So out of the blue, the Wall Street Journal reports that Steve Jobs continues to work closely with Apple on new products, while he recovers from the illness that forced him to take an extended leave of absence. This does little more than confirm what Jobs said months ago when he went on his hiatus. In response, Apple’s stock price continues its generally upward trend, with only a few dips along the way.
Now officially Apple isn’t saying anything new, but you just know that stories that appear in such a prestigious newspaper must (or should) have some degree of substance. WSJ attributes the report to “people familiar with the matter,” without naming their sources.
But the phrase pretty much confirms where it came from, and that’s direct from Apple, but since the information was provided on background, it cannot be attributed to any particular individual. More to the point, it’s clear to me that the WSJ reporters weren’t just lucky. Apple sought them out to get this information published without having to go on record, knowing full well that it would still be accepted as authentic and quoted around the world.
Indeed, that’s what has occurred and, as you might expect, hardly anyone has questioned the report’s reliability. More to the point, it doesn’t seem likely that Apple would officially or unofficially provide any additional illumination. What you read is what you’re going to get, at least for now.
Without evidence to the contrary, I’ll take the story as genuine. Steve Jobs is not, as some feared, at death’s door, and he is indeed recuperating from his illness. More to the point, Apple fully expects him to return to his CEO post as promised by the end of June.
Indeed, it has already been suggested by some that Jobs will make a surprise cameo appearance during the WWDC keynote earlier that month to accept loud cheers and demonstrate to one and all that he is just about ready to resume full command of the company he co-founded. Of course there’s no indication that such a thing’s going to happen, but I rather suspect eyes will be on that keynote anyway in anticipation of a development of this sort.
To show just how much a single executive means in the tech industry, the return of most any other leader of a large company would probably receive a round of collective yawns. One example is Bill Gates. Let’s say that he decides that he just can’t stand spending the rest of his life as a full-time philanthropist and needs to assume a new position at Microsoft. Just how would the media react?
Well, I suppose it would receive a few headlines from Microsoft fanboys proclaiming his second coming as true salvation for a company that has seen reduced market share and has found it necessary to dump 5,000 employees.
Beyond that, I suspect few will care one way or the other, just as little changed when he “retired” last year.
As far as Steve Jobs is concerned, I suppose the downside is that, just when Wall Street was becoming comfortable with the prospect that he’d never return, and the company could live long and prosper without him, it turns out he was always around, if in a reduced capacity.
That would mean, for example, that Jobs would be credited as largely responsible for the great promise of the iPhone 3.0 SDK, the new lineup of Mac desktops, the revised iPod shuffle and so on and so forth. So maybe the company would do fine if he decided he couldn’t return for one reason or another, but we just don’t know.
I understand why Apple fed this story to the WSJ. It was surely a huge confidence builder, and that makes perfect sense. The timing may also indicate that Jobs and his physicians feel he is recovering from his illness more or less on or ahead of schedule and that they don’t expect any setbacks.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the human condition, nothing is ever certain. As much as any reasonable person would hope that Jobs is fully on the mend and on the road to full or near-full recovery, things can happen that just can’t be predicted. So if things went badly, Apple’s stock price might experience an even larger reversal.
In any case, perhaps it doesn’t really matter, and a worst-case scenario is highly unlikely. Apple accomplished its goal and that, my friends, is that.
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