Amid iPhone 4 Antenna Controversy, Papermaster Out As Head Of Device Hardware

In November 2008, Tony Fadell, Apple’s senior vice president of the company’s iPod and iPhone divisions, stepped down due to “personal reasons.” At the time, this was thought to be a blow to Apple, as Fadell was considered to be one of the execs on the short list to eventually succeed Steve Jobs as CEO. But Apple wasted little time finding a solid replacement: Mark Papermaster. But now, not even two years later, Papermaster is out as well, the New York Times reports today.

While no official reason was given for Papermaster’s departure, the timing is interesting to say the least. Papermaster’s official position was Senior Vice President of Devices Hardware Engineering — you know what that means: he was in charge of the iPhone 4’s hardware. Obviously, that hardware has been under a lot of scrutiny since the device’s launch due to antenna issues.

Bob Mansfield, Apple’s SVP of Apple’s Mac hardware engineering will step in to replace Papermaster, Apple confirmed to NYT. Sure enough, Papermaster’s bio is already gone from Apple’s executives page. This move makes sense as Mansfield was already heavily involved in the iPhone’s hardware architecture.

The Papermaster move is also interesting because Apple fought so hard to get him in the first place. Apple poached Papermaster from IBM where he was a VP in charge of the company’s microprocessors. Shortly after announcing him as their new exec, IBM filed suit to stop him from working at Apple. A judge quickly ruled that Papermaster had to halt work for Apple in November 2008 –just a few days after his hire.

IBM said Papermaster’s contract stated he could not work for a competitor for a least a year after leaving IBM. Apple was arguing that they weren’t a direct competitor. By January, the suit was resolved, but Papermaster wasn’t allowed to start work at Apple until the end of April 2009.

Not only that, but as part of the settlement, Papermaster had to check-in multiple times with the courts to make sure he wasn’t giving confidential IBM information to Apple. Despite all that, Apple clearly felt his 25 years worth of engineering experience was worth it. And now barely a year after his start date, he’s out. Odd.

Again, Apple won’t confirm that this has to do with the iPhone 4 antenna issue (or if Papermaster was fired or left on his own). But it is worth noting that Mansfield, not Papermaster, was present at Apple’s press conference last month to address the iPhone 4 antenna issues. It was also Mansfield, and not Papermaster, that was in the initial videos showing off the iPhone 4’s hardware.

Update: Something else to think about. During a tour of Apple’s device testing facilities (where Mansfield, but not Papermaster, was present), we were told that the iPhone 4 was being tested for a full two years before its launch. That means it was being tested before Papermaster got to Apple. While it’s not clear when the final hardware was approved for production, it’s certainly possible that Papermaster had little to do with that specific device’s hardware creation.

That said, in the time leading up to the iPhone 4’s launch, he clearly had to be heavily involved in every aspect of it — including the antenna. Is Papermaster a fall guy in this situation?

Update 2: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber heard from a source inside Apple a few weeks ago that Papermaster was “the guy responsible for the antenna.” He also heard that Papermaster, was in fact, fired. Going forward, clearly, he will no longer be the guy responsible for the antenna.