Apple Looks Beyond Antennagate to Drive Out Papermaster

Is the departure of Mark Papermaster, Apple's executive in charge of the iPhone, a subtle admission of guilt regarding the iPhone 4's antenna issues? Not so fast.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs describing iPhone 4's antenna issues.
The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reports that Papermaster fell out of favor months ago with Apple chief executive Steve Jobs. Papermaster reportedly wasn't used to Jobs' hands-on style, and seemed to lack the creative thinking and ability to directly manage tasks that Apple expected. The Journal says it's unclear to what extent Papermaster's departure was related to iPhone 4 problems, which in addition to "antennagate" include supply problems for the black model and delays for the white iPhone 4.

Papermaster started his job at Apple in April 2009, while Jobs was on sick leave for a liver transplant. The two may have clashed when Jobs returned later that year. Apple won't officially say whether Papermaster quit on his own or was ousted.

Recently, Apple bruised its image, at least temporarily, when iPhone 4 owners noticed issues with signal loss. The phone can lose signal strength when held over its lower left-hand corner, most noticeably in areas with poor reception.

Take the Journal's report with a grain of salt. Engadget notes that one of the story's co-authors, Yukari Iwatani Kane, is "widely considered to be Apple's favorite go-to source when it wants to control a story in the press." So even if the iPhone 4's antenna problem played a role in Papermaster's departure, Apple may have leaked the story of a cultural clash to cloud the issue.

But in snuffing the antennagate chatter, the Journal's unnamed sources may have pointed to a more devastating long-term problem: Steve Jobs won't be able to give hell to Apple executives forever. Jobs' obsession with minor details is well-known, but the fact that the same obsession is required of every executive makes me wonder what will happen whenever Jobs calls it quits. If Papermaster was allowed to take a more traditional management approach of delegating tasks, and the iPhone 4 suffered as a result, his departure paints a gloomy picture of life after Jobs.

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