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Apple departures could spark content partner relationship re-think

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Digital Media, Mobile


Apple's iOS lead Scott Forstall and global retail chief John Browett have left the company in one of the most significant management reshuffles since the late Steve Jobs stood down as CEO more than a year ago.

The abrupt departure of Forstall - a 15-year veteran of the company - has led to speculation over whether major changes to iOS are on the way, something that could have a big impact on publishers.

But aside from who's running the products, what does this exits say about how Apple's confidence has been dented?

Forstall (pictured below) appears to have been forced out by his inability to get on with other senior management - such as the untouchable Jony Ive - coupled with Forstall's reported refusal to put his name to an apology letter to Apple customers over the recent Apple Maps iOS6 debacle.

 

The Maps mea culpa itself is uncharacteristic of the company (remember Jobs' assertion that iPhone 4 users who couldn't get reception were holding it wrong?) but it's indicative of a company that can feel increasingly strong competition breathing down its neck.

Competitors - especially Samsung - have begun producing devices with similar levels of quality and mass appeal. The likes of Microsoft and Nokia are pushing their own products harder than ever before.

IHS Screen Digest analyst Ian Fogg tells me that it's not short-term leadership changes but the prospect of a long-term shift in where the power lies in the mobile industry that will have the biggest impact.

"The real trend is Apple's iPhone is no longer indisputably the best smartphone in the market on every characteristic - it is notably on some areas like maps and navigation - overtaken by competitors. In other areas competitors are running it very close.

"What that competitive pressure means is that Apple have to keep innovating, and they have to look at the margins and the cuts of revenues it takes."

Does that mean Apple will soon be handing back a larger slice of app store sales to publishers? Neither I, nor Fogg, would bet the house on it. However, as other platforms become more attractive - as people who spend more on digital products consider moving to rival devices - Apple will have to reevaluate the often arrogant way it handles relationships with content partners.

Having new people in charge of aspects of iOS will have some impact on how the software develops in the long term: Forstall's enthusiasm for skeuomorphism will be felt less in the user interface, and the greater involvement of Mac OSX chief Craig Federighi in iOS suggests the process of integrating the mobie and PC platforms will accelerate.

But the slightly shaky ground on which Apple's management finds itself - no longer secure in their undisputed dominance - is set to have far more wide reaching implications for its relationships with the media industry.

Image via flickr curtousey of gflinch

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