Apple executive leaving amid iPhone 4 ‘antennagate’

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An executive who oversees hardware engineering for the iPhone is leaving Apple Inc., a company spokesman said Monday.

Apple did not say why the executive, Mark Papermaster, senior vice president of iPhone and iPod hardware engineering, was leaving the company. Papermaster couldn’t be reached for comment.

But according to news reports, Papermaster apparently was being left out of the decision-making process and had lost the confidence of Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs.

Papermaster’s departure adds to Apple’s public relations woes related to its new iPhone 4. The controversy has been dubbed “antennagate” because of reception problems that have plagued the device since its launch in June.

Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, said Papermaster’s responsibilities will be assumed by Bob Mansfield, senior vice president of Macintosh hardware engineering.

“Mr. Mansfield already manages groups that create many of the key technologies for the iPhone and the iPod touch, including the A4 chip, Retina display and touch screens,” Dowling said in a statement.

Before joining Apple last year, Papermaster, 49, had worked for IBM for more than two decades. He was heavily recruited by Apple, which led IBM to file a lawsuit against Papermaster when he tried to leave. IBM accused Papermaster of violating a noncompetition agreement and said it feared he would divulge company secrets in his new position.

IBM settled with Papermaster, letting him join Apple in April 2009. At Apple, he replaced Tony Fadell, who had a major role in the development of the iPod.

Apple had its most successful product launch with the iPhone 4, which sold 1.7 million units in its first three days.

Despite the iPhone 4’s immediate success, users complained of significant signal loss and dropped calls when the device was held in a certain way. Many said the issue was due to a defective antenna, which is a steel frame that wraps around the device and is a design unique to the iPhone 4.

At first Apple instructed users on how to properly hold the phone or suggested they purchase a rubber “bumper,” which retails at about $30 each. It then blamed the issue on a misconfiguration of how the signal bars are displayed and subsequently issued an update to the operating system, iOS 4.0.1, as a fix.

Jobs later held a news conference in response to Consumer Reports magazine’s announcement that it could not recommend the iPhone 4 because of a design flaw in the antenna. Jobs said Apple would offer owners a free rubber bumper that would resolve the problem.