A story about Scott Forstall, the iOS/OS X convergence and Ludwig II. of Bavaria

In the weeks following the release of Windows 8, there was a lot of discussion about how bad it was for Microsoft to establish a common UI/UX for desktop computers, laptops and tablets (and phones, remembering that WinPho 8 also runs the NT kernel). The Verge's Tom Warren wrote about this and even suggested Microsoft should rename the tablet OS into something like Surface in order to free Microsofts new platform from both the negative perception of the Windows brand and the burden of carrying a decades-old legacy. As Warren said correctly in his article

Windows RT makes no sense to end users, who will associate the Windows brand with the look and feel of "normal" Windows.

I can't help but think that the problem with Micrsosfts approach was not the convergence issue. Instead, it was very, very poor execution.Two examples:

MS added the totally useless desktop mode to RT. This was an incredibly stupid move.The desktop offers literally no functionality whatsoever for tablets. File management is next to nonexistent in tablet devices.

And since Office really is their prime piece of software, they should have put all the engineering power of their billion-dollar company into getting a good, useable metro (beta) ready for relase date. They didn't. They reheated Office 2010 and added some metro screens. They screwed this up very badly. This was catastrophic. Then again, noboy would have forgiven Microsoft for not having ANY kind of Office suite available for RT. So that's where the legacy dilemma hit them.

I believe Sinofsky had to go because Win 8 was exectued so poorly, not because he was a jerk. Nobody ever gets fired just for being a (brilliant) jerk.

Apple doesn't care about legacy

Apple and Microsoft are sitting in the same, sinking boat. Apple's desktop sales are not going well. There has been a 2% unit increase in Mac sales in Q3/12 over the year-ago quarter, and that's counting laptops in. One can imagine how bad the desktop market fared for everyone, including Apple, in the past 12 months. So it's time to forget about desktops. My prediciton is that Apple will bury the Mac Pro in late 2013, right after appeasing critics with an early 2013 refresh. Let us be realistic: a 2000$+ desktop is nowadays virtually impossible to sell to the average consumer, and professionals are leaving Apple behind in growing numbers. Perhaps there will be a smaller Mac in the future, not with dual Xeons, but true desktop-grade Haswells/Ivys and some limited expandabilty, but I really doubt there is a growing demand for that kind of devices.

So when Apple is planning the future of its software lineup, it focuses ONLY on portable devices. Macbooks, iPads, iPhones, and, to a lesser extent, iPods (BTW 10% decrease in unit sales over last year).

Apple has never been sentimental about dropping products and product features when it thinks it can come up with something that even more people would buy, the best example being the killing of the Macbook and its replacement by the Air, where this strategy actually worked very well. The company is known for getting rid early of technologies and software that seem to have come to a dead end.


PCI-X in Powermacs


The optical disk drive

The floppy disk drive


These are just a few examples of technologies Apple had once praised on various occasions and then eventually dropped after a while from its products. Their customers have been quite forgiving about this, mostly becuase it turned out that Apple was right on more than one occasion.

OS X has served Apple well

The operating system formerly known as Mac OS X was the key for a successful Apple computer run in the past decade, but there has been a significant slowdown in innovation in since Lion. The most important OS features were introduced years ago: The first (barely tolerable) releases in 2001 had the appealing new Aqua UI and extensive PDF support, Safari and the unified address book came 10 years ago with Jaguar, FileVault and Exposé were prime features of Panther, Spotlight (arguably the best feature of OS X) was in Tiger, and Leopard brought us Time Machine. Snow Leopard, perhaps the best OS X release in terms of features and stability, still runs on more than 40% of all Macs in the year 2012. Subsequent releases seem having a hard time at getting some of its share. That is particularily problematic for Apple, since 10.6 is incapable (or has deliberatly been deprived) of full icloud support, a service the company heavily relies on its current and future products.

One can argue that Apple is reaching a dead end with OS X, and we all know what happens next: it gets killed as soon as a better alternative is available. And there is one.

Forstall and the iOS takeover

Despite its shortcomings, iOS is a lean platform that almost has all it needs to run on larger machines than the iPad. Rumormills have already speculated on an intel-powered iOS device. So it should be no surprise to anyone if Apple already has an x86 version of iOS running in one of its secret labs for a long time. It's happened before, you know?

But then again, Apple could simply move its mobile range to ARM when it's ready for 64-bit prime time and dump Intel. "Panta Rhei", like (maybe) Heraclitus said.

If Apple is true to its philosophy of producting the "best possible" experience, there is no way of getting around it. All of Apple's computing products will run a unified core OS (I called it AppleOS a while ago) that gets updated at the same time through their entire product range, so features availabe for one device can simultaneously be used on all devices. This is the only way Apple can justifiy selling its expensive hardware. Tim Cook keeps and keeps repeating: "we are selling an experience". But this experience won't come with OS X. There are too many (10.6.) users locked out of the iCloud right now. In conclusion, OS X has now become an obstacle for Apple's future evolution.

How does this relate to the departure of Scott Forstall? Let's start a little history lesson:

King Ludwig II. of Bavaria, was ruling a pretty little country.


iOS via upload.wikimedia.org

In his kingdom, Ludwig was only bound to the word of God and the Pope (for simplicty's sake we will further attribute both terms to Steve). But then came a time when an empire had to be created in order to survive. Ludwig had no love for the "primitive" and "uneducated" Prussians and despised seeing the King of Prussia becoming Emperor of the German Empire in 1871, standing between God and himself. To cut a long story short: he eventually got fat and completely mad and presumably drowned himself in a lake after a miserable life.

Like Ludwig, Forstall was King of his particularily happy kingdom. His subjects were loyal to him, like Businessweek wrote. He no doubt had little respect for some other executives/Kings at the company, and made that clear to them. He maybe felt his Kingdom was blessed by God.

But perhaps the other Kings agreed that in order to win the war against the "Evil Empire", an Empire on its own had to be created. In other words. King Scott of iOS had to give part of his sovereignity over to the Emperor. This of course was unthinkable for him. Beleiving he had enough blessing from God, he challenged the Chancellor.


Tim Cook via upload.wikimedia.org

He eventually lost the challenge. There was no Kingdom for him anymore to reign on his own. Even worse, his Kingdom was taken from him. Not because others claimed he was a jerk. Remember: Nobody ever gets fired just for being a (brilliant) jerk.

But in the new Apple Empire, Forstall was an anachronism.


OS X is ageing not quite well and iOS needs a refresh. Jony Ive is now overseeing the appearance of hardware and software. His signature is CONSISTENCY in design. The market for desktop computers and eventually laptops is stagnant-to-shrinking. Mobile devices are taking over the consumer space, and their capabilities are growing with each generation, while at the same time, laptops and mobile devices get more and more similar in specs.

Face it. OS X and iOS will converge.

Maybe not in 2013, but in 2 years it will at least be announced.

In order to succeed, Apple must learn form Windows 8 and DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE: bring the accessibility and simplicity of a mobile OS to the desktop instead of desperately trying to make a mobile OS look like its desktop counterpart, but lacking most of its functionality.