I know I'm bloody late to the party, but I still feel like I need to let the facts be known, even as they are picked apart in every journal article worth its salt, and fact number one is: thank God and Jesus in Heaven for Sir Jony Ive. In case you haven't heard of him, he's the kind soul bringing sanity back into the Mac OS X "experience". The more à propos phrase would be a veritable Mount Everest of bovine excreta.
The single reason this is the case is, again, because of one person. Scott Forstall has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for Apple Computer Inc. Steve Jobs had a little bit to do with it, but now that he's shuffled off his mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible, his immortal soul is beyond reproach, at least where present doings in the temporal realm are concerned.
To explain why my thoughts are so obviously negative (or, as I would prefer to say, realistic) about Forstall is the design and general appearance of the last Mac OS X system. When Microsoft, being what they are, make products that are nicer than yours, there are no ifs, ands, or buts: it's time to open an envelope. This refers to an incredibly old joke whereby a director of a company is given three envelopes in case of trouble: the first has a pre-written apology, the second has instructions on scapegoating, and the third is a clear and unmistakeable letter of dismissal.
The appearance that Forstall ordered people to include in OS X was one which is erroneously referred to skeuomorphism; an example would be the horrendous green-baize design of the OS X games program, which the sane world would characterise as a design crime. The word skeuomorphism is wrong because it refers to adding real-world cues to a functional element; an example would be making a software 'button' look like something that can be pushed. Forstall went beyond this: he added real-world cues to anything and everything, including purely aesthetic elements. That's not skeuomorphism, that's insanity.
Actually, insanity is not the right word. The right word would be something akin to a visual version of a pissing contest, or perhaps self-induction of hysterical paroxysm: it's exactly analogous to flexing your forearms and saying that you have the biggest triceps of them all, that you can make a more faithful rendering of dead animal skin. Apple's late managing director liked the "style" as well, which is probably why Forstall had a job as long as he did. Steve Jobs was singularly responsible for the chunder-summoning inbuilt calendar program, which had a faux leather element specifically duplicating a surface on his private jet; when designers were ordered to include it over their objections, internal e-mails reveal winces of shame in how embarrassing and terrible that particular element was.
Visual manustupration aside, Forstall was responsible for Apple's mapping and road-direction software. Remember it? It was the one that provided correct directions only by accident. Well, that was envelope number one. I'm not saying that he wrote the program in question---if he had, it would have been the Mauna Kea of bovine digestive waste, rather than "just" an Everest. An even bigger mistake was that Forstall was such a failure of a designer that he copied the famous Swiss Railways clock. The clock is beautiful, but it is famous for another reason: it is copyrighted. If you copy the fabulous looks of it, and don't get Swiss Railways' equally fabulous, and expensive, stamp of approval, their fabulous army of lawyers will extract their revenge (the result of which, co-incidentally, looks like your head on a silver platter). The fact is that at Apple, one is responsible for the actions of his department; Forstall obviously knew this, as it is a long-standing policy drummed into one's head since his first day as a manager. You are responsible for the employees you manage. Forstall, needless to say, decided that he was above an apology and threw envelope number one out the window.
That leads to envelope number two: Jobs and Forstall were alike in another way, that being that their management styles were inflexible---my way, or the highway. Jobs' way was usually right, which is why he got his job back after being fired for his mistake; Apple tried the highway once, and found it rocky, with potholes. Forstall had Jobs' arrogance, but not his wisdom or good taste. Arrogance is okay if you can balance it out with something and prove that my way is the right way. Forstall was so bad in meetings that Sir Jony Ive---an actual Knight of the Empire---refused to show up if he even so much as smelled him. The shadowy head of the future products division, Bob Mansfield, found himself in agreement.
The big boss, Mr Tim Cook, decided that the user experience problems signalled time for envelope number three. The decision was quite easy: either keep two execs who are geniuses in their fields and sack the prima donna, or have both execs resign because their orders are being vetoed time and again. Of course, Forstall got the axe. He's been unemployed for the last year and a half. Suitable punishment, perhaps? Who knows.
Cook knew there was someone better qualified than Forstall: namely, Sir Jony, the engineer responsible for Apple's great exterior design. We all know that good work is its own reward; Cook knows it too, since Sir Jony is being "rewarded" twice as much this year. These days, Sir Jony not only does exterior design, but he's been working tirelessly at the software. So, if you're reading this, Sir Jony, good work to ya. The only problem I had with his work was that he started with fixing Forstall's mistakes on mobile products, rather than laptops and desktops. Still, you have to start somewhere, and the eventual look of OS X is beautiful.
Thank you, Sir Jony.
(Here's some before-and-after images. The ugly ones are Forstall's.)