Masked by a gigantic Frankenstorm, Apple announced yesterday that Scott Forstall, the head of iOS, is leaving the company. Blame skeuomorphism. Blame the Maps disaster. Blame an unsigned letter. The reason for the axe is largely irrelevant; the story is less about Scott Forstall being out than Jony Ive being in.
Jony Ive–the man behind the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPad hardware–will be taking a brand new role as head of human interface design alongside his existing role as leader of industrial design. He will run hardware and software. Apparently, after hinting to The Telegraph earlier this year that he was upset with the skeuomorphic designs of Apple’s software, Ive made a powerplay within the company (or someone made it for him).
It’s particularly relevant for Apple when you consider what looks to be a pretty inevitable future, a world where desktop software and mobile software seamlessly complement each other. The style is minimal. Buttons may not even exist. Control by touch, mouse, voice, gesture–it makes no matter. All that’s important is the information you wield as naturally as possible wherever you want to see it.
This scenario is ostensibly where Microsoft is with Windows 8, today. While Apple was getting ahead in hardware design, they fell behind in software design. The rampant skeuomorphism comes to mind, sure, but the looming issue is far larger than that. Despite the fact that both iOS and OSX share a common Unix core (Darwin), and despite the fact that iOS and OSX apps are largely written in the same language (Objective-C), the closest thing Apple has today to cross-platform integration is the ho-hum iCloud, which is just online file storage, and the useless LaunchPad app, which merely mimics the iPhone interface for a few apps on the desktop.
So with Ive in place as the Alpha and the Omega–with the most influential designer in the world given more power than ever–will this be the third coming for Apple?
Even with his credentials, it’s vital to remember that Apple is a company of 60,000 incredibly talented people. For however Walter Isaacson told the story of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive handcrafting iPhones in a top-secret lab, the company depends on tens of thousands of employees working very hard every day to succeed. And notably, it’s not Ive, but Craig Federighi who has been appointed to directly manage both iOS and OSX in what looks like a play toward platform unification.
But if the Jobs era(s) proved anything, it’s that Apple is only really Apple when they have a strong creative visionary at the top. And while Tim Cook is obviously still crunching the numbers, it seems that Ive has been tapped to handle that vital role of lead visionary.