Apple executive Bob Mansfield’s unexplained departure from Apple’s leadership team is due to the long-time engineer’s desire to focus on chipset design plus future products and less on executive duties, according to sources with knowledge of the change.

As part of Mansfield’s leave from the executive team and role change to “special projects” under Apple CEO Tim Cook, Mansfield’s former duties as Senior Vice President of Technologies have been split between two Senior VPs: Hardware chief Dan Riccio and Operations head Jeff Williams, according to these sources.

Dan Riccio will now oversee antenna design for Apple’s mobile devices in addition to hardware engineering for the WiFi components in all of Apple’s products. Interestingly, Tim Cook primarily brought Mansfield out of his mid-2012 retirement to assist in the transitioning of Apple’s antenna and wireless teams over to Dan Riccio.

As Senior Vice President of Technologies, Mansfield was also in charge of Apple’s special projects engineering teams. In his new role, sources say, Mansfield will continue to contribute to special projects (such as the iWatch), and Jeff Williams will assist in overseeing management for these groups.

With Riccio in charge of antenna design, overall hardware engineering for all iPhone and iPad products will likely be increasingly seamless. This is because all components of the products will be engineered under one roof instead of between both the Technologies and Hardware teams. Perhaps Williams’ contribution to special projects is key for the future manufacturing of these products. Williams is the executive in charge of ensuring Apple’s suppliers and factory partners are building Apple’s products up to standard.

Mansfield, in his new role, will actually be fulfilling mostly what Cook said he would as Technologies SVP:

Bob Mansfield will lead a new group, Technologies, which combines all of our wireless teams across the company in one organization, allowing us to innovate in this area at an even higher level. This organization will also include all of our semiconductor teams, who have some very ambitious plans.

With the new role, Mansfield will focus on chips while being able to distribute executive and management duties to Riccio and Williams. As a wealthy, long-time executive who made an attempt at retirement last year, the reduced role with increased focus on actual interests makes sense. It is also a fitting compromise (instead of leaving the firm altogether) for a company that has been paying millions of dollars per month to retain Mansfield. The role is also logical as Apple has “very ambitious plans” under Mansfield to turn away from Intel chips in Macs.

With Mansfield’s connection to chips and the distribution of other teams to other executives, it seems likely that Apple has no imminent plans to instate a new Senior Vice President of Technologies. Indeed the role itself was created specifically for Mansfield last fall.

According to a source familiar with the former Technologies team, there has been a lack of formal internal communication regarding the reasoning behind the management shift. However, the company did make the new executive roles clear to these employees. Even with the lack of communication, sources say that the change is not unprecedented. Over the last couple of months, Mansfield is said to have been increasingly focused on chips (and some aspects of wireless) while delegating his other teams to other executives.

Sources with knowledge of Mansfield’s line of thinking also say that the executive would very much like to retire on his new California coast “castle.” Though, even with that in mind, these people believe that Mansfield will never fully separate himself from Apple. The executive is dedicated to the company and would like to contribute to Apple in some fashion even in retirement, these people say. Perhaps a former Apple manager sums up Mansfield’s thinking best: “[Mansfield] really has the entire company’s best interests at heart.”

Top graphic created by Michael Steeber

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