A Really Big Word on Apple's Future

It's difficult to talk about the turnaround of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) without mentioning Jonathan Ive, who led the design of the iMac, iPods, MacBooks, iPhone and iPad. Really, he led the design of all the products that have made Apple successful -- so much so that Steve Jobs called Ive his "spiritual partner" and supposedly left him with "more power than anyone [else] at Apple." However, Ive holds on to a design philosophy much different from who is in charge of the iOS operating system.

Does this rift spell future trouble, especially without the strong leadership of Jobs, who previously made it meld?

iOS leader
Scott Forstall leads Apple's mobile iOS software division. Before his current role, he joined Jobs at NeXT in the early 1990s, joined Apple when NeXT was acquired, and led the development of the desktop OS X operating system. Forstall is said to have similar quirks as Jobs; as BusinessWeek writes, "he routinely takes credit for collaborative successes, deflects blame for mistakes, and is maddeningly political." Forstall also shares Jobs' design view, which is what clashes with Ives'. That view has to do with a big word: skeuomorphism.

Skeuo-what?
Don't be afraid of it -- skeuomorphism (it's OK to practice saying it out loud) is just the act of incorporating old design that was once functional into new products, even if that design now has no functional purpose. Such examples include stylistic pockets in clothing, chandelier light bulbs that are shaped like candle flames, , bookshelves in an e-book application, and the fake leather-grain in Apple's iCal calendar application.

Forstall, iOS leader, is all for skeuomorphs. Ive, design leader, is all about simplicity.

Forstall vs. Ive
Fast Company reports that Jobs apparently agreed with Forstall for incorporating many nods to the past, like including green felt and other casino-like items in Apple's Game Center. These design elements add extra flair to the user experience. Ive, on the other hand, distances himself from those designs. Known for his simplistic hardware designs, evidenced by the single home button on the iPhone and iPad, Ive told The Telegraph that he's "not really connected" to the software design. Perhaps it's because skeuomorphs also hold back innovation -- that is, if software follows its real-life equivalents, it won't function beyond current norms.

This rift is interesting because it seems to contradict Apple's integrated chain from design to production to retail store. It also offers competitors ways to differentiate themselves with more innovative software decisions. For example, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) new Windows 8 gives the user, as Fast Company describes, an "authentically digital experience" that is "without flourish." Without skeuomorphism, though, users may find a steeper learning curve with the new operating system.

Microsoft's success with a stylistically simplistic operating system will also be important for hardware makers such as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , which both have released ultrabooks, a term coined by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) . Ultrabooks take design cues from Apple's MacBooks, and Dell's XPS 13 and HP's Envy Spectre meet ultrabook requirements of thinness, lightness, and battery life. Intel's ultrabook intiative is very important for the company as it loses out to more mobile-focused processor companies, and if it is successful in promoting Apple-like hardware design, perhaps Microsoft can lead to a new superior software design.

In the future
Internal politics may harm Apple's future, but so far it seems current CEO Tim Cook has been able to deal with any conflicts, even if the latest iOS hasn't met Apple's bar for quality. One author claims that Forstall wants to be Apple's next CEO. On the other hand, Forstall recently sold off 95% of his Apple shares, although he still has hundreds of thousands in restricted stock vesting over the next few years. Monetary incentives could trump any desire to break up, but Ive himself believes Apple's goal isn't to make money, but make great products. It will be interesting to see how the drama of design plays out.

For a more in-depth look at Apple's prospects as an investment, including other key areas to watch in the future and other risks Apple faces, such as cellular carrier subsidies, grab your copy of our new premium report. Click here to get started.

Fool contributor Dan Newman does not hold shares of any of the above companies. Follow him on Twitter,@TMFHelloNewman.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Intel.
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