iOS Has an Uncertain Future, And That's a Good Thing

Friday, November 30, 2012
In case you haven't heard, there has been an executive shake-up at Apple. In addition to one other exec that doesn't matter, Scott Forstall: the SVP in charge of iOS, is out. By all indications, he was shown the door, and shoved out. There were no sad farewells or glorious write-ups on the Apple homepage. Tim Cook did not publicly acknowledge and thank Scott for his many years of faithful service to the company. This is extremely significant because Scott came from NEXT with Steve Jobs to Apple. Scott and Steve were close friends. It has been bandied about that Forstall was going to be Steve's successor. As we all know, it didn't turn out that way. Still, He was the heir apparent to the throne of Steve Jobs. Now, he's out the door. That is a very big deal.
OK, he is not out the door just yet, at least, not officially. He will be staying on for a few months as an advisor to Tim Cook. That's how executives get fired. That just means he is on a beach somewhere brushing off his resume. Someone needs a CEO, and Forstall is probably the most eligible, unemployed exec in the world right now. There is a great deal of drama and corporate intrigue leading up to this point, and it would make a fine article. But that is not what I want to write about. That is what every other blog is banging on about. If you want the inside dirt, read theirs. I am more interested in what this all means for the future of iOS, and maybe the Mac.
The implications of this ouster are far reaching. First, many aspects of iOS were directly influenced by Scott Forstall. Some of those aspects were not much appreciated by others in the company. I am referring to the gratuitous skeuomorphism that has become a hallmark of iOS. It has even crept into Mac OS. Skeuomorphism is carrying over a design feature from the original version of a product in order to make people feel comfortable with a new product. A good example of this is the page turning in iBooks. There is no good reason to turn a page in a digital book. It is necessary for physical books, but is merely ornamental in the digital version. Yet, people love it. It makes us feel comfortable with the new format, wrapping us in the familiar while ushering us into the new.

This controversial element is not the only aspect of iOS likely to get a makeover in the coming months. The Springboard UI may be on the chopping block. This is mostly the familiar home screen of launchable app icons. Arguably, the simplicity of the interface is what makes iDevices so usable and intuitive by non-techies. To spice things up, competitors have embraced battery sucking elements such as widgets and live backgrounds. It is hard to know if Forstall was the one holding the line of simplicity, or pushing the envelope for more complex UI elements. Since the introduction of the iPhone, a lot of complexity has been added to the operating system. The very future of the OS is up for grabs.
I, for one, believe these to be exciting times for both Apple and the people who enjoy the products they deliver. But a new direction for iOS does not happen in a vacuum. It has dramatic implications for the Mac platform as well. The new head of iOS will be the old head of Mac OS. The development of both platforms is now under one roof. If you thought that iOS and Mac OS were starting to share a few elements, I've got a feeling you haven't seen anything yet. As the operating systems merge, will we see touchscreen MacBooks and iMacs? I hope not. One thing is for certain, nothing will be the same going forward.
Scott Forstall was close to Steve Jobs. Many say that Jobs provided cover for Forstall, who was a polarizing figure within the company. Well, Steve Jobs is gone, and now, so is Scott Forstall. In some ways, this is the biggest step that has yet been taken to make this Tim Cook's Apple. Both Steve Jobs and his heir apparent are gone. So too, are some of their ideas that brought us iOS in the first place. Change and new blood are good for a company like Apple. A little uncertainty will keep things fresh. For the first time, we will not know what to expect for the next few OS releases of either platform. Neither, I suspect, does Apple. And that's a very good thing as far as I'm concerned.

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