Clash of design philosophy at core of Apple's management shake-up
THE purge at Apple this week will go down as a seminal moment in the life of a company that has seemed to stir more controversy than praise since Steve Jobs's death last year.
Chief executive Tim Cook's decision to oust his head of retail, John Browett, and Scott Forstall, who was in charge of the iOS operating system used on iPhones and iPads, stirs the pot at the company and puts his head of design Jony Ive squarely in charge now.
Mr Ive has long been the creative force behind the appearance of Apple's products. The original iPhone, iPad and iPod designs have all been credited to him, and they have been met with universal praise.
After this week's clearout however, Mr Cook has put the Englishman in charge of designing Apple's software as well. This is the first time that someone other than Steve Jobs has been given such control over so many aspects of Apple's products.
Announcing the changes, Mr Cook made clear how strong Mr Ive's position is.
"Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for human interface across the company in addition to his role as the leader of industrial design," he said.
"His incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple's products for more than a decade."
The market will watch with interest in what direction Mr Ive takes Apple's software. He is known to favour the minimalist design that has been the hallmark of Apple hardware in recent years, and is believed to have opposed the sometimes extraneous details seen in software designed by Mr Forstall's team.
Mr Forstall's software included details such as faux leather on the calendar application while the iOS "notes" app was designed to look like a yellow legal pad.
Touches such as these were common in the early days of computing when manufacturers needed to create a familiar atmosphere for people not used to computers.
Still, Mr Forstall had been hugely successful up to now. He was once seen as a possible replacement for Mr Jobs, and although his personality has been described as "abrasive" and "uncompromising", there is little doubt that his team worked hard for him.
Tensions between himself and Mr Cook are said to have been high for some time, and the final straw came when he refused to sign an apology for the Apple Maps debacle, which was rolled out in Apple's latest iPhone and tablet software despite having several errors in it.
By appointing Mr Ive as software and hardware overlord, Apple is banking on him to produce the goods consistently.
For Mr Cook's part, the changes have definitively moved Apple on from the Steve Jobs era. It is said that Mr Forstall in particular had some degree of protection while Mr Jobs was alive. Mr Cook has said before he will stay true to Mr Jobs' legacy, but that didn't stop him cutting out Mr Forstall.
The problem with the changes, from Mr Cook's point of view, is that they have to work. He is in charge barely a year, but there have already been a number of missteps.
He appointed John Browett to run the Apple stores barely six months ago but has cut him loose already. Every product released under Cook has met with mixed reviews.
The iPhone 5 was criticised for dumping the long-time 16 pin charging connector. iOS 6 had the faulty maps app. The New iPad was too heavy. The iPad Mini is too expensive.
He needs to get this decision right.
This week's clearout at Apple was an earthquake in the company. The tremors may be felt for sometime yet.