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Apple's head of iPhone engineering out after 'Antennagate'

But analyst argues that Mark Papermaster's departure may be due to culture shock

August 7, 2010 08:47 PM ET

Computerworld - Mark Papermaster, Apple's senior vice president of engineering for the iPhone and iPod, is leaving the firm, according to reports by The New York Times.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling confirmed to the publication that Papermaster is leaving the company. His responsibilities will be assumed by Bob Mansfield, vice president of Macintosh engineering.

Papermaster's biography and photograph have already been yanked from Apple's Web site. Google's cache indicated that it had been pulled sometime after last Tuesday.

Dowling did not respond to e-mail from Computerworld seeking confirmation and asking whether Papermaster's departure was connected to the complaints earlier this summer about the iPhone 4's reception.

Papermaster, a 26-year-veteran of IBM, joined Apple in October 2008, but was barred from working at the Cupertino, Calif. company five days later when IBM filed a federal lawsuit that claimed he had signed a non-competition agreement. IBM also argued that working for Apple would "irreparably harm" his former employer.

The bulk of Papermaster's time at IBM was in processor design, and he eventually became IBM's vice president of microprocessor technology development.

Apple and IBM struck an agreement in January 2009 that allowed Papermaster to begin his stint with Apple in April of that year. In his position, Papermaster oversaw the engineering of two of Apple's four revenue pillars: the iPhone and the iPod. In the second quarter of 2010, those two lines generated 44% of the company's total income.

Papermaster's departure immediately ignited speculation that it was connected to what Apple CEO Steve Jobs called "Antennagate" last month.

Shortly after the iPhone 4's late-June launch, buyers griped that signal strength plummeted and calls were interrupted when they touched the external antenna, a new design feature of Apple's popular smartphone. Days after Consumer Reports magazine said it would not recommend the iPhone 4 because of the antenna and reception problems, Jobs hosted a hastily-called press conference, where he said Apple would supply free Bumper cases to iPhone 4 owners through September.

Many felt Apple botched its initial response to the problem when it told users to buy a case or hold the iPhone 4 without touching a small gap on the lower left side of the phone.

Patrick Kerley, senior digital strategist with Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis management firm, said Apple had been caught "flat-footed" by the mess, and gave the company only a "C" grade for how its handling of the problem.

Although not especially noted at the time, Papermaster was not on stage at Apple's July 16 press conference. Instead, Mansfield, the executive Apple said would assume Papermaster's responsibilities, joined Jobs and Tim Cook, the company's chief operating officer, to take questions from reporters.

Although many connected dots between Antennagate and Papermaster's departure, one analyst rejected the idea.

"I don't think that's the case," said Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Company. "When you have a company the size of Apple, you're going to have turnover at low levels and high levels. I don't see this as that big of deal."

Instead, Marshall put forward a different theory.

IBM and Apple have vastly different corporate cultures, with the former known for its button-down ways, while the latter is much more casual, he noted. And Papermaster had worked at the more-structured IBM for over two-and-a-half decades.

"At the end of the day, it might have been that he didn't have enough t-shirts and blue jeans in his closet," said Marshall.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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