iPhone head faced "cultural differences" at Apple

The cause of the end of Mark Papermaster's short but tumultuous career at Apple ran far deeper than the recent antenna debacle, according to reports. Mark Papermaster, who came to Apple two years ago trailing a cloud of litigation behind him, faced "cultural differences" at his new company, and conflict with Steve Jobs.

Papermaster, who headed up hardware development for the iPhone, left the company after Apple endured weeks of criticism over problems with the iPhone 4 antenna, according to the New York Times and many other publications. Apple confirmed the departure, but wouldn't say whether he left on his own or was pushed, the Times reported.

Papermaster's problems ran deeper than the recent iPhone 4 antenna debacle, according to the Wall Street Journal. His "departure was driven by a broader cultural incompatibility," the Journal said, attributing to "several people familiar with Mr. Papermaster's situation."

Mr. Papermaster had lost the confidence of Mr. Jobs months ago and hasn't been part of the decision-making process for some time, these people said. They added that Mr. Papermaster didn't appear to have the type of creative thinking expected at Apple and wasn't used to Apple's corporate culture, where even senior executives are expected to keep on top of the smallest details of their areas of responsibility and often have to handle many tasks directly, as opposed to delegating them.

One of these people also said Mr. Papermaster had difficulty maneuvering Apple's internal politics.

Long time coming

Papermaster's problems had been brewing for a while, notes Daring Fireball's John Gruber. Papermaster was theoretically a peer to Bob Mansfield, senior VP Macintosh hardware engineering, notes Gruber.

But it’s Mansfield, not Papermaster, who appears in Apple’s six-minute iPhone 4 promotional video — and that video was shot weeks (months?) before the iPhone 4 was unveiled. The other executives who appear in the video: Jonny Ive, Greg Joswiak, and Scott Forstall. Mansfield talks about the Retina Display, the advantages of its higher resolution, and the engineering behind it. Then at the end, Mansfield comes back to talk about the A4 system-on-a-chip — literally Papermaster’s area of expertise.

By the org chart, that should have been Papermaster in the video. Now, I don’t know — maybe Papermaster was invited to appear in the video but declined. Perhaps he’s not comfortable in front of a camera. And Mansfield is good. He’s not pretty, but he’s likable and has a great voice — a John Goodman-esque screen presence. But maybe Papermaster was already on the outs, and Mansfield was already overseeing the engineering of things like the Retina Display and the A4.

Papermaster joined Apple in October 2008, after 26 years at IBM, which filed a federal lawsuit attempting to block Papermaster from working at Apple, notes my colleague Gregg Keizer.

Gruber defends the iPhone 4, citing its strengths: "It gets a stronger signal in most situations, and is able to hold calls in places where older iPhones couldn’t get any signal at all." The external antenna saves space inside, making room for a bigger battery. "It looks great." But it has one problem: It sometimes loses signal when human skin touches a certain spot.

Satisfaction high

Gruber is right. The iPhone 4 antenna problem appears to be more of a PR problem for Apple than a major product flaw -- or, rather, it is a major product flaw, but one which apparently effects a relatively small number of people. It appears in places where the AT&T signal was already weak.

The iPhone 4 is a great smartphone, so long as your primary use for a phone is not for making voice calls. If you primarily use your smartphone for email, Web browsing, Twitter, Facebook, photography, playing games, listening to music, or any of the other things that the iPhone is great at, then you'll be very happy with the iPhone (I am).

If you're primarily using your phone for voice calls, you're better off with a different phone.

Early customer satisfaction reports about the iPhone 4 indicate that customers are happy. Yes, customer satisfaction for the iPhone 4 is lower than its predecessors. Customer satisfaction among iPhone owners is 93% for the iPhone 4, down from 99% for the previous model, the iPhone 3GS, according to a survey conducted by ChangeWave late last month. But that still means more than nine out of 10 iPhone 4 customers are satisfied. If that's a problem, it's a problem I want to have.

My colleague Richi Jennings has a roundup of other blogs' reports on Papermaster's Apple departure.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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