After asking around, word on the Cupertino street is that there’s nothing to read between the lines regarding Bob Mansfield no longer being on Apple’s executive team. Apple’s statement means exactly what it says — Mansfield is well-liked at all levels within the company and truly is working on special projects (read: new products). No euphemism there. Compare and contrast with last year’s ouster of Scott Forstall, where Apple said:
Apple also announced that Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook in the interim.
“Advisor” was a euphemism. “Working on special projects” means just that.
There’s nothing punitive with Mansfield’s role change, nor health problems or anything like that. Just a more focused role on certain new products. His un-retirement as a senior vice president last year was always intended to be transitional, not permanent.
Outside the company, we were surprised that Mansfield’s return as an SVP turned out to be temporary. Inside Apple, they seem surprised that we’d read juicy backstage intrigue into his simply being removed from their executive list.
Update: After talking to a few more people, the impression I’m left with is that Mansfield has been so successful and remains so popular, he can write his own ticket. And this is the ticket he’s written.