Apple Inc. announced Monday that Steve Jobs, who co-founded the company in 1976, would take an indefinite medical leave. The leave could be related to his previous bout with pancreatic cancer or his 2009 liver transplant. The question is whether Apple can remain a step ahead and develop products that reshape technology, media and pop culture if Jobs isn’t around to divine the next big thing. Without Jobs, Apple is a lot more like other companies. Its extra-ordinariness fades. But Jobs’ prescience is a rarity, which is why doubt and anxiety will probably hang over the company until his fate is clearer.
The iPod-iPhone-iPad revolution that Jobs unleashed over the past decade should ensure that Apple’s revenue and earnings keep growing for at least the next two to three years. What’s more, Jobs has assembled and trained a savvy, hard-driving management team that should be capable of following his road map for the company. People still hope Jobs will return to the CEO job that he has held since 1997. Since then, Jobs has orchestrated a turnaround that increased Apple’s market value by 100 times.
Apple barely missed a beat the last time Jobs was gone, and its stock climbed more than 60 percent as sales of the iPhone and Mac computers surged, even as the recession dragged on. That’s a testament to Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, who will be in charge while Jobs is away once again. Cook, who has been with Apple since 1998, and Ive, who has been with there since 1992, will probably carry the biggest load while Jobs is gone.
Apple’s management team has been working together for so long that all the key executives should have a sense of what Jobs would want. And they may still be in touch with Jobs on key decisions because Jobs said he intends to remain involved in the company’s strategy. Kay thinks Jobs may have planned even more in the past year than he usually does because of his shaky health.
When Jobs left last time, Apple’s market value stood at about $78 billion. It is now $312 billion, behind only Exxon Mobil among US companies. Apple also is facing fiercer competition from Google, which has already threatened the iPhone with a rival software system for smart phones and is now setting its sights on the iPad in the market for tablet computers.
Jobs’ greatest gift hasn’t been for invention as much his uncanny ability to anticipate what people want and then demand the technology be designed in a simple way that appeals to a mass market. Jobs has also shown an exquisite sense for when the time is right for a product. For instance, the concept for what turned into the iPad was brought to Jobs several years before Apple had even introduced its own phone. Jobs liked the idea of a computer tablet but decided instead that its touch-screen technology would be better suited for a smaller screen at that time. That decision hatched the iPhone in 2007, a hot-selling device that paved the way for Apple’s latest must-have gadget, the iPad.
Other companies developed the technology that created the computer mouse and digital music players, but neither of those innovations caught on until Jobs embraced the ideas and turned them into game-changing products.
Steve did not invent MP3 players — he reinvented them. He didn’t invent the smart phone — he reinvented it. He didn’t invent the tablet — he reinvented it.