Winds Of Change Blow Through Apple

A mighty wind blew through Cupertino late yesterday, sweeping two of Apple’s top executives out of office. John Browett, who had headed the retail division for about six months after coming over from British electronics retailer Dixon’s, never settled into the innovative operation that Ron Johnson built before embarking on his own rocky journey at JC Penney. A search is underway for a replacement.

Mobile software chief Scott Forstall, who was seen by some as a potential CEO down the road, evidently has taken a bullet for the botched Apple maps project on iOS6 after refusing to take the hit publicly –- the latest manifestation of what is being termed as his “devisive” personality. Forstall will remain at Apple as an adviser to CEO Tim Cook through the end of the year.

Apple refused to comment on the reasons for the shakeup, and neither of the executives was available for comment. Tellingly, the release outlining the changes -- issued late on a day when the nation’s eyes were diverted by the turmoil caused by Hurricane Sandy and the New York stock market announced that it would close for a second day Tuesday -- carries the title: “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software & Services.”

GigaOm founder Om Malik writes: “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.”

“A year ago Bloomberg Businessweek wrote a profile of Forstall and our main takeaway was: Forstall is a polarizing, political, ‘a-hole,’ who has forced out a number of Apple's executives because they hated working with him. He's also a hard-working genius, and a mini-Steve Jobs,” reflects Business Insider’s Jay Yarow. Forstall reportedly was also under fire for the failure of voice-recognition software Siri to advance past the gimmicky stage. 

The New York Times’ Nick Bilton and Nick Wingfield’s account was more definitive than most in reporting that “after an outcry among iPhone customers about bugs in the company’s new mobile maps service, Mr. Forstall refused to sign a public apology over the matter, dismissing the problems as exaggerated, according to people with knowledge of the situation ….” 

CEO Tim Cook signed the “Mapplegate” mea culpa instead and was generally given good grades for how he handled the situation. The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor, who dissected the apology paragraph by paragraph for telling phrases, applauded Cook for “taking control of the apology,” which was issued relatively quickly, seemed sincere and initially was posted prominently on the company’s home page. 

Some observers say Cook will need to be more forthright in the future, however. While lauding Cook’s letter, CNNMoney’s Adam Lashinsky writes: “In his very few public utterances [Cook] has mouthed platitudes. Steve Jobs too played cat-and-mouse with the public, revealing what he wanted, when he wanted. But Steve Jobs earned his caginess. He got the benefit of the doubt after silencing the doubters. Cook isn't there yet.”

The big winner in the brawl, outside sources say, is design chief Jonathan (Jony) Ive, whose relationship with Forstall had reportedly reached the point where the two refused to be in the same meeting. Ive now is in charge of all “human interface” -- a responsibility that sounds like it was concocted by an android, does it not? The svp of industrial design is credited in his company bio, as well as in yesterday’s press release, as being “the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade.

Eddy Cue, Apple's svp of Internet software and services, will be responsible for Siri and Apple maps, head of Mac software engineering Craig Federighi will run both iOS and OS X; hardware chief Bob Mansfield is reversing retirement plans to head a new group called Technologies.

Browett, an “outsider” and Cook’s “first big hire,” was named as the retail chief in late January, as Elliott Gotkine reported on Bloomberg Television's "InsideTrack." He began work on April 20 and his “short tenure … was marked by strife,” Daniel Eran Dilger reports in AppleInsider

Retail workers told AppleInsider that “Browett had frozen all hiring at the beginning of August and initiated a series of efforts to scale back payroll expense,” writes Dilger. ”Sources also complained that Browett had started deferring facilities repairs as ‘not business critical’ and advising employes to ‘get creative’ and to fix things themselves. Then, a report by IFO Apple Store “claimed Browett had told Apple's retail outlets to ‘learn to 'run leaner' in all areas, even if the customer experience is compromised.’”

Apple is indeed running “leaner” this morning, with most of Browett’s huge signing bonus reverting back to Apple.

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