Steve Jobs Is Sicker Than We Thought. Now What?
Apple chief executive Steve Jobs will be taking a little more time off from work -- he now won't return to the job until July, because his health issues have become "more complex" than thought before.
The news first came via leaks of an e-mail Jobs sent to employees; later this afternoon, the company posted that e-mail to its site:
Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.
In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.
As with Jobs' most recent cryptic disclosure about his health, not even two weeks ago, this one raises more questions than it can answer -- or should have to. For starters, just what is this "hormonal imbalance" Jobs is dealing with? (See WebMD's largely unsuccessful attempt to decipher that detail.) Without knowing that, there's no knowing if Jobs' estimate of a July return is correct or not.
Another unanswered question: What happens if things take another turn or two for the worse? Is there a plan for succession here? Even the best corporate leaders aren't immortal.
I won't try to speculate on those issues. I will, however, venture a couple of guesses about what will happen to Apple without Jobs running the show.
First, the company should be fine even without Jobs to stand on a stage and show off new products. Apple's hardware and software generally sells not because it's well presented, but because it works elegantly and efficiently. And it's not like Jobs is the only person in the business who's good at this. I thought Apple marketing vice president Phil Schiller did a fine job at Macworld Expo earlier this month, and at CES Palm's executive chairman Jon Rubinstein showed he'd learned a trick or two from his old employer, Apple, when unveiling the new Prē smartphone.
Second, Apple may not do as well without Jobs playing his role as editor-in-chief of its products. From the company's early days, he's been a detail-obsessed nitpicker who keeps looking for ways to make a new computer or program a little better. (The only time I met him face to face, at the opening of Apple's Tysons Corner store, he went on for a minute or so about the optimized arrangement of the HVAC system in the store's ceiling.) Apparently, this can making working for him a bit of an ordeal, but it also has resulted in simple, enjoyable products with more "a-ha" moments than the competition. So I hope that Jobs has been teaching his colleagues well.
I'd like to see Apple provide more clarity about Jobs' health -- covering this can feel like a latter-day version of Kremlinology. That would be the smart, responsible thing to do, and I'll close with that point. Also this: Get well soon, Mr. Jobs.
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