Does Apple have a Scott Forstall problem?
“There’s no excuse,” Garner writes. “Quality control on Apple Maps had to have been terrible to not get this right. Bluntly, Scott Forstall should be fired over this mess.”
Even if you don’t think Maps is as big of a mess as it’s been portrayed in the press (and I don’t), it’s been the biggest PR fiasco for Apple since “Antennagate.” Forstall is ultimately responsible for iOS, and the article reminds me of a speech Steve Jobs supposedly gave to newly minted Apple vice presidents:
One such lesson could be called the “Difference Between the Janitor and the Vice President,” and it’s a sermon Jobs delivers every time an executive reaches the VP level. Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. “When you’re the janitor,” Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, “reasons matter.” He continues: “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.” That “Rubicon,” he has said, “is crossed when you become a VP.”
When the MobileMe launch failed, Jobs responded in a manner true to this spirit:
Shortly after the launch event, he summoned the MobileMe team, gathering them in the Town Hall auditorium in Building 4 of Apple’s campus, the venue the company uses for intimate product unveilings for journalists. According to a participant in the meeting, Jobs walked in, clad in his trademark black mock turtleneck and blue jeans, clasped his hands together, and asked a simple question: “Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”
For the next half-hour Jobs berated the group. “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation,” he told them. “You should hate each other for having let each other down.” The public humiliation particularly infuriated Jobs. Walt Mossberg, the influential Wall Street Journal gadget columnist, had panned MobileMe. “Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us,” Jobs said. On the spot, Jobs named a new executive to run the group.
Mark Papermaster, chief of iPhone hardware engineering, was fired from Apple in the wake of the iPhone 4’s antenna issues. Will there be any accountability for Forstall? (It’s also possible that Forstall is only responsible for the local software, and Eddie Cue is ultimately responsible for the back-end services.)
Note that I wouldn’t expect Forstall to be fired. He’s been in charge of the iPhone software since the beginning, and surely his career overall is in good standing. He won’t be sacked for one mistake. But the product launch has been a complete disaster, and has spilled over into the iPhone 5 itself, so some measure of accountability is surely deserved.
This makes me wonder about the broader power structure within Apple. One wonders what the perception of Maps was inside Apple prior to the launch. I’ve been using iOS 6 Maps since the first beta was provided to developers in June. It was obvious to me then that there were serious data quality problems. If I was able to see it, surely it was also obvious to people at Apple. Was it obvious to Tim Cook? The “this wouldn’t have happened if Steve were still alive” trope has become tiresome, but nonetheless it’s easy to see Jobs using maps on iOS 6 and understanding its shortcomings. No one can know if he would have released it in its current state anyway. But one thing I wonder very much about Tim Cook is, as someone who is not a “product guy,” how much insight does he have on these issues? Does he have the respect and the clout within Apple to tell someone like Forstall that his software isn’t good enough?