Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dog pile on the rabbit (if by "rabbit" you mean the iPhone 4 antenna)

I woke up this morning to find a link on Drudge to a Bloomberg article entitled "Apple Engineer Told Jobs iPhone Antenna Might Cut Calls..."  As it turns out the engineer in question was Ruben Caballero, a co-worker of mine at Tropian back in the late 90's.  (Trivia: Many of the iPhone team's key engineers are ex-Tropian, for reasons beyond the scope of this post.) 

Later in the day Cult Of Mac offered up some comments on Ruben and the iPhone antenna issue from my former schoolmate and Tropian co-founder Earl (mistakenly named "Ed" in the article) McCune.  Blogs such as Huff Post, Engadget, etc have also picked up on the story.  I also note with great dismay that New York Senator "Chuckles" Schumer has decided to make Apple's business his own.  Doesn't he have better things to do, like spending more of our tax dollars and worrying about getting re-elected?  I digress...

I feel bad for Ruben that his "15 minutes of fame" will likely bring him a great deal of unwanted attention.  Ruben's a great engineer who doesn't deserve to have a double-barreled "Wrath of Jobs" pointed at his nose.  I really hope that Apple doesn't scapegoat him on this.  Ruben's the kind of guy who would spoken up if he saw a problem, and in doing so unfortunately may wind up taking a fall to cover up the idiocy of an over-zealous marketing department which placed too much faith in their industrial designers and too little in the wisdom of their RF engineers. 

I had a similar experience at Verifone in 1998 prior to joining Tropian.  We were in the process of starting to build their Omni 3000-series handheld payment terminals.  The marketing director and the lead industrial designer were having themselves a little bromance, which resulted in the marketing director taking everything the industrial designer said as the Word of God -- including his insistence that the Omni 3000 needed to not have an external antenna.  At the time, mass-production printed antennas were still laboratory experiments and about four years from being commercially viable.  ID insisted that the device could not have any case protrusions, and my insistence that this would be impossible in production fell on deaf ears.  It's worth noting that the Omni 3750 launched in 2004 -- two years after printed antennas became commercially viable and six years after I told them they were smoking bananas. 

I wish Ruben the best and hope he comes out of this unscathed.  As for Apple: I've been saying for years that it was just a matter of time before they transmuted their success into hubris and ultimately failure.  It's sad when marketing idealism runs headlong into the brick-wall of physics.  It's tragic when good people get hurt by the shrapnel of that collision.