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8/9/2010
01:11 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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iPhone Engineering Veep Departs Over Antennagate

Apple's senior VP of iPhone engineering has left the company after less than two years on the job. While reasons weren't given, it is hard to believe it is anything but the issues Apple has been dealing with on the iPhone 4's antenna since its release.

Apple's senior VP of iPhone engineering has left the company after less than two years on the job. While reasons weren't given, it is hard to believe it is anything but the issues Apple has been dealing with on the iPhone 4's antenna since its release.Mark Papermaster joined Apple in October of 2008 to head up the engineering efforts for the iPod and iPhone. The iPhone 3GS was released in the summer of 2009 but it is likely Mr. Papermaster had relatively little to do with that device from a hardware standpoint. By the time he got on board with Apple and get acclimated, the hardware specs for that device were likely finalized and were being readied for production.

The iPhone 4 would have been his the first major release under his watch. The release has had more than its share of issues. The new retina screen is amazing to look at, but there have been reports that it is less sturdy than the screen it replaced, being more inclined to scratches in ordinary use and spider-webbing if dropped.

Though it seemed to be a transient issue, a lot of the original batch had yellowing on the screen in some areas. The good news is that seemed to go away after a few days as the glue in the screen dried and the yellow residue evaporated.

To date, you still cannot get a white iPhone. I am not sure that falls under the purview of engineering necessarily, it is still a hardware problem in production. Given that is Apple's signature color on the iPhone and iPod, I am sure it is getting more notice internally than if the black had had the same issues instead.

The issue though that is getting all of the press, and still is to this day, is the antenna. The device has two antennas (and before anyone corrects me on that - radios have antennas, bugs have antennae), one for the WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS radios and another for the 3G/GSM radios. They meet near the bottom and when you connect them with your skin, the phone begins to lose signal until the call is dropped. The problem is, when you hold the phone with your left hand, it is very hard not to have your skin on that sensitive connection point.

Apple argued that all phones have this issue to some degree and even had a web page dedicated to it called Antenna Performance Page, but that now redirects to a marketing pitch showing you a phone being held to someone's right ear, and another shot of the phone being held by a mechanical stand.

The truth is, we don't know exactly why Mr. Papermaster left the company, or if it was voluntary or forced. Apple has typically been known as a favorite consumer company for how their products perform and their customer service operates. They seem to have taken a page from the "How not to handle a product issue" handbook though when dealing with antennagate. They at first denied it, then told you to simply not hold your phone that way. Finally, the company owned up to it and Steve Jobs gave a presentation where he looked like he was very bothered to have to be fooling with this issue at all. To date there is no fix, just a workaround of getting a case or bumper that covers the antennas so your skin cannot touch them. To some degree, this negates the whole purpose of putting them on the outside of the phone to improve reception.

The iPhone and the related ecosystem are a huge source of revenue for the company, not to mention the bragging rights it brings to be able to say you have the number one smartphone in the world. Tensions have got to be running high in Cupertino. As the man in charge of engineering, Mr. Papermaster had to be feeling the pressure perhaps more than anyone else. Whatever the exact reason for his departure, you have to wonder how many others are feeling pressure to move on as well?

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