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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."
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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.
Apple's Ping social network might have succeeded by being more open. It should have been integrated with Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. It should have had APIs for developers. It shouldn't have required an Apple ID.
With its new management structure, Apple has an opportunity to change the way it manages its business. If it wants to succeed as a service provider, it has to become more like Google, even as Google has been moving to become more like Apple. It doesn't have to change a lot, but it does need to make some adjustments. I suggest 10:
1. Apple should strive to make the best content authoring tools, rather than tools that favor content tailored for Apple devices.
2. Apple should allow third-party iOS and OS X app stores and should charge 10% of app sales revenue in its licensed stores. It should integrate those stores with its app updating mechanisms in iOS and OS X.
3. Apple should copy Google Play. It should treat apps like books, videos, or music: Approve them unless the content is obscene or otherwise unlawful. This would also allow it to reduce its 30% revenue fee, because it wouldn't need to employ as many app reviewers.
4. Apple should make its bug database for iOS and OS X open, the way Mozilla does.
5. Apple should give iOS users root device access and allow alternative operating systems on its hardware.
7. Apple should make more of its private APIs available to developers, and it should open up access to mobile device hardware systems like the phone dialer and the radio.
8. Apple should support the development of third-party hardware extensions to iOS devices outside of its MiFi program, which should focus on certifying medical and scientific accessories rather than consumer hardware.
9. Apple should involve its user and developer communities in the improvement of its Maps app and other online services. It should talk to its community and encourage conversation among its developers, rather than seeking to limit what they can say with non-disclosure agreements.
10. Apple should engage with the public by responding to media queries and by encouraging its employees to blog.