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Report: Apple exec out after iPhone 4 antenna controversy

Apple maintains that complaints about the iPhone 4’s antenna design and reception were overblown. But an executive in charge of device hardware engineering has parted ways with Apple, according to media reports.

Mark Papermaster, who joined Apple in 2009 as senior vice president of devices hardware, is no longer with Apple, according to a report Saturday in the New York Times. The Times, which received confirmation from Apple of Papermaster’s departure, said it was not clear if the executive resigned or was dismissed.

Papermaster’s departure comes after some iPhone 4 customers reported reception issues with the new phone, which sports a radically different antenna design. Apple wrapped the iPhone 4’s GPRS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi antennas around the outside of the device—a move that improved the phone’s ability to maintain calls and hold a signal in many cases. But, if gripped a certain way, the phone can experience signal degradation for some users.

Apple contends the problem isn’t unique to the iPhone, setting up a signal attenuation Webpage that addresses the issue. The company also noted that it received very few customer complaints about the iPhone’s antenna when it held a July 16 press conference to announce a free case program for affected users. Papermaster was not among the Apple executives introduced at that event.

According to the New York Times report, Papermaster’s duties are being assumed by Bob Mansfield, the senior vice president of Macintosh hardware engineering. Mansfield had accompanied reporters on a tour of Apple’s wireless testing facilities after the June 16 press conference.

Papermaster came to Apple from IBM in a hiring that was controversial in its own right. Apple first tried to hire Papermaster in October 2008, but IBM tried to block the hiring, saying that a non-compete agreement prevented Papermaster from taking the job. The two companies resolved the legal dispute in January 2009 with Papermaster assuming his new role at Apple three months later.