Why heads are rolling at Apple HQ

30th Oct 2012 | 15:14

Why heads are rolling at Apple HQ

The end of Apple's adventures in skeuomorphism?

Heads are rolling at Apple HQ: ex-Dixons retail boss John Browett is off, and iOS senior vice-president Scott Forstall will leave in 2013.

Forstall's departure means that Jonathan Ive becomes responsible not just for Apple's hardware design, but its software too - and that almost certainly means the end of Apple's controversial adventures in skeuomorphism, a discipline Forstall is a fan of and Ive hates.

Skeuomorphism is an ugly word for something that's often equally ugly. With skeuomorphic design, digital programs are made to look like real-world things - so calendar apps are made to look like horrible desk calendars, game portals are made to look like horrible gaming tables and Find My Friends is made to look like the seats in Steve Jobs' jet.

The idea behind skeuomorphism is to make digital things seem less scary and more familiar, although critics - and there are many, many critics - point out that in many cases, the old thing is often the more obscure. How many kids who happily click on the floppy disk icon to save their work have ever actually seen a floppy disk?

At Apple, then, it looks like skeuomorphism is getting the boot - but the horrible leather-and-paper UI of the OS X Calendar isn't the only calendar problem Apple has.

Overpromised and undercooked

The Apple reshuffle has brought out the usual backstabbing and off-the-record sources that any high-profile departure attracts, but amid the mud-slinging it's clear that Forstall's departure had a lot to do with Siri and Maps. Both projects were his babies, and both projects have generated lots of bad publicity.

In a perceptive blog post, Om Malik describes an important similarity between Siri and Maps: both products come from a "culture of schedule-driven releases".

Remember when Steve Jobs said he was as proud of the products Apple didn't ship as the ones it did? The Apple ethos has always been to ship things when they're ready and not before. Siri, though, shipped long before it was ready, and so did Maps. Malik calls them "half-baked". He's right.

Never mind the Calendar UI: this is Apple's real calendar problem, and it's a potentially ruinous one if it isn't leaving the firm with Browett and Forstall. Apple isn't in the half-baked, "it doesn't just work but it might do one day" business, and it shouldn't be pushing products out the door if it knows they aren't ready.

Other firms' "ship it first and fix it later" approach helps drive people to Apple in the first place; if Apple adopts that approach, it could just as easily drive them away again.

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