What is the big deal with Scott Forstall leaving Apple?

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Late last week, Apple announced that Scott Forstall was leaving the company. Many newbies to Mac, iDevices, and Apple in general may not know what the big deal is. Well, here’s the story:

Scott Forstall was an integral part of the design team for many Apple products. Not all of his decisions, however, were well received by the general public. They were also not well received by other bigwigs at Apple either, which led to the current situation.

Forstall was a huge proponent of a design theory called skeuomorphism, which is – in short – application of physical-world textures to digital vision. Basically things like the leather texture and stitching on things like the iPad calendar and some of the icons (like Find My Friends) on other iDevices are a great example of this design philosophy. Textures and “look and feel” points from real-world objects (desk calendars and leather covers) are applied to purely non-physical concepts (digital calendars and icons). For some folks, the merging of the real-world and the digital world makes software more humanized and easier to relate to. For others, the “window dressing” takes up valuable screen real-estate and doesn’t offer any true benefit.

Until recently, most people had seen and used desk calendars and blank notebooks with physical covers to write things in at least at some point in their lives on a daily basis. Today, there is an entire generation who’s gone mostly paperless, and may not even relate to the skeuomorphic attributes of these software platforms at all. Yeah, they look nice, but they don’t add anything to the software for those folks and detract from the overall surface area that can be used for more important information.

Johnny Ive and most of the other Apple designers wanted to move in the direction of cleaner lines, with digital-focused interfaces that were recognizable both to people who worked on pen-and-paper objects and software. When the tipping point came, Ive’s group outnumbered Forstall’s group, and he was out the door.

Things also went south because Forstall was in command of the high-profile failures of Apple Maps and other mis-steps in iOS 6. The very public failure of those apps, combined with a power loss in his design philosophy meant his days with Apple were numbered.

So what does this mean for the average Apple gear user? Not a whole lot, overall, but many little things will change. Software on the Mac and iDevices will start to lose the little real-world texture touches we’ve seen over the years. That process started back with Leopard, but will become even more prevalent now. Lines will be cleaner, sharper, and more digital – with more useable screen space taken up by information and data, instead of leather and cloth textures.

Scott Forstall will be missed. Some of those skeuomorphic touches were quite beautiful, but in the end, cleaner lines and less window dressing will make devices more useable and functional. No one can debate that this is a good thing for Apple gear users.

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