updated 05:15 pm EDT, Sat August 7, 2010
Apple's Papermaster out after just two years
(Updated with added insights) In a surprise move, Apple today confirmed that Senior VP of Device Hardware Engineering Mark Papermaster was leaving the company after less than two years. Neither the company nor Papermaster has said whether the executive is leaving voluntarily or was forced out of the position, but it has already removed his biography. Mac hardware engineering Senior VP Bob Mansfield will take over his responsibilities in the short term.
The departure is considered an embarrassment for Apple due to the effort required to get his services. It had fought to keep Papermaster in 2008 after IBM had claimed he was violating a non-compete clause in his contract and could potentially leak details of POWER processors and other IBM technologies. Papermaster won after it was found that his work at Apple wouldn't tread on areas where IBM would be an Apple rival.
Why Papermaster left isn't certain at this stage, but his oversight of a significant amount of the iPhone 4 hardware may have left him as the executive indirectly responsible for the smartphone's known reception problems. While the unique externalized antenna design does increase the reception in most circumstances, its high sensitivity to signal drops from contacting key points has been a source of humiliation for a company often touted for its innovative designs. Apple has tried to minimize the problems by reporting a more accurate signal level in firmware, but a giveaway of free cases to avoid a public relations disaster may cost the company over $170 million if everyone takes advantage of the program.
Suspicions of distrust around Papermaster were evident at the emergency July 16 press conference, where Mansfield was on stage with Steve Jobs and Tim Cook despite having little direct influence over the iPhone 4.
Update: Historically reliable tech writer John Gruber has heard from Apple sources that Papermaster was fired and that, on July 23, he had been identified as "the guy responsible for the antenna." Team members handling the antennas reportedly "used to have a big chip on their shoulder," the source said. If true, the company may privately consider the iPhone 4 antenna hiccups a serious enough issue to demand a change in staff.