The announcement

We knew that Browett was fired last week, but Apple was waiting for a good time to announce the move. We’re not sure exactly what was the nail in Forstall’s coffin but Inside Apple/Fortune’s Adam Lashinky’s take is that Forstall’s refusalto sign the Maps apology is what sealed his fate. Forstall was at last week’s iPad mini event but uncharacteristically didn’t present anything.


iPad Mini launch last week

Interestingly, Cook also did the apologizing for Browett’s hair-brained schemes to cut head counts at Apple Stores ahead of the holiday shopping season to save a few bucks.

Lesson to learn: Be big enough to apologize publicly. Look at Bob Mansfield. Out of Retirement Mansfield publicly apologized for the Retina MacBook Pro EPEAT fiasco; fast forward months and all of a sudden he’s got his own division and a lucrative two year contract. Apple execs should be falling over themselves to apologize for their mistakes going forward.

The rationale

Browett’s situation was simple: everyone hated him, especially his retail employees. Apple watchers, especially those familiar with Dixons in the UK (Americans: think Best Buy), were shocked at the decision to allow him to follow Ron Johnson as Apple’s Retail head.  Cook initially defended Browett but the #Firebrowett movement was too strong. So far Tim Cook is 0 for 2 in big outside hires (Mark Papermaster was hired during one of Jobs’ absences) . That might be something to be concerned about.

Forstall’s departure is an entirely different situation. Although more information may come to light, in the hours after the announcement it seems a power struggle happened, and the Ive camp won out over Forstall’s.  The two execs and Steve Jobs subordinates have faced off for years and reportedly wouldn’t be in the same meetings unless called specifically by Tim Cook. It certainly didn’t help that Mansfield didn’t like Forstall either. I think we’ll hear more of the details in the weeks and months ahead.

The new situation

Tim Cook is taking over retail for the time being. He was officially in charge of Retail before hiring Browett, but CFO Oppenheimer was heavily involved as well. I imagine that will also be the case this time around.

Forstall’s responsibilities will now be split between four executives.  Siri and Maps, which are both heavy data center/server side applications and have had their critics now go to the fixer – Eddie Cue.  Cue was given the task of rescuing MobileMe and turning it into a cornerstone of Apple’s offering. iCloud has been largely successful. Cue’s portfolio and power in the company continues to grow.

Craig Federighi is taking over Forstall’s iOS position for client side software. This is probably the biggest area to watch because Federighi is being thrown into a much bigger role than he’s assumed before. One has to wonder what would have happened if Bertrand Serlet had stuck around.

Mansfield seems to have gotten a two year gig incubating new ideas at Apple perhaps similar to Sergey Brin’s role at Google X.

And probably most telling, Jony Ive picks up Forstall’s Human Interface responsibilities.  While Ive doesn’t have a software background, he’s clearly in step with great design and he was as close as anyone to Steve Jobs.

What’s next for Browett and Forstall?

Browett will likely return to retail leadership or consulting in some capacity. Or he could just retire. He cashed in his Apple stock just weeks ago.

Forstall is probably contractually obligated to not jump ship to a competitor – at least during the time he’s ‘helping’ Tim Cook with the transition.  Obviously the guy is going to be incredibly sought after, having built the preeminent mobile OS in the world.  You might think Google would come calling, but remember that Forstall’s brother works at Microsoft.  He’s not going to have a hard time finding a gig, though his personality might be better suited to starting his own company.

Update: GigaOM’s Om Malik weighs in while citing sources deep within Apple:

  • 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.
  • While the now-rescinded resignation of Bob Mansfield was masterfully planned, my sources say that Forstall’s exit was fairly last minute and not something he initiated. Many within the iOS and OS X teams only heard about it minutes after the news went out. Engineers were caught off guard, a source told me.