Former Apple exec Scott Forstall discusses creativity in tech, more in interview

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In a rare interview published last week, Apple's former head of iOS development Scott Forstall discusses a wide range of topics that offer a peek behind the scenes at the company during the genesis of iPod, iPhone, iPad and other landmark devices.

Scott Forstall
Former Apple executive Scott Forstall on Philosophy Talk's The Creative Life.


Forstall sat down with Stanford philosophy school faculty Josh Landy and Ken Taylor in an episode of Philosophy Talk's The Creative Life, a road show installment of the Philosophy Talk radio program that airs twice a week in the San Francisco Bay Area. The installment, spotted by 9to5Mac, was taped in October 2018 at New York's Stuyvesant High School.

Before starting at NeXT in 1992, which was later assimilated by Apple, Forstall obtained bachelor's degree from Stanford in the philosophy-related field of symbolic systems. In fact, Taylor is now director of the university's Symbolic Systems program. Forstall remained at Stanford to secure a master's degree in computer science.

As referenced by the show's title, Philosophy Talk places heavy emphasis on ideologies and the impetus behind human actions, allowing Forstall to recount his time at Apple through that lens. While the interview covers well-trod ground, it does yield a few tidbits on Apple's corporate thinking and management style.

The former tech exec's transition to Tony Award-winning Broadway producer acted as a jumping off point to Apple-related lines of questioning. Despite being seemingly disparate endeavors, tech and theater share surprising similarities, Forstall noted.

"The disciplines, the fields are very, very different, but creating a Broadway show is incredibly similar to creating a tech startup," Forstall said. "Both of them start with very creative individuals who start with whole cloth, they're looking to create a new product. And in the case of tech it's maybe an application or a device and in Broadway it's creating a script."

The first Apple callout came early when Forstall shared an anecdote regarding risk, which in this case related to his decision to shift career tracks. According to Forstall, risk taking goes hand-in-hand with innovation.

"At Apple one time, Apple had been close to bankruptcy and we come out with iPod, the iPod finally is selling OK and we had the best-selling product, unit-wise, in the history of the company and then we came out with the iPod nano," Forstall said. "We knew we were going to develop it and we canceled the entire iPod mini line before we even shipped the new product and it could have devastated the company. But we did it because we believed in it and so we took risks."

On the topic of fostering creativity, Forstall said environments that support creative thinking can be created through proper resource management. During his time at the head of the Mac team, Forstall would give every employee in his department a month to work on pet projects at the wrap of each major Mac OS X release. The projects would be presented to management and, if deemed worthy, Forstall himself.

"One I saw was this idea of a ten-foot user interface, and I loved it and we turned it into Apple TV," he said. "Apple TV was invented because someone was encouraged to do whatever they wanted for a month and we turned it into a product."





Forstall waxes poetic on creativity throughout the wide-roving talk, which leads to a particularly interesting morsel regarding the importance of having a diverse educational background. In tech and other seemingly scientific fields, standouts often have experience in a variety of disciplines. Those who are limited to concentrations in one practice or group of studies, such as STEM, at times lack the creative foundation to "think different."

As the interview winds down, Forstall discusses what he regrets most about how people use iPhone, suggesting the device has become too ubiquitous in modern life. For example, no devices are allowed on the table during meals at home; that time is reserved for human interaction.

"I used to say, 'I don't like when I see it, I don't like when I see people at dinner, out at a restaurant doing that,'" Forstall said, mimicking a person texting. "The second thing is I don't like when people walk down the street just staring at it as opposed to looking around and actually having conversations with people. So I actually think iPhone's a tool. Now I look at it and say well, it's enabled people to have social media. Now there are these cones of...these echo chambers that are destroying a lot of stuff. And that's much more worrisome, but I think that you can create something and there's going to be good and bad uses of it. We have to feel morally responsible to have an ethical creation and use of our products."

