Apple's Bob Mansfield latest "special projects" mystery shake-up

Apple has quietly reshuffled its executive team once again, with senior vice president of technologies Bob Mansfield discretely being removed from the executive profiles page, with Apple cryptically saying only that he would be instead working on "special projects". Speculation began once the missing profile was first spotted that Mansfield had been sidelined after struggling to cut Apple's dependence on Samsung, but instead it appears that the exec is being repositioned to work on another mysterious project as the firm looks to follow up the best-selling iPhone and iPad.

"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 spokesperson Steve Dowling confirmed to AllThingsD. The sudden shift had led to comparisons with Scott Forstall's exit from Apple, announced last October, where the software chief was supposedly cut out over arguments around which direction to take iOS.

Not so in the case of Mansfield, however, at least according to those familiar with Apple's internal politics. Sources speaking to Daring Fireball's John Gruber insist that "working on special projects" is exactly what Mansfield will be doing, and that there's "nothing punitive" about the shift in role.

"Mansfield is well-liked at all levels within the company" Gruber writes, "and truly is working on special projects (read: new products). No euphemism there."

Exactly what those special projects might be is unknown, which is of course just how Apple likes it. The former hardware chief isn't the first to be so employed in recent weeks, however; earlier in March, Apple installed former Yves St Laurent Group CEO Paul Deneve as vice president of "special projects".

At the time, it was widely suggested that Deneve's role would be – at least in part – in making the much-rumored iWatch sufficiently appealing to timepiece enthusiasts rather than just geeks, something so far smartwatches like Pebble have struggled to achieve.

That Apple is wheeling in the big guns to take on backroom development of new products should come as little surprise. The company currently has a relatively comprehensive range – desktop, notebook, tablet, phone, media player – with few obvious gaps to it, and yet faces a voracious audience of investors, enthusiasts, and commentators demanding The Next Big Thing. Figuring out exactly what that might be will take some work, without falling into the trap of making it too niche for the sort of broad market appeal Apple prefers.