It can feel like inside baseball to talk about Apple management changes. After all, who heads up any given division at Apple likely won’t affect your immediate experience with Apple products. Over a longer term, though, those managers do make their marks, for good and for ill, and I suspect that Apple’s management shakeup last week may indeed be noticeable to us hoi polloi.
Leaving Apple immediately is John Browett, who took over Apple’s retail operations seven months ago. His short tenure was marked with controversy, since he brought a cost-cutting philosophy from UK giant Dixons Retail that prompted outrage from store employees, limiting hours for part-time employees and under-staffing Apple stores (Ars Technica looked in more depth at Browett’s missteps).
Particularly with Apple’s consistently massive profits and $123 billion in cash, nickel-and-diming retail store employees seems both unpleasant and unnecessary, especially given the reputation Apple stores had garnered for excellent customer service over the years. (The New York Times has an interesting article on how employers in general are turning to sophisticated software packages to juggle numerous part-time employees rather than hire them on full time.) Tim Cook is taking over Browett’s responsibilities until a replacement can be found. If you’ve found service lacking at your local Apple store (a theme that has popped up recently in my email), hopefully you’ll see support improving with increased staffing levels and hours for part-time employees.
More important is the departure of Scott Forstall, head of iOS Software, who is staying on as an adviser to Tim Cook before leaving next year (translation: Forstall is likely out except on paper, likely to fulfill stock option grants and ensure a smooth transition of duties). Apple’s press release announcing the shakeup was titled “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software & Services,” and I think it’s worth taking that statement at face value. Over the last week, stories have emerged from Apple about other senior vice presidents — Jonathan Ive and Bob Mansfield in particular — refusing to be in the same room with Forstall, citing his confrontational style.
The straw that may have broken the camel’s back was Forstall’s reported refusal to sign the public apology surrounding the new Maps app in iOS 6, which was roundly criticized at launch. Whether or not the problem was as severe as initially suggested, Apple’s focus on the new Maps, when it either was known — or should have been known — that rough edges remained, was a mistake (see “Examining Maps in the Wake of Tim Cook’s Apology,” 28 September 2012). Cook’s apology was classic public relations, and the fact the Forstall refused to go along with it may have indicated his unwillingness or inability to be a team player.
How will this make a difference to you? With our perspective watching Apple over the last few years, we’ve been getting the feeling that there has been little communication between Apple’s different divisions, with a resultant lack of coordination and reduced quality. That has been especially evident of late, as the company has returned to a scheduled approach to shipping products that forces technologies into the open before they’re fully ready — witness Maps. Freedom from scheduled releases was one of the reasons Jobs pulled Apple out of Macworld Expo; it was difficult to get everything ready for the July and January keynotes. Instead, Jobs set Apple on a course to ship when a product or technology was ready and unveil it at an Apple-controlled media event. That general approach has continued, but with the number of products Apple bundles into a single event, not everything can be ready at once. Most recently, you can see that in the delayed ship date of the iMac, creating a situation where Apple’s best-selling desktop computer can’t be purchased right now because the new models won’t be ready for a month or more after the announcement — which coincides with the holiday shopping season. Apple needed to unveil the iMac in what is surely the company’s last product introduction event before the new year, or wait until January or later.
Even more troubling has been what has happened on the software side. The high-profile iTunes 11 has slipped from its promised October 2012 ship date and is now expected sometime before the end of November. Productivity software like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers hasn’t seen a significant update in three years, perhaps due to their teams putting out iOS versions. Small updates to Mac OS X have introduced significant problems that Apple then has to scramble to fix, but not before causing untold hours of lost work for users.
Apple possesses essentially unlimited funds at this point, but it is absolutely true that you can’t just throw more resources at problems. So if we assume that the various development teams have the resources they need, the best explanation for the recent troubles is lack of communication and coordination between Apple’s various divisions. Apple’s management shakeup supports that theory, both explicitly in the press release’s title, and with the way that each of the remaining senior vice presidents gets more responsibility. Craig Federighi takes over iOS and Mac OS X. Jonathan Ive oversees Human Interface and Industrial Design. Eddy Cue adds Siri and Maps to the rest of his online services group. And Bob Mansfield heads up a new group, Technologies, that combines all of Apple’s wireless and semiconductor teams.
Assuming that these four men work well together and with CEO Tim Cook, this move could help Apple improve software quality, coordinate launches better, and bring a unified approach to software and hardware design.