Apple's executive shake-up earlier this week is a sign that design is the "tip of the spear" for the company, but the reorganization won't disrupt the firm's product delivery and may produce some groundbreaking moves, analysts predicted today.
On Monday, CEO Tim Cook said that Scott Forstall, who was a senior vice president in charge of iOS development, was leaving the company in 2013, and would serve as an advisor in the interim. Additionally, John Browett, who led Apple's retail efforts, was also out.
Forstall has been with Apple since 1997 -- and before that at NeXT, the computer and software company former CEO Steve Jobs started in 1985 after being forced out of the firm he co-founded. He was responsible for iOS, the mobile operating system that powers the two most-profitable lines in Apple's portfolio, the iPhone and iPad.
His departure received the lion's share of attention from bloggers, pundits and analysts.
"To me, this clearly shows that the tip of the spear is design," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, of Forstall's removal and the splitting of his responsibilities among three others.
Jony Ive, formerly head of industrial design, will now also control what Apple calls "Human Interface," the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) of software.
Craig Federighi, who only recently was promoted to lead OS X development, will now lead development of both that operating system as well as iOS. Meanwhile, Eddy Cue -- Apple's chief executive for its online and iTunes products, will assume responsibility of Siri and Maps, two oft-criticized projects Forestall handled.
"This is a doubling down on integrating hardware and software design," said Moorhead of Ive's new role. "There's now just one decision maker."
"[Steve Jobs] was the head product manager, the head designer, the head marketer," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "Ive is the perfect choice [as a replacement] on design. He may not be a software engineer, but that's actually an advantage. He will represent the user [in software design discussions], and will be able to say, 'The user must have this experience ... help me find a way to do that.'"
Others agreed, seeing Ive as the winner in the reshuffling who's been given enormous power by Tim Cook, a CEO who doesn't seem to be at all interested in the design side.
At the same time, the departure of Forstall -- most saw it as a firing, or claimed anonymous sources within Apple characterized it that way -- also shows Cook's hand. Cook has been CEO since August 2011, shortly before Jobs' death.
"This puts an exclamation point on Cook's decisiveness," said Moorhead. "This was not tentative. This is Tim Cook's company as of that call [to Forstall]. You can attribute the iPad Mini, the iPhone 5 to Jobs, but this is clearly Tim Cook."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.