The entire interview spans some one and a half hours, a good portion of which concentrates on philosophical discourse. Forstall's segment begins shortly before the 17 minute mark in the video above.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    tyler82tyler82 Posts: 761member
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    curmitht
  • Reply 2 of 30
    flydogflydog Posts: 150member
    tyler82 said:
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    In any particular way or is that just revisionist history brought on by nostalgia?  Because as most people will remember, Forstall was in charge during the disastrous first release of Maps, then a few months later he was gone. 
    chasmwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 30
    I always thought Forstall was among the best presenters Apple had – besides SJ.
    edited January 16 ravnorodommac_dogcornchipchasmwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 4 of 30
    kestralkestral Posts: 209member
    flydog said:
    tyler82 said:
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    In any particular way or is that just revisionist history brought on by nostalgia?  Because as most people will remember, Forstall was in charge during the disastrous first release of Maps, then a few months later he was gone. 
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.
    macplusplusasdasd
  • Reply 5 of 30
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.

    I don't think it was so much that, but that was probably the icing. Forstall is very much like Jobs in his leadership style, perhaps because of working under Jobs so much. There's nothing wrong with that, but Apple leadership in the last few years of Jobs was filled with people who didn't necessarily get along and were only held together because of Steve.

    I'd be willing to bet that Forstall's personality clashed too much with Cook and a couple of other leaders (I'd guess Schiller and Eddie 'Hollywood' Cue).

    The creativity and design work during the early iPhone days was more impressive then the current flat-design world of today. If you think about Notes, for example, with the binding at the top and the little slivers of torn paper, that's design. Did it make the product better? Maybe, because there are studies today that Flat design is harder to comprehend and use compared to skeuomorphic design.

    I'm impartial, but you can't argue the beauty of the design work from those days, even if today it looks a little garish.

    edited January 16 mike54watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 30
    peteopeteo Posts: 343member
    Whats the over under with Forstall coming back if Cook retires early (Gets canned)?
    edited January 16
  • Reply 7 of 30
    peteo said:
    Whats the over under with Forstall coming back if Cook retires early (Gets canned)?
    Zero. Cook's not getting canned or retiring early. Apple is still performing very well, 2019 Q1 is still going to be their second highest revenue quarter even after the adjustment. Besides, every other company that has significant business in China is reporting big negative impacts. I'd bet more on Forstall doing a new startup at some point, but he does seem content with his current life.
    StrangeDayschasmwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 30
    mike54mike54 Posts: 290member
    Scott Forstall needs to return to Apple as CEO and Tim Cook to return to his previous role.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 9 of 30
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,167member
    macapfel said:
    I always thought Forstall was among the best presenters Apple had – besides SJ.
    I agree, he had good stage presence, but I was never really a fan. something about his personality rubbed me the wrong way. And besides, we have Federighi now, so I can't say I miss him all that much. every once in a while I fire up the old iPhone4 and am aghast at the UI. utterly antiquated at this point.
    yolawatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 10 of 30
    kestral said:
    flydog said:
    tyler82 said:
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    In any particular way or is that just revisionist history brought on by nostalgia?  Because as most people will remember, Forstall was in charge during the disastrous first release of Maps, then a few months later he was gone. 
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.
    Oh look, we have another spiritual medium, channeling SJ's ghost. "OOooOOoooo...."
    cornchipchasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 30
    thefly said:
    peteo said:
    Whats the over under with Forstall coming back if Cook retires early (Gets canned)?
    Zero. Cook's not getting canned or retiring early. Apple is still performing very well, 2019 Q1 is still going to be their second highest revenue quarter even after the adjustment. Besides, every other company that has significant business in China is reporting big negative impacts. I'd bet more on Forstall doing a new startup at some point, but he does seem content with his current life.
    "Apple is still performing very well." Excuse me. AAPL is one thing, and the Apple experience is quite another. I couldn't care less about AAPL but the current state of Apple's user interface and customer support are abysmal. The number-crunching Cook Just. Doesn't. Get it.
  • Reply 12 of 30
    thefly said:
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.

    I don't think it was so much that, but that was probably the icing. Forstall is very much like Jobs in his leadership style, perhaps because of working under Jobs so much. There's nothing wrong with that, but Apple leadership in the last few years of Jobs was filled with people who didn't necessarily get along and were only held together because of Steve.

    I'd be willing to bet that Forstall's personality clashed too much with Cook and a couple of other leaders (I'd guess Schiller and Eddie 'Hollywood' Cue).

