That much seems clear to me not only from the tone and wording of Steve’s letter, but from what I’ve heard from numerous industry sources.
This hierarchy is not wildly different than what has already been happening (and what has happened in the past) at Apple. When Jobs took his last leave of absence this past January, Tim Cook stepped into the role of CEO in most ways you can conceive of. And why not? He’s done this on numerous occasions, starting way back in 2004, then again in January of 2009, and finally one last time at the beginning of this year. This is a long, tested, familiar structure, and it has worked amazingly well for Apple. As many have already pointed out, the company’s rise during these past few years has been meteoric, and that’s thanks in no small part to the leadership and steady hand of Tim Cook.
So what Apple looks like today, tomorrow, and maybe even years down the road isn’t going to dramatically change. Steve will still be there, navigating — if not outright piloting — the big ship in Cupertino, still bringing his strange and brilliant mixture of talents to the table, still being the company’s toughest critic and most ardent defender. And Tim will be there as well, keeping that famous cool, making sure deadlines are met and plans are put into action. Apple will be Apple, just as we know it now.
But the question that has been knocking around my brain over the past day, and honestly long before Steve Jobs penned his resignation letter, is this: what does Apple look like once Steve Jobs is really no longer there?
There has been an enormous amount of noise made concerning Jobs’ health and his ability to remain active at Apple in the press. Some of that noise has been addressed by the company and Steve, but most of it remains untouched. I won’t speculate on the details of Jobs’ health issues, but I think it’s reasonable to say that what ails him is clearly quite serious. Questions of health or time are not what interest me here, however, because the inevitability is that there will be a time when Steve Jobs simply isn’t there — and I’m not sure that anyone knows what Apple looks like after that point.
To understand how serious this question is, you have to understand the kind of unbridled genius that is Steve Jobs. You’ll find no shortage of articles today in praise and tribute to what Jobs has done at Apple, and this is one occasion where the well-wishes, the fond remembrances… the genuflection, even, is truly justified.