But is Steve Jobs Really Returning to Apple?

January 15th, 2009

When you look at everything in retrospect, you can see a possible  gradual revelation in the news that Steve Jobs has more serious health problems than he previously admitted. Let’s examine the how it all came to be.

Last year, when it was clear he’d lost a lot of weight, Apple said he had suffered from a “bug,” implying some sort of flu or similar infection, although such ailments don’t generally cause such serious symptoms. As the talk about his health delivered more and more dire hints, Jobs called a reporter at The New York Times, and after chewing him out in no uncertain terms, talked of a more serious illness on background.

You wonder why he couldn’t just let himself be quoted, but Steve marches to the beat of the different drummer.

In a later appearance, he mentioned his blood pressure reading, which was essentially normal.

The news at the end of the year came thick and fast. In the same terse release, Apple announced it was going to stop attending the Macworld Expo after the 2009 conference, and besides, Steve Jobs wouldn’t be delivering the final keynote. That task fell to Senior VP Philip Schiller.

I suppose the former was sufficiently unexpected as to, for a short time, quell concerns over whether there was some other reason for Jobs not to show up. It’s also true that he hasn’t been seen in public since the media briefing where new Apple note-books were released, and even then his continued gaunt appearance clearly demonstrated that his condition hadn’t improved.

Within the spate of a few days, Jobs first said that his condition has been traced to a “hormonal imbalance,” and that he anticipated a full recovery by spring. The bombshell arrived this week, when Jobs said his treatment would be more complicated than previously expected and take longer, so he would take a leave of absence until June.

If this was any other CEO on the planet, I suppose most of you wouldn’t care. While I don’t harbor any negative thoughts about Michael Dell, if he took a six-month break from his post as CEO of Dell, how many would notice? In fact, would the employees of Dell even notice? And I don’t mean that as an insult. It does appear that he is doing reasonably well in restoring the company’s growth and profitability.

Steve Jobs, and I’m certain he doesn’t like it, has become a rock star. His ongoing illness merited a front page story in the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers. The cable TV news channels had plenty of coverage as well, complete with the usual celebrity physicians who had no compunctions about delivering on-the-spot diagnoses of Steve Jobs alleged medical condition. Sure, they will often phrase their instant evaluations with appropriate qualifications, but is that sufficient?

While I understand that celebrities, politicians and, of course, prominent members of the business community, are all subject to similar treatment at the hands of the media, a little dose of reality is in store. If Jobs’ own doctors had trouble figuring out what was wrong with him, just how are those instant experts on TV going to fare any better?

Regardless, the expected dumping of Apple’s stock hasn’t happened yet. Some speculate that the gradual reduction in the price over the past few months has already been, in part, due to concerns about Jobs’ illness. So it may not go much lower, and Apple’s investors will no doubt be pleased.

On the long haul, just what does this mean as far as Apple’s future possibilities are concerned? Indeed, how much time has Jobs actually spent performing his CEO chores in recent months, particularly in light of his condition? Could it be that the present state of affairs merely recognizes a reality that has existed for a while?

That means that COO Tim Cook has been piloting the ship for months, while Jobs may only have been present to make critical business decisions about new products, marketing plans and other matters. Indeed, there’s nothing to prevent him from telecommuting, working out all the details with iChat video conferences. Or perhaps some key Apple executives make regular pilgrimages to Jobs’ home to allow him to do the appropriate hands-on testing of certain products.

In the long run, the real question is, I suppose, whether Steve Jobs really intends to return to Apple even if he is, in fact, mostly cured of his illness by summer. Between now and then, Apple will no doubt introduce a number of new products that will be sufficiently compelling for you not to concern yourself over the fact that Jobs won’t be headlining any media presentations.

When the WWDC is held, Jobs may return. Then again, maybe he won’t. He will be missed, but if he has done his job, he will have embedded his business DNA into the very fabric of Apple, so they will be able to live long and prosper and expand the vision with more insanely great products.

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4 Responses to “But is Steve Jobs Really Returning to Apple?”

  1. LawD says:

    you’re such assholes!

  2. Steve will return … and he’s bringing an iTablet with him. 🙂

  3. Chris Jones says:

    Gene, I think your newsletter is great. I myself am what some people call an Apple “fanboy”, though I think of myself as a clear-thinking adult who deeply appreciates their products.

    With due respect, I disagree with you as to the question being whether or not Jobs “intends” to return if and when he’s mostly cured. I take it as a given that he will return, health-permitting; it’s part of his DNA, as it were, and he’ll have no choice but to return if he has the strength.

    I think the real question is, will he survive? I happen to think he was telling the truth as he understood it when he blamed the weight loss on a bug, and then on a hormone imbalance, and now on something “more complex”. I believe he has a life-threatening condition that he and his team may or may not be able to treat. I don’t think there’s much that people like us can do, beyond wish him well and do what we can to get the Techno Paparazzi to back off and give the man some space!

  4. adam says:

    LawD wrote:

    you’re such assholes!

    Pot calling the kettle black, methinks?

    Like it or not, Steve Jobs has had a huge influence on the world of personal technology, and a large impact on computing as a whole. Apple is (in a matter of speaking, his first child and he really does love his work. Steve is passionate about technology and has a true desire to make an impact on the world. I personally think he will be back. Having said that, he has put together an executive team that shares his vision and his leadership skills. Apple will go on just fine either way. What they will lose is the rock star, and a lot of the free publicity. The “SJ Reality Distortion Field” factor is real and it stems from both a great stage presence and a real passion for his products that shows through when Steve presents them. for Apple to “replace” Steve he needs to mentor someone to create their own RDF. So marketing will take more effort, but otherwise I believe that Apple will remain Apple regardless.

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