Rumored Apple program lets employees toy with side projects

The company reportedly has a program for some employees to spend two weeks or more working on side projects.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read
James Martin/CNET

Apple has reportedly taken a page from Google's playbook by offering employees time to work on side projects that fall outside their normal routines.

The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Lessin notes in a video interview today (via Business Insider), that Apple CEO Tim Cook quietly started a program code-named Blue Sky that gives some of the company's employees two weeks to work on projects that aren't part of their job.

While shorter, the idea is similar to one popularized by Google's "20 percent time," which allows company employees to work on side projects as part of their normal workday. That program has resulted in numerous features and entire products like Gmail, Google News, and Google Reader. It's also served as an incentive to keep employees from getting burned out.

Apple's reported program, which Lessin notes is not available to anyone and everyone, is of particular interest given the company's management structure. The company's outward appearance is an organization that's led from the top down with divisions that work with one another toward hardware and software releases. By comparison, the notion of side projects suggests the move toward a culture that would also incubate independent projects that could make their way into those larger projects and products.

The news comes just weeks after a major restructuring of Apple's top managementthat put iOS chief Scott Forstall out of the picture, with a departure scheduled for next year. In a release about the move, Apple said that the company's top lieutenants -- Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue, and Craig Federighi -- would absorb various parts of Forstall's role.

Update at 4:30 p.m. PT: In a follow-up report on the program, the Journal notes that Blue Sky may not be a long-term thing, adding that it was tied to Forstall. The report also offers some additional tidbits about other cultural changes at Apple, including:

  • Employee stock grants being shown in current value by dollars versus volume.
  • Cook being "more open" to sabbaticals and employee desires to work on other projects.
  • The company working harder to keep employees from leaving with "aggressive" counteroffers.

You can watch the chat about Blue Sky in the video below: