presentation event–especially if you’ve already seen a few of them–you’ve already got a pretty good idea of just who will be onstage, and when.

So, when Apple held an event last month that saw the introduction of a new iMac, a new 13 inch MacBook Pro with a retina display, a new iPad and the iPad Mini, as well as other product announcements, I already kind of knew the drill.

After CEO Tim Cook went through the event’s introduction and some recent sales figures, he brought the head of Worldwide Product Development Phil Schiller to the stage to debut the newest McBookPro and iMac. This was expected.

Cook then returned, announced the new iPad…and I said to myself, mimicking what I expected Cook to say, “And now, here’s Scott Forstall to tell us about the new iPad!”, because Forstall has been in charge of iOS since the beginning…and even before that, when there was no iOS and just the iPhone, he headed that team.

Only–there’s no Scott Forstall. Instead, Cook says Schiller will be back out to tell us about it…and sure enough, here comes Phil Schiller back out and introduces the newest iPad…and then in a bit, the iPad Mini.

Apparently, Scott Forstall couldn’t make it because he was hanging out in Tim Cook’s backyard, inside a small wooden box that looks like a house; with a large half-oval-shaped hole cut into its front and the word “Scott” painted just above it.

From The Verge:

Scott Forstall — the departing Apple executive who’d become the public face of iOS in his role as head of mobile software — may have met his demise when he refused to put his name on the apology letter Apple released several weeks ago, a rare show of contrition from Cupertino when its revamped (and Google-free) Maps product fell short of expectations at the release of iOS 6. The New York Times and CNNMoney are both reporting the story this evening; we’ve heard similar from sources as well.

The exact circumstances of Forstall’s refusal are unclear, but not entirely unexpected: it’s widely understood that the hard-charging, ambitious Forstall is abrasive and disliked by a number of others at his level inside Apple — people like head designer Jony Ive, who allegedly refused to take meetings in the same room as him. Forstall, who had been in charge of Maps, is said to have believed that the complaints over data quality were overblown — a belief so strong that he ultimately refused to sign the letter apologizing for the debacle (the letter released to the public ended up bearing CEO Tim Cook’s signature instead).

Sources tell us that Forstall has a reputation for deflecting blame, and with fallout intensifying over the Maps situation, now may have seemed like a good time for Apple to part ways with a man who’d done a good job making enemies over the years: Hurricane Sandy has given the company two days of market close to let investor reaction stabilize. Amazingly, it’s said that Forstall’s coworkers were so excited to show him the door that they volunteered to split up his workload — Eddy Cue takes on Siri and Maps while OS X’s Craig Federighi gets iOS. And Ive, who has cemented his reputation as a legendary industrial designer over his two-decade Apple career, gets the opportunity to refresh an iOS user experience that has stagnated over the last several generations. A recent Fast Company report suggested that Ive and Forstall didn’t see eye to eye on the platform’s UI — Forstall is said to love so-called skeuomorphic interfaces that imitate real-life objects (leather binding, wood, paper, and so on) while Ive is firmly against them. How swiftly — and how comprehensively — Ive will seek to revamp the platform will be a source of intense focus going into 2013 and iOS 7.

Forstall will serve temporarily as an advisor to Cook, according to other reports.

Steve Jobs was infamous for his mercurial handling of his employees. He was often openly critical and derisive of someone’s work, and many who survived his wrath wished that instead they had simply been shown the door.

But despite Forstall’s frequently difficult nature, Jobs reportedly liked him (perhaps because of it?), and often worked as a buffer between him and others that did not like or could not work with him. Forstall had come over from NeXt with Jobs in 1997 when the latter agreed to return to Apple a second time. Maybe that was the source of Jobs’ loyalty.

With the former CEO now departed, perhaps it all became too much for Cook to handle, and the refusal to sign the letter was the proverbial last straw.

Forstall has cashed out his Apple stock for $38 million, so it’s a safe bet he won’t be applying for employment assistance any time soon.

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2 thoughts on “Refusal to sign letter reportedly ends Forstall’s tenure at Apple

  1. No one should be surprised at this. Arrogant Apple singling out an employee for a public apology? Are we that desperate as employers and consumers in this country that we have to designate a scapegoat when things go bad? Not sure what the problems with their mapping program is. As good as Google maps is, they have whole regions of the country where they are off by as much as two miles. Good thing I pay attention to my surroundings as I can usually figure it out through the use of landmarks. Wouldn’t mind trying the apple map program to see how it measures up to GoogleMaps. Either way, it is quite amazing that I can use a program and see my fiance’s house in South Africa with it. Like so much in life, these map programs are a remarkable work in progress.

    • Thank you for your comment.
      First off–Apple’s Maps app uses Google data, which by your own accounting is flawed. There are unrealistic expectations–from both its users and the general public–regarding the performance of its devices. It’s had the standard of a 98% user satisfaction rating for the iPhone, so when everything doesn’t work just as it should, its users and individuals are quick to pile on. The Maps app didn’t live up to expectations, simply put.
      Secondly–“Arrogant Apple” is not a good description of a company that released a apologetic statement for the Maps app’s poor performance. (There was a link to it in the article.) As Scott Forstall was in charge of iOS and had done much work on the app, it should have fallen on him to apologize for it, and rightfully so–much as any employee might be called on to apologize for substandard or improperly functioning work. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, signed the letter. Is Forstall better than him?
      While it remains true that he might not have agreed with the apology, his difficult nature–as was spelled out in several of the stories that were linked to from the article–likely made his refusal not a negotiable point, as it might have been for someone else.

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