Yesterday, Apple executive Bob Mansfield vanished from the company's page listing its top executives.
"Bob is no longer going to be on Apple’s executive team, but will remain at Apple working on special projects reporting to [CEO] Tim [Cook]," Apple spokesman Steve Dowling told All Things D.
It's just the latest twist for Mansfield, who has one of the most intriguing stories at Apple in the last year.
Mansfield was appointed Senior Vice President of Technologies, a new group working on wireless technologies, last fall. Prior to that, he was SVP of hardware engineering, where he oversaw development of the iPhone and iPad.
When Mansfield's retirement was announced, CEO Tim Cook reportedly almost faced an insurrection. The people working in the hardware engineering division did not believe Mansfield's replacement, Dan Ricci, was ready to take over.
CEO Tim Cook talked Mansfield into staying by offering him a big pay package, a new role, and by firing someone Mansfield didn't like.
Mansfield's total compensation last year made him the second highest-compensated executive on the S&P 500. He got $85.5 million, almost all of it in stock, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
In addition to the money, Cook may have put Mansfield in charge of the most exciting new project at Apple since the iPhone.
Mansfield is reportedly overseeing development of the iWatch, Apple's next major product.
Mansfield may have been less enthusiastic about developing the iWatch if Cook hadn't fired Scott Forstall last October.
Forstall was the executive who led the iPhone and iPad software group. He was a polarizing figure inside Apple. While he did a lot of incredible work for the company, he was also despised by other executives for being a bit of a jerk.
Mansfield reportedly couldn't stand to be in the same room as Forstall.
Our speculation is that development of the iWatch would have been the kind of job that required close collaboration between Forstall and Mansfield. After all, Mansfield led the development of mobile hardware and Forstall led development of mobile software.
If Mansfield couldn't stand being in the same room as Forstall, there was no way he was going to work closely with Forstall to develop the iWatch.
We're guessing Cook's decision to let Forstall go made Mansfield more enthusiastic about staying to create Apple's next blockbuster product.
So why did Mansfield's bio disappear from Apple's executive page? He probably spent the last year as an executive leading the transition of the hardware engineering group. He's probably done with that, and focusing only on the iWatch.
Plus, Apple is Apple, and it likes mystery and secrets.
If Mansfield is overseeing the iWatch, and iWatch proves to be the next major product for Apple, t he retention of Mansfield may ultimately prove to be the best thing Cook does in his first year as full-time CEO of Apple.
Apple's success comes from creating industry-defining new product categories and owning them for years. It's been almost four years since the iPad. If the company is going to get its mojo back, it needs a breakout product. Perhaps Mansfield's iWatch will be that product.
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