At Apple, two high-profile executive departures

Apple announced this week that Scott Forstall, the VP in charge of iOS software, is leaving the company -- reportedly in connection with the rocky launch of Apple Maps. It also announced the unrelated departure of retail chief John Browett. Is Apple floundering a bit, or just streamlining?

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters/File
Apple announced Monday that Scott Forstall, the senior VP in charge of iOS software, will be leaving the company next year. Retail head John Browett is also departing. Here, Forstall discusses the iPhone at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California on June 6, 2011.

Monday was a tough day to be an Apple executive. The company announced that Scott Forstall, the head of the iPhone and iPad software and a 15-year veteran of the company, will leave next year. And John Browett, the company's senior VP of retail, is also leaving -- though the two departures reportedly aren't related.

Apple hasn't officially commented on why Forstall is leaving, noting only that many of his responsibilities will be distributed to several other execs including Jony Ive, the company's chief industrial designer. But The Wall Street Journal reports that Forstall's departure is probably connected to the recent bumpy launch of Apple Maps.

After Apple replaced Google Maps with its own service in iOS 6 software, many users complained that the new maps weren't very accurate and that parts of the interface didn't work well. The concerns surrounding the launch led Apple to do something it almost never does: apologize. Chief Executive Tim Cook even went so far as to suggest that customers use alternative mapping services until Apple Maps improved.

But Forstall, whose team built the Maps service, refused to sign the apology letter, the Journal says. Instead, he thought Apple should address users' concerns without apologizing (think of how the company responded to the iPhone 4's antenna issues, for example). Forstall had apparently clashed with other Apple executives before, and after he declined to put his name to the apology Cook asked him to leave. He'll be an advisor to Cook until he leaves next year, the company said.

One interesting result of Forstall's departure: in addition to giving increased responsibility to Ive and other Apple execs, the company is also creating a new "Technologies" group comprising all of Apple's different wireless and semiconductor teams. This group could help Apple to more seamlessly marry its interface and design to the chips and hardware that make up its devices; the company says the new group will "foster innovation ... at an even higher level," adding, a touch mysteriously, that the semiconductor teams have "ambitious plans for the future."

The reasons for Browett's departure are a little less murky: his tenure as chief of retail hasn't been met with much enthusiasm since he came to Apple earlier this year. Soon after he was hired, Browett instituted a faulty retail formula that led to layoffs and reduced hours among Apple Store employees. The policy reportedly didn't go over well with Browett's fellow execs, and unsurprisingly, it wasn't a big hit with the employees he was managing, either.

To be fair, Browett had big shoes to fill: he was hired to replace Ron Johnson, who served as retail head for more than a decade and came up with the idea for the Apple Store and the Genius Bar. Browett's apparent focus on profits wasn't always well-received by employees who were used to a culture that made simple customer service a priority. Apple says the search for a new retail head is already underway, and that Cook will oversee the Retail group directly in the meantime.

The high-profile departure of both executives is the biggest shakeup at Apple since Cook took the reins in 2011. It's tempting to worry that the company is losing its footing in the post-Steve Jobs era, but relax -- there's ample evidence to suggest Apple is just responding to internal power struggles so it can get back to making new products.

Readers, what's your take on the departures of Forstall and Browett? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffwardbailey.

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