October 30, 2012
In a move that did not come as a surprise to many, Apple recently announced the departure of executives Scott Forstall and John Browett, the heads of iOS software design and retail stores, respectively. This change at the decision-making level comes at a time when Apple is focusing on improving, innovating and solidifying its products - although when is this not the case for Apple?
However, although the departures may not have been unexpected, the replacement plans are a bit surprising.
While the search for Browett's replacement is still under way, Apple revealed that Forstall's role will be broken up among several members of upper management. Jony Ive will become the head of Human Interface, the company's graphical user interface design team, while Eddy Cue will take over Siri and Maps - two iOS applications that have come under fire in recent months. Craig Federighi will head up the iOS and OSX teams, and Bob Mansfield will be overseeing Apple's new Technology department. This new group combines Apple's wireless initiatives, and is focused on innovation in this area.
According to Ars Technica, this change in leadership at Apple is being celebrated by some, particularly those who viewed Forstall's reported conflicts with other executives and focus on skeuomorphism as bad for the company. Some news sources have reported that Forstall was fired because he refused to sign a public apology for the issues that the Maps app has experienced, while others have cited a variety of issues within the company leading to the decision.
One of Forstall's major GUI design contributions for iOS was the skeuomorphic look of apps like Address Book and Newsstand. However, with Ive - a man who has subtly and not-so-subtly criticized the design philosophy in the past - taking over in this area, the look of these apps may change sooner rather than later. Skeuomorphism has been praised when used in certain ways, providing users with familiar and comfortable design patterns that help make applications more intuitive, but it has also been criticized for being overblown, even compared to "muscle flexing."
With Ive taking over interface design, consumers may see these design traits, such as the faux leather and stitching of Address Book or the billiards table feel of Game Center, go out the window. Ive is best known for his design of the original iMac, as well has his contributions to the iPad and iPhone hardware designs - styles that focus on minimalism, simplicity and usability. According to Co.Design, this may even be a sign of improvement in Apple's focus on cross-device integration.
Cross-platform integration has been a problem area that Apple is actively trying to overcome, according to the news source. Allowing customers to answer calls on their Macbooks or migrate work seamlessly from one device to another is just the start, however, and with Ive working on both interfaces, the innovations in this area may expand dramatically.
Apple stated that Ive's "incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade," and this may be just what the company needs to drive it into the next generation of innovation in both design and hardware. While Ive's new role at the company may or may not mean major changes for mobile design, it does show that the company is looking in an interesting new direction.