Papermaster at Apple: a short-lived relationship that never quite fit

Apple has confirmed that exec Mark Papermaster is no longer with the company but isn't saying much more. Was it over Antennagate or was Papermaster culturally incompatible with Apple?

Over the weekend, Apple confirmed to the New York Times that Mark Papermaster, the executive who oversees the iPhone, is no longer with the company but would not say whether Papermaster resigned or was terminated.

Papermaster, you may recall, is the former IBM exec who was sued by Big Blue in an effort to block his employment with Apple. Months later, IBM reached an agreement with Papermaster and he was allowed to begin working with Apple. That was almost 16 months ago.

In that time, the company has had one big release under Papermaster - the iPhone 4, a device that will live in infamy not because it was a technological breakthrough but instead because of the Antennagate controversy.

The antenna problems with the iPhone 4 - the so-called Antennagate - that surfaced after its release, as well as delays of the white iPhone, are issues that would have fallen on Papermaster's lap. And despite Apple's attempt to downplay the issue during a hastily-called press conference, the incident left the company with a public relations black eye. It's understandable that someone would have to go because of it.

But a Wall Street Journal report notes that Papermaster's departure appears to be about more than just hardware and engineering missteps with the iPhone 4. There was reportedly a falling out with Steve Jobs, which alone is probably enough to score any executive a one-way ticket to the exit. The Journal also noted that Papermaster had trouble with Apple's internal politics, didn't have the creative flair Apple execs need and, overall, couldn't grasp the corporate culture at Apple.

Frankly, he didn't fit it. But does that really surprise anyone?

At IBM, Papermaster was the VP of the company's blade server development unit. The company called him its "top expert in 'Power' architecture and technology" and he is credited in numerous white papers on everything from chip architecture to caching to synthetic workloads.

At Apple, Papermaster was head of engineering and design of a consumer product that is just as much about appearance and aesthetics as it is about engineering and technology. In fact, given that the delay of a white-colored iPhone (that's going to have to be covered with a bumper case to work properly) has been so worthy of headlines, it could be argued that appearance trumps functionality. (But that's a different post for a different time.)

IBM and Apple may both fall under the larger tech industry umbrella - but they couldn't be any more different. IBM is old school tech, the back-room stuff that the IT guys mess with. IBM is East Coast, a traditional, suit-wearing big business. Apple, on the other hand, is West Coast, flip-flop-wearing geniuses making must-have products that not only raise the bar in both looks and functionality but also come packaged with a badge of California cool.

The businesses are different and the cultures are different. And while that's not to say that the two worlds can't overlap for some, it's understandable how things might fall apart pretty fast for others.