updated 8/9/2010 1:22:44 PM ET 2010-08-09T17:22:44

An Apple executive whose responsibilities include iPhone hardware is leaving the company in the wake of antenna problems with the newest version of the smart phone.

Apple Inc. was forced to offer a free fix after consumers complained and numerous media outlets reported a problem with dropped calls.

Mark Papermaster, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone and iPod hardware engineering, is leaving the company, according to Apple spokesman Steve Dowling. Dowling wouldn't comment beyond a brief statement or say whether Papermaster was fired or is leaving voluntarily.

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Papermaster's departure comes weeks after Apple announced it will give free protective cases to buyers of its latest iPhone model to alleviate the so-called "death grip" problem: holding the phone with a bare hand in a certain way can muffle the wireless signal.

The antenna problems were a rare glitch in Apple's rollout for a new product. Consumer Reports refused to recommend the iPhone 4 and called on Apple to compensate buyers. Die-hard fans of the Apple's products have dubbed the stumble "antennagate."

Bob Mansfield, Apple's senior vice president of Macintosh hardware engineering, will assume Papermaster's responsibilities, Dowling said. Mansfield oversees groups that are involved with components for the iPhone and iPod Touch, including the A4 chip, Retina display and touch screens.

Papermaster, who came to Apple in 2008 from IBM, could not be reached for comment at a phone number listed under his name.

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Video: Free iPhone 4 cases: Fix or fiasco?

  1. Transcript of: Free iPhone 4 cases: Fix or fiasco?

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, if you were expecting Apple to admit that they had in any way produced a lemon, that didn't happen today. When the patriarch, Steve Jobs , took the stage at a press event to answer the hubbub over the iPhone 4, the fact that if you hold it a certain way it drops telephone calls, some were expecting a kind of recall. What they got instead was a fix. NBC 's George Lewis was there.

    Mr. STEVE JOBS: ...about what the problems really are.

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: At times Steve Jobs was combative about all the negative publicly surrounding the iPhone 4.

    Mr. JOBS: This has been blown so out of proportion.

    LEWIS: It's been called " Antenna -gate." If you grip the phone a certain way, touching the steel bands on the outside that act as the antenna, the signal fades.

    Mr. MIKE GIKAS (Consumer Reports): That means you can lose a call if you're in a weak signal area, and that's not -- that's not acceptable.

    LEWIS: Consumer Reports said, because of that problem, it could not recommend the iPhone 4 to readers. Today Jobs insisted competing smart phones have the same problem, that many lose signal if gripped the wrong way.

    Mr. JOBS: This is life in the smart phone world. Phones aren't perfect.

    LEWIS: The fix, according to Jobs , rubber bumpers that fit on the outside of the phones that will prevent users from touching the antenna strips. And he said users who are still dissatisfied with their phones can return them for full refunds. But even after that, Consumer Reports said it still could not recommend the iPhone 4.

    Mr. GIKAS: The solution isn't permanent, so we're not going to change the status of the phone.

    LEWIS: One report in Bloomberg News said that Apple 's engineers warned about potential antenna problems before the iPhone 4 was released, but that Jobs ignored the warnings.

    Mr. JOBS: We're concerned about it.

    LEWIS: He was particularly incensed by that.

    Mr. JOBS: It's a total crock. We've challenged them to produce anything beyond rumors to substantiate that.

    LEWIS: Bloomberg says it stands by the story. The iPhone 4 has been a huge hit, more than three million sold since the introduction three weeks ago.

    Unidentified Woman: I think they're a great phone.

    Unidentified Man: I don't think it's worth a buy right now.

    LEWIS: The ultimate verdict on the iPhone will be in their hands. George Lewis , NBC News, Cupertino, California.

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