Apple has quietly made a significant executive shift. There was no announcement. No conference call. But there has been confirmation.

Bob Mansfield, Senior Vice President of Technologies at Apple, who has led the hardware development at the company for many years, has stepped down. The technology media picked up on the move when Mansfield's bio went missing from the Apple executive page.

Joining Apple in 1999, Mansfield was responsible for leading all of Apple's wireless and semiconductor teams across the company. This tech engineering guru oversaw the team that has delivered breakthrough Mac products to the masses, including the MacBook Air and the all-in-one iMac line.

Who Will Replace Mansfield?

"Bob will no longer be on Apple's executive team, but he will continue to work on special projects," Katie Cotton, an Apple spokeswoman, told Bloomberg. What those special projects are remain to be seen.

This isn't the first time the Apple exec has played musical chairs at the company, so to speak. Mansfield announced plans to retire in June 2012. At that time, Apple CEO Tim Cook called him "an instrumental part of our executive team" and said he was "sad to have him leave."

Within months, though, Mansfield was back on board with a bigger role in the company -- and more money. Bloomberg reported that he earned $85.5 million in 2012, making him one of the best-paid execs at the company. Apple was not immediately available for comment and has not indicated whether Mansfield's position would be filled by another executive.

The Reported Apple 'Brain Drain'

There's been plenty of talk about a supposed Apple brain drain since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away. But talk resurfaced in late June when Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry wrote a report claiming Apple is facing a Silicon Valley brain drain to Google and other tech firms.

We turned to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, to get his take on the sudden departure of one of Apple's best and brightest execs. But apparently there's good news to share: Bajarin told us Mansfield's skills are exceptional and he had put into place a solid team that could lead the hardware division without him.

"In that sense, Apple will not skip a beat with existing hardware programs. Apple has been criticized for not have any new breakthrough products lately and it appears that appointing Mansfield to lead special projects signals that something new is on the horizon," he said.

"No matter what 'special product' is actually being created, someone of Mansfield's caliber means that whatever it is, it is a high priority and needed Bob's meticulous attention to detail to make any special project happen," Bajarin added.