Apple will begin transitioning the leadership role within its hardware engineering department, now that Bob Mansfield, who led the engineering of many of Apple's most famous products since 2005, including the Mac, iPhone and iPod, has announced his retirement. Apple was quick to name Dan Riccio as Mansfield's successor, mentioning that Riccio will learn the new role over several months. During that time, the hardware engineering team will continue to report to Mansfield.

Dan has been one of Bob's key lieutenants for a very long time and is very well respected within Apple and by the industry, said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a press release. Our hardware engineering team is the best engineering team on earth and will not miss a beat during the transition. 

Dan Riccio is currently the vice president of hardware engineering for the iPad, and has played a key role in building many of the iPad products since Apple debuted its first tablet in March 2010, including the Smart Cover. Riccio was instrumental in building the hardware for the new iPad, keeping the form factor thin and light while packing in more powerful features like LTE, high-quality photo and video recording, and of course, assisting Mansfield in Apple's breakthrough Retina Display on that 9.7-inch screen. The new iPad's Retina Display features a 2048×1536 resolution in its 9.7-inch screen, which is about 3.1 million pixels, or roughly 1 million more pixels and than an HDTV.

Riccio joined Apple in 1998 as the company's VP of product design, but Apple said he had been a key contributor to most of Apple's hardware over his career. According to his LinkedIn profile, Riccio was the manager of mechanical engineering at Compaq for a year before joining Apple, but besides that, Riccio's other work history isn't widely known. Riccio earned his Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from UMass Amherst in 1986.

Replacing Mansfield

Bob has been an instrumental part of our executive team, leading the hardware engineering organization and overseeing the team that has delivered dozens of breakthrough products over the years, said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. We are very sad to have him leave and hope he enjoys every day of his retirement.

Mansfield has overseen the engineering of many of Apple's most popular since 2005, including every single iPhone, the tiny iPod Nano, and the MacBook Pro laptop (including the new one with Retina Display). And speaking of Retina Display, that particular innovation was by far one of the greatest breakthroughs in display manufacturing that occurred during Mansfield's time at Apple. He may not be responsible for the patent itself, but Mansfield's engineering team deserves credit for packing the Retina Display into larger devices like the iPad and new MacBook Pro.

To break down the Retina Display technology, a pixel is made of red, blue and green subpixels, and a separate signal tells each subpixel when and how much to light up. This is what creates colors on a screen. Apple wanted to shove four times as many pixels into the same space, but learned that by doing this, the signals can easily get crossed, which results in fuzzy and distorted images. Apple needed to solve that particular problem, and eventually discovered that by elevating the pixels onto a plane separate from the signals, the signals don't get crossed, and the images look crystal-clear. As a result, Apple has been able to port the brilliant visual experience on the iPhone to other, larger devices, like the iPhone and iPad. Retina Display is now analogous with Apple, and it is widely considered one of the company's best features.

But while Mansfield will be retiring, it's unlikely he will be out of the picture at Apple. Mansfield has been with the company since 1999, when Apple acquired the company he worked for (Racer Graphics). He has likely chosen to retire because Apple's share price has risen; earlier in February, Mansfield decided to sell 30,000 Apple shares worth $13.6 million. He will take a nice vacation, but he will likely be back at Apple offering his assistance when needed.

Riccio, on the other hand, will continue to engineer devices for Apple that are thinner, lighter, and more powerful. Given that the iPad was one of the devices closest to Steve Jobs' heart, it makes sense that Riccio should attempt to apply the technical feats of the iPad to Apple's other products. If Apple is looking to the future, bringing in a guy who knows mobile, who knows Mansfield's work, and who also knows how to accomplish incredible leaps in engineering, makes sound sense.