From inside Apple, the Scott Forstall fallout

Tim Cook, Apple’s (s AAPL) chief executive, put his stamp on the Cupertino, Calif-based iPhone maker Monday and shook up his management team. That meant promotions for some and exits for others. While executive changes are as routine as replacing shoe insoles at other companies, at Apple they are stock-influencing moves, especially since one of the executives was widely (and incorrectly) viewed as a CEO candidate.

And since we are talking about Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS and someone who had worked with late Steve Jobs since NeXT, the news is getting dissected in countless ways.

A lot has already been reported — the New York Times has a fairly good summary and behind-the-scenes color. John Gruber’s analysis of the situation can be summed up in two words: Ive Up. And Gdgt’s take is pretty spot on. Now here is what my sources deep within Apple are telling me.

  • There has been a lot of talk about Scott Forstall being asked to sign an apology letter for the Apple Maps debacle. He refused. None of my sources were able to confirm this bit of news, though The New York Times reported that is indeed the case.
  • Forstall’s firing was met with a sense of quiet jubilation, especially among people who worked in the engineering groups. Or as one of my sources quipped: there are a lot of people going for celebratory drinks, even if there is a little bit of doubt about their roles in the future.
  • While the now-rescinded resignation of Bob Mansfield was masterfully planned, my sources say that Forstall’s exit was fairly last minute and not something he initiated. Many within the iOS and OS X teams only heard about it minutes after the news went out. Engineers were caught off guard, a source told me.
  • Many feel that Craig Federighi, who is taking over Forstall’s job in addition to overseeing the Mac OS X software business, is someone who needs to prove himself. He is not as decisive and divisive as Forstall.
  • There is a sense of excitement around Jony Ive taking over as head of the newly created human interface group. The reason for the excitement: hope for a new design direction for many software products. Most think Eddy Cue taking over Siri and Maps is a smart and natural thing to do.
  • According to my sources, there have been fissures in the management team for a while. Steve Jobs and Forstall were close, but none of the executives really cared for the deposed iOS chief. He really built a reputation by executing on Steve’s vision and acting as Steve’s mouthpiece.
  • Forstall had less-than-pleasant relationships with many senior executives, including Cue and Mansfield. My sources confirm what the Times reported earlier – Ive and Forstall had a rocky relationship .

Schedule-driven follies

In conversations, I learned about something that is troubling from a long-term point of view. Unlike in the Jobs era, when the company would ship features when they were ready for primetime, a culture of schedule-driven releases has become commonplace.

The time-based schedule is one of the reasons why Siri and Maps arrived as half-baked products and were met with derision. Many engineers inside Apple could foresee problems with Maps. Why? Because Maps were driven by a time schedule.

Maps and Siri are complex products whose dependencies (for the lack of a better word) go deep into different parts of the phone and even the network. The schedule-driven release culture makes folks less daring — why take arrows in your back for failing to deliver a radical new feature on a pre-dictated time? If this cultural warp continues, Apple might have a bigger headache on its hands. Ive’s appointment as the Human Interface honcho means that more risk-taking needs to come into the products. Ironically, the news that should garner more attention has flown under the radar.

Bob Mansfield will lead a new group, Technologies, which combines all of Apple’s wireless teams across the company in one organization, fostering innovation in this area at an even higher level. This organization will also include the semiconductor teams, who have ambitious plans for the future.

In other words, Apple understands that in our cloud-centric connected future, the company needs to not only care about the “human interface” and the “industrial design” but that all of those pieces have to work seamlessly with the guts and nerves of digital devices — chips and the networking technologies. With Cue, Ive and Mansfield, Cook has ensured that Apple is putting its best foot forward. Forstall is no longer part of this future.