It was reported yesterday that Apple and Mark Papermaster have parted ways. By all accounts from people seemingly in the ‘know’ Papermaster was fired. Papermaster had been in charge of mobile device hardware design/engineering coming from the mobile processors devision of IBM. This firing has of course led to rampant speculation in the blogosphere as to why he was fired, most concluding that it all comes down to the negative PR and the issues associated with the iPhone 4’s antenna design.
This seems like the natural reason why he would have been fired – after all the iPhone 4’s antenna does have a ‘weak spot’ and it caused Apple to have to give stuff away for free – something that no company likes to do. So it seems natural that this was the reason for his firing and it very well could be the reason.
However as I stated here, and John Gruber pointed out here I think it could have to do with (at least in part) the delay of the manufacturing for the white iPhone 4, which keeps getting pushed back leading many to wonder if it is 2010’s biggest vaporware product. Ask yourself what is more embarrassing for Steve Jobs, shipping a less than perfect product, or not shipping a product on time after announcing it?
I think the answer is the latter – Jobs ships products and he usually does so on time. The timing of this firing just doesn’t make sense for it to be solely based on the antenna – if that was the case it would have happened just before or right after the iPhone 4 press conference. Leaving Apple to say that they are giving free cases and have fired the person responisble for this ‘weak spot’. Instead of firing comes much later – well after the bad press around the antenna had subsided.
Add to all this the fact that many are reporting that the iPhone 4 antenna had been designed long before Papermaster was on the scene – leaving him to just finalize the design – and I think the story begins to tell itself.
My guess (and this is a wild shot in the dark) is that Papermaster didn’t fit in Apple, be it with Jobs or the management team as a whole (culturally or otherwise, remember IBM and Apple are very different companies) and the delays to the white iPhone 4 coupled with the antenna issues did Papermaster in.
We may never know but what seems clear to me is that now was probably the best time to fire Papermaster. Had Apple waited until things were going smoothly there would have been wild speculation and much concern from investors (read: Wallstreet) that would have negatively impacted Apple’s stock. A firing now leads people to think that Apple is not putting up with failure and is trying to correct course (albeit a minor correction) which will only make investors more confident, thus pushing up the stock.
At the risk of sounding like a bad movie, Apple fired the right guy at the right time. ((You know they always try to use the movie’s title in the dialog.))