    The creativity and design work during the early iPhone days was more impressive then the current flat-design world of today. If you think about Notes, for example, with the binding at the top and the little slivers of torn paper, that's design. Did it make the product better? Maybe, because there are studies today that Flat design is harder to comprehend and use compared to skeuomorphic design.

    I'm impartial, but you can't argue the beauty of the design work from those days, even if today it looks a little garish.

    If you think about Notes in pre-7, think about the Felt typeface and how very, very difficult it was to read. Design is also about how it works, not just how it looks. Some of iOS 6 was better, some was worse. 

    Daringfireball's John Gruber also heard that Forstall was difficult to work with.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 30

    mike54 said:
    Scott Forstall needs to return to Apple as CEO and Tim Cook to return to his previous role.
    Nope, that needn't happen at all.
    cornchip
  • Reply 14 of 30
    MicDorsey said:
    thefly said:
    peteo said:
    Whats the over under with Forstall coming back if Cook retires early (Gets canned)?
    Zero. Cook's not getting canned or retiring early. Apple is still performing very well, 2019 Q1 is still going to be their second highest revenue quarter even after the adjustment. Besides, every other company that has significant business in China is reporting big negative impacts. I'd bet more on Forstall doing a new startup at some point, but he does seem content with his current life.
    "Apple is still performing very well." Excuse me. AAPL is one thing, and the Apple experience is quite another. I couldn't care less about AAPL but the current state of Apple's user interface and customer support are abysmal. The number-crunching Cook Just. Doesn't. Get it.
    Nah, that's nonsense. Besides being the best performing public company in history, Apple also enjoys the highest consumer satisfaction ratings. People line up to throw their money at Apple, because we enjoy using their products. People don't throw their money at products they don't enjoy using -- that's just bonkers. The customer support I've had with Apple has always been great -- native english speakers who care about my experience and solved my problems.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 30
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,143member
    Would have been interesting to hear his take on Apple and why he left ... also if he is still in contact with some people at the company.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 30
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,198member
    kestral said:
    flydog said:
    tyler82 said:
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    In any particular way or is that just revisionist history brought on by nostalgia?  Because as most people will remember, Forstall was in charge during the disastrous first release of Maps, then a few months later he was gone. 
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.
    That’s right. It should have been released as a beta product as well. 
  • Reply 17 of 30
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,490member
    kestral said:
    flydog said:
    tyler82 said:
    iOS was better under Forstall IMO. 
    In any particular way or is that just revisionist history brought on by nostalgia?  Because as most people will remember, Forstall was in charge during the disastrous first release of Maps, then a few months later he was gone. 
    Scott was set up to fail. "Yeah, we want you to do something to beat Google at Maps, who has much more budget and resources and a 10 year head start, and if you can't do it, you should apologize". Steve would not have apologized, he would have told Tim Cook to f--- off. I hope Scott did as well.
    Cook removed a potential threat.
    Forstall has carved himself a new life though, so it doesn’t matter anymore.
  • Reply 18 of 30
    yolayola Posts: 5member
    cornchip said:
    macapfel said:
    I always thought Forstall was among the best presenters Apple had – besides SJ.
    I agree, he had good stage presence, but I was never really a fan. something about his personality rubbed me the wrong way. And besides, we have Federighi now, so I can't say I miss him all that much. every once in a while I fire up the old iPhone4 and am aghast at the UI. utterly antiquated at this point.
    I agree..he did but something about him rubbed me the wrong way also. I do miss the skeumorphic ( prob spelled it wrong) design though. I have the XS Max & so far love it. the battery's awesome..i know that'll start changing in about 2 yrs.. but that's common with the iphone...I still like the company..but it was inevitable it was going to change after Steve died. Let's see what this yr brings.
  • Reply 19 of 30
    "Scott was an incredible person, incredible engineer, incredible manager." - Avie Tevanian

    1:45:41



    asdasdwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 30
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,704member
    McJobs said:
    "Scott was an incredible person, incredible engineer, incredible manager." - Avie Tevanian

    Who cares what one person thinks, who's most likely bias because they worked together at NeXT, and at Apple? 
    edited January 16 cornchipwatto_cobra
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