If Apple wants a more collaborative management structure, it will need to become a more open, collaborative company.
Apple One Year After Steve Jobs: Hits And Misses
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Following regime changes, it's not uncommon for incoming rulers to consolidate power by removing those who might question their authority.
In North Korea, the recently installed Kim Jong-un has reportedly purged 14 senior leaders, including a vice minister of the army who was executed by a mortar round.
At Apple, the transition from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook has not been quite as dramatic: Cook has asked Scott Forstall, senior VP of iOS software at Apple, and John Browett, senior VP of retail, to leave the company.
Outwardly, it looks like a polite, orderly executive shuffle. But the language we use to describe corporate management changes points to the bloodier world of politics. As one headline put it, "Scott Forstall falls on sword after iOS Apple Maps debacle."
Forstall apparently clashed with other senior Apple executives. According to the Wall Street Journal, he was ousted because he refused to apologize for Apple's widely panned revision of its Maps app. Cook ultimately took responsibility in a public apology. Browett's exit follows his decision to make staffing changes at Apple Stores that didn't go over well.
Apple has characterized the management change as a way "to increase collaboration across hardware, software and services." In practical terms, the new corporate hierarchy puts all of Apple's online services under a single manager, Eddy Cue. It puts Apple's desktop and mobile operating systems under a single manager, Craig Federighi. And it expands Apple designer Jonathan Ive's purview beyond hardware into software design, by making him head of Apple's Human Interface Group. Look for less simulated leather in Apple apps.
In addition to increasing collaboration across its business units, Apple needs to embrace collaboration as a concept. Like North Korea, Apple does not communicate very well with the outside world. And it guards its secrets with similar enthusiasm, as when its security officers enlisted the help of police to gain access to a home of a man believed to have an iPhone prototype or when it tracks internal emails to catch employees leaking secrets.
Apple's disinterest in collaboration comes from its desire to control every aspect of its business. To an extent, most companies seek such control, but Apple does so more successfully than others because it owns two hugely popular software platforms and because it is the exclusive maker of hardware for its software. It can rely on intellectual property law, contract law, and technical control to insulate itself from competition in a way that companies without platforms cannot.
But no company is an island, particularly in a world of network services and diverse mobile devices. Apple needs to adapt and to become to be more open. Its management change presents that opportunity.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in May said as much during an event in Sydney, Australia. And others have expressed the same sentiment, that Apple should open up. Following Wozniak's statement, the Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed support for his position.
"Apple's recent products, especially their mobile iOS devices, are like beautiful crystal prisons, with a wide range of restrictions imposed by the OS, the hardware, and Apple's contracts with carriers as well as contracts with developers," the EFF said.
Apple's gatekeeping certainly has benefits. Its computers, tablets, and phones would not be as fine as they are without the company's obsessive oversight. But Apple has taken gatekeeping too far. By trying to own everything, Apple stifles innovative extensions to its platforms and has no one else to blame for its mistakes.
The company's iOS 6 Maps app should have been developed with support from the user community, the developer community, and the open mapping community. Maps in iOS could have been a group effort, while the Google-powered legacy version of the Maps app remained available. Chances are Apple customers and Internet users in general would have jumped at the opportunity to help Apple make a better Maps app. But Apple doesn't understand crowdsourcing.
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