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Apple Overcomes Steve Jobs Sick Leave Loss!

Over the past week, Apple’s stock has soared, after taking a small hit when Steve Jobs announced his third leave of absence to deal with his ongoing health issues. At the same time, some stockholders are demanding that Apple’s board of directors disclose the CEO succession plans, so people know who will replace Jobs when it comes time for him to leave the company for whatever reason.

Now it’s clear to me that Wall Street realizes that, at least for the near future, the fact that Jobs isn’t at Apple five days a week isn’t a significant issue. A number of market forces are converging that will keep Apple’s sales and profits at record levels. What’s more, Jobs has assembled a team of extremely talented executives that, collectively at least, can provide the innovation and management expertise to help the company live long and prosper.

The ongoing demands of a public disclosure of the succession plan have drawn a predictable response from Apple: That information would serve the interests of the company’s competitors, so it is being kept secret. Surely this makes a lot of sense. Any outsider being courted by Apple for consideration as a CEO candidate would be inundated with offers from other companies. The same holds true for executives who already work for Apple, such as COO Tim Cook, considered a prime CEO replacement. Don’t forget that Cook has already demonstrated he has the chops to keep Apple growing, what with his previous stints as an acting CEO. Yes, maybe he doesn’t have the vision of a Steve Jobs, but he’s clearly smart enough to get the right advice in order to make the correct decisions.

That said, for the time being at least, Jobs remains CEO and will reportedly be making the key decisions. He obviously doesn’t have to be at the office every day of the week, or at all for that matter. Between telecommuting and dispatching products and personnel to his home, Jobs should be able to perform to his best ability without major impact. Sure, he won’t be able to roam the hallways at the Apple campus, or visit the developer labs to see what’s going on first hand, but I expect he can trust his management team to do the right thing.

Meanwhile, financial analysts are now saying they wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple’s stock price soar to $450 per share and above. Surveys show a surprisingly large number of iPhone users at AT&T feel the grass is greener on the other side of the tracks, and are considering a move to Verizon Wireless. This makes a load of sense, since the biggest complaint is, as you might expect, dropped calls. While my experience with AT&T has been pretty good, the last few days have witnessed far too many lost connections, and I’ve even had a service ticket issued to figure out what’s wrong. They now claim the problem has been resolved, but we’ll see.

Of course, switching to Verizon has its difficulties. First and foremost is the possible exorbitant early termination fee. You can probably overcome that by trading your iPhone, or selling it on, say, eBay. The second problem may be important, depending on the way you use your iPhone. If you depend on the ability to have voice and data work simultaneously on your cellular connection, that feature is unsupported on Verizon’s network, at least for now; it can only function on a Wi-Fi connection.

I say “for now,” because the CDMA protocol will reportedly soon be modified to support simultaneous voice and data, but whether Verizon will add that capability, and, important, whether a simple firmware update to the existing iPhone will allow it to happen, is an open question. The forthcoming LTE network won’t be saddled with such restrictions, but you won’t see support until the next generation of iPhones, or maybe later.

Despite the possible obstacles, Verizon stands to grow big time, and the mass of Android OS phones they’re selling at fire sale prices stand to be heavily impacted as a result. With more and more iPhones being moved by Apple, investors are not going to focus so much on Steve Jobs.

You’re also seeing more and more rumors about the next generation iPad. No less than Sir Elton John, the rock legend, claims he has heard the new model will be out in April, but it’s not as if entertainment figures necessarily have deep insights into the tech world. More to the point, suggesting the iPad 2 will arrive in April seems to be a pretty conservative estimate. That’s a year after the first model arrived, and the rumor mills are filled with stories about front (and possibly rear) cameras, a slimmer, lighter form factor, a sharper screen, and other enhancements. But none of this presents a stretch, and most Apple watchers would be disappointed if the iPad 2 has less.

But all of this makes it quite clear that Apple continues to fire on all cylinders, but more important, nobody knows just how many cylinders that represents. I’ll rate it as twelve cylinders right now.