Why Apple’s Mobile Leader Scott Forstall Is Out

Apple SVP Scott Forstall

Scott Forstall, the executive at Apple who led development of its mobile software, iOS, is leaving the company.

While Apple just announced the news, there are already multiple reports leaking the real reasons why he’s gone.

In short, Forstall’s abrasive personality combined with a series of high-profile errors seem to have done him in.

Jessica Lessin at The Wall Street Journal says Forstall’s departure from Apple was “not his decision.” She also says he was clashing with Apple executives recently. 

Forstall has long been reported to be a divisive figure inside Apple. A year ago Bloomberg BusinessWeek wrote a profile of Forstall, and our main takeaway was: Forstall is a polarising, 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.

He reportedly had a “fraught” relationship with hardware designer Jony Ive and hardware engineering boss Bob Mansfield. He couldn’t be in a room with those guys unless Tim Cook was on hand to mediate. This is probably why it’s no coincidence that Mansfield and Ive are getting new responsibilities while Forstall is on his way out.

Forstall was also reportedly the driving force behind the departure of two Apple executives in the middle of last decade: Tony Fadell, who led the iPod group, and Jean-Marie Hullot, who was CTO of the applications group in 2005.

To that end, Ryan Block at Gdgt says Forstall was trying to gather power after Steve Jobs died. If he had pushed out executives in the past, there’s a good chance he would do so again. CEO Tim Cook probably wanted to stop that before it started.

Forstall’s departure is a stunner because he was referred to as the CEO-in-waiting at Apple last year by Fortune. However, that sort of high profile was not sitting well with people at Apple. Kara Swisher at AllThingsD says he was “exhibiting ‘growing open challenges'” to Cook.

Steve Jobs was close with Forstall, says John Gruber. And despite Forstall’s abrasive personality, he was protected by Jobs, Gruber speculates. With Jobs gone, Forstall didn’t have a powerful defender.

Putting the personality problems aside, Forstall was failing to do his job. And for that alone, it makes sense for him to be ousted.

While he did a brilliant job building iOS on top of the core technologies behind Apple’s operating system for Macs, he has overseen two major failures in the last two years. Siri was a big letdown, and Forstall led its development. The launch of Apple’s homegrown maps has been an epic debacle. Cook was forced to apologise to customers and Apple is scrambling to clean up the mess.

Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky reports that “Forstall refused to sign the letter apologizing for the mapping fiasco, sealing his fate at Apple.”

Aside from those high-profile screwups, iOS’s development has slowed down. While Google and Microsoft are adding new features, iOS seems to be stuck in neutral with only incremental upgrades. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Why add features just for the sake of it?

However, Lessin at the WSJ says Forstall was emailing Apple employees concerned that “the group wasn’t working on enough big ideas in mobile software.”

And Robert Scoble, who is plugged into the tech scene heard something similar—though his sources had a different take on it: “I hear from inside Apple that Scott had no ideas and was begging employees to send him ideas for what to do. He had to go and the signal has been sent that if you are at the top at Apple and have no ideas, you won’t survive.”