Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
It’s been over four months since Apple announced Scott Forstall would be leaving the company.We don’t know if he’s still at the company or not. In Apple’s press release announcing his departure, it said, “Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook in the interim.”
Last month we started to poke around to see what’s happening with Forstall, but we didn’t hear much.
However, one former employee, Mike Lee told us that he worries Apple without Forstall will be too gentle a place.
When Bloomberg BusinessWeek profiled Scott Forstall, Lee was quoted as saying, “I once referred to Scott as Apple’s chief a–hole … And I didn’t mean it as a criticism. I meant it as a compliment. You could say the same thing about Steve Jobs.”
Lee was a Senior Engineer at Apple who worked on the Apple retail store app. He’s currently an app maker working on his own projects.
He explained the back story of the quote Bloomberg BusinessWeek quote, saying:
I’ve never met Scott, but I’ve known people who worked with Scott. All my respect for him comes through them. Otherwise, he’d just be the guy giving endless demos in the Stevenote. His lack of stage charisma failed to impress me, but the quickness and vehemence with which his teammates defended him told me I was wrong.
When I worked on the Apple Store App project, we saw Steve as our first customer, the person who’d have to give the OK before what we’d made would see the light of day. I think part of what they brought me on for was because they’d thus far failed to even get to Steve, because they couldn’t get past Scott. Steve was the gatekeeper to the customers, and Scott was the gatekeeper to Steve.
Of course, the way you get through Scott, and for that matter Steve, is to be as much or more of a hardass than they are. When, inevitably, people started to call me an arsehole, I pointed out that I was only the intermediate gatekeeper before having to take on the Chief arsehole. I considered Scott an ally.
With Steve gone, I worry a lot that there’s nobody in that Chief arsehole position. Maybe it’s my imagination. Maybe I’m too sensitive to these things. But I feel a real lack of that final step, that person who says, “not good enough.” I could go on at length on examples of this.
With Steve gone, I started hearing tell of a kinder, gentler Apple. I think Scott leaving was part of that. They decided, they didn’t want to do things the way Steve would do them, that not even Steve would have wanted them to.
Maybe it will work out, and these are temporary pains, and we truly can have a company with great products and no arseholes. We can only hope. Meanwhile I don’t think Scott’s left Apple any more than I have. Apple is not just a company. It’s an ideal. People come and go, but most of us never truly leave.
After we got that email from Lee, we followed up and asked him what he meant by a kinder, gentler Apple. Here’s his response:
More like, where once was Steve, there is now Tim. In the goalkeeper scenario, it’s just not nearly as stressful. It’s like getting the kindly principal instead of the stern vice principal. I think you’re also going to see fewer nights and weekends worked, or worked more willingly. A de-densification of technical output per employee per unit time.
And we also asked for examples of the product weakening. His response:
Maps is a classic example, but not really the best one. Apple really had no choice but to tackle this untenable problem by a hard deadline.
Podcasts is a better example. Its interface could be seen as indulgent in the face of some fundamental performance problems. I didn’t find it reliable, and found it frustrating that when I tried to get a podcast manually, it hijacked the process.
It’s not that Podcasts is bad per se, but that it’s completely unnecessary. It solves a problem that people either don’t have, or have been solving with better third party apps for years. Whether they mean to or not, Apple is competing with their own developers, to no end.
The only reason to ship this app is that people worked hard on it, and if you didn’t ship it, you’d be an arsehole. You’d be an arsehole who understands that the marginal utility of a product has no basis in the earnest labour of its creators, but an arsehole all the same.
It’s important to remember that Lee is just one ex-employee. Apple has thousands of current and former people floating around, all with an opinion about what’s happening at the company.
If you know what Forstall is up to, or have seen Apple changing, let me know: [email protected]
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