9to5Mac broke the news, reporting that his departure was due to a falling out with Apple design chief Jony Ive. Most follow up reports cite unnamed sources debunking the drama. But internal politics are the least relevant part of the story and what Christie’s departure could mean for the future of Apple.
Seven years since the release of the first iPhone, it's hard to remember just how inventive that iOS interface was. Design features like “Swipe to Unlock”--a patent on which you’ll find both Christie and Forstall’s byline--had to be conceptualized for a touch-screen phone to make any sense, let alone fundamentally change the way we interact with the digital world. These were incredibly valuable ideas. That value is why Samsung is currently in court for duplicating the iOS interface in what’s become the company's hit line of Galaxy phones.
Now, we’re seeing the iOS interface make its way to other devices--most notably, cars. Is iOS the best way to control apps, music, and information on a dashboard? Maybe, maybe not. Even still, it continues to be Apple’s most influential software design, a sort of cross-platform security blanket that ensures Apple's relevance across difference devices and products. With all respect to the accomplishments of the iOS team, that might not be a good thing.
Design should never be sentimental. If Apple clung to old ideas--which they almost did with the original iPhone alternative dubbed the "skankphone"--you wouldn’t be surfing the web on a pinch-to-zoom touch screen, you would be rotary-dialing on the iPod clickwheel. As Apple enters the post-iPhone era, the company has to solve a whole new set of design problems. How do you use an iWatch? How do you watch a television with apps on it? How do you make Siri more than a novelty? Maybe even, how do you control a computer that lives on your face, or how do you manipulate information that lives in pure ether?
And as the talents that brought us the modern era of smartphones depart Apple, they open the door for all the other hot-shot designers with their own bold ideas to leave their mark on the company, culture, and history.