Apple: Can the company continue the magic of Steve Jobs?
AS THE "Leonardo of Silicon Valley", Steve Jobs encapsulated a rare union of technological genius and an instinctive and perfectionist eye for design.
But while his death is a major loss to the world at large, it's the company he co-founded that will feel his absence most keenly.
Shares in the technology giant are expected to come under pressure when trading opens in New York tomorrow, as investors take in the news that Jobs, co-founder and inspiration of Apple, has passed away at the age of 56.
Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, stepped back from the day to day running of the technology giant in August, but steadied shareholder confidence with a promise to remain as chairman and keep his hand on the tiller for as long as he could.
He said at the time of resigning: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s chief executive, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
It was well-known that he was suffering from cancer, so instead of causing Apple’s shares to fall, the announcement of Tim Cook as Apple’s new chief executive acted to draw a line under the uncertainty surrounding Apple’s succession plan. But the suddeness of Mr Jobs's death may still come as a surprise to many.
Apple has suffered from Jobs’ absence before now: the company famously teetered on the brink of bankruptcy after he left in 1985 following a power struggle. He was cajoled to return just over a decade later, and presided over an extraordinary period of growth which saw the Apple overtake Exxon Mobil to become the biggest company in the world earlier this year.
However, shareholder confidence also rested on the assumption that Apple had a strong pipeline of new products which would see Apple through the next two years. On Tuesday, Apple’s lacklustre launch of the iPhone 4S – an iteration of the iPhone4 which fell far short of expectations of the iPhone5 that Apple had been widely rumoured to be launching – rattled confidence. Apple’s shares fell 5pc to $356.14 at one point on Tuesday, as Wall Street was left underwhelmed by the launch.
Mr Cook passed muster with a slick presentation, but the iPhone 4S was so similar to the previous model that many analysts and technology experts felt Apple had left itself exposed to competition from new entrants to the competitive smartphone market.
Underpinning that fear however, will be an even deeper worry that Apple cast does not have quite the pipeline and deeply engrained culture of creativity. It has built its reputation over the last decade on a succession of game-changing products, whose glossy, tactile designs have helped to define and often create new markets. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad followed each other relatively closely, each one rapidly overtaking its predecessors to become the mainstay of Apple's revenues.
Built around the inspiration of its co-founder, Apple will be a company in mourning. In a memo to Apple's staff announcing his death, Mr Cook said that “those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
Many will fear that in losing Mr Jobs, Apple has not only lost its iconic founder. It may have lost its Midas touch. Apple's chief executive now faces the challenge of proving that he can build on Jobs's legacy.