Jobs to Take Leave of Absence from Apple

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Jobs, of course, changed all that. When he forced out Amelio and returned to the helm at Apple, he killed the clone experiment and put Apple back on the path of building iconic computers, with the candy-colored iMacs leading the charge. Today, the Mac has regained its lost market share and is now a serious option in many businesses.

But Jobs did more than return to Apple's iconoclastic roots. He was the first major technology executive to see the link between digital media and the Internet. Apple was always considered cool, but iTunes and the iPod became the essential accessory for the young and the hip. And now the iPhone has remade the very idea of a mobile device. None of that will change when he leaves.

The iPhone is not only amazingly popular, it is spawning a growing ecosystem of developers writing great mobile applications. Ultimately, people buy technology products to get something done, whether it is work or entertainment, and that's why the developers are so crucial.

Meanwhile, the rise of open source software as a service and cloud computing are changing the way technology is used and the way it is sold. A Web-centric world can not be dominated by Microsoft, or any other single company. That won't change when Jobs leaves.

Needed: a succession plan and a return to Macworld Expo
Still, there are two areas that worry me. The first is the lack of a clear-cut succession plan. That needs to be fixed ASAP. Even if Jobs' explanation for his health issues quiets them for now, investors remain worried. Moreover, having clear succession plans is what well-run companies do. So why doesn't Apple have one?

Apple has a strong bench of executives, including Jonathan Ive, an Apple senior vice president who oversees the company's industrial design team, and Scott Forstall, leader of the team responsible for the iPhone's operating system and other software -- all the more reason to remove the doubt.

It also follows that Jobs and Apple need to be more forthcoming about his health issues as they develop. Sure, that's an invasion of his privacy, but as CEO of a public company whose stock price is tied to his presence, that right takes a backseat to the interests of his investors and employees.

Then there's Apple's decision to pull out of the annual Macworld Expo conference and trade show. The 2009 expo, running this week in San Francisco, marks Apple's last participation as an exhibitor.

I think that's a mistake. Although mega trade shows are much less useful than they were 10 years ago (does anyone miss Comdex?), Apple's ecosystem of smaller developers needs a major venue.

The show could go on without Apple (and its organizers say it will) but Macworld Expo without Apple is like a circus without the trapeze artists; it won't fly for long. Without it, developers will have a much tougher time getting the kind of exposure needed to build volume for their products. Sure, there are other venues, but none has the heft and cachet of Macworld Expo.

Ultimately, that hurts Apple.

In any case, the technology game has change immensely in the last 10 years. With or without Steve Jobs, Apple will continue to be the most innovative computer company around.

(Two disclosures: A division of InfoWorld's parent company IDG runs Macworld Expo, and I own a small number of shares in Apple.)

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

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