Steve Jobs' resignation 'end of an era'

But product pipeline stocked for at least two, maybe three years, say analysts

Steve Jobs announced Wednesday that he is resigning as Apple CEO. Steve Jobs' resignation Wednesday as the CEO of Apple will not disrupt the company's product plans in the short-term, but could dull its ability to dazzle consumers down the road, according to one analyst.

"Apple is fine, and will be," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Apple knows what it's doing for the next big thing, maybe the next two next big things. They lose the showmanship of Jobs, but [the company's executives] have their marching orders."

Shortly after Jobs submitted his resignation , the Apple board of directors took his advice and named Tim Cook, formerly the chief operating officer, as the new CEO. Also on Wednesday, Jobs was named chairman of the board.

But to some long-time Apple observers, the departure of Jobs is a potential pitfall for the company.

"Apple will be a changed company without Jobs," said Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "It will be a very different Apple."

Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak, was forced out of the company in 1985, a year after the launch of the original Macintosh, by then-CEO John Scully and the Apple board. Jobs founded NeXT that same year.

He returned to an Apple in early 1997 when the company acquired NeXT, first as an advisor and then interim CEO. Jobs was named permanent CEO in 2000.

Jobs departure, the analysts agreed, will certainly affect how Apple markets itself and ultimately, how customers view the company.

"Longer term, Apple won't pull off the miracles it did during one of the great leadership careers in business," said Gottheil, citing the iPhone, which Jobs personally launched in 2007, and then the iPad in 2010.

Enderle was more blunt.

"Companies that lose an iconic leader, whether IBM when Thomas Watson Jr. stepped down, or Disney when Walt Disney was gone, or even Microsoft without Bill Gates, firms that went through that transition largely lost the magic," said Enderle.

He also compared Jobs to P.T. Barnum, and traced a line from Barnum to Disney to Jobs, saying each was "magical" in his own way. "Apple with Jobs was magical," Enderle said. "And [without those leaders] you can't do the magic. And Tim Cook isn't magical."

Jobs was best as Apple's creative spark, said Gottheil; Enderle saw it differently.

"It's how he marketed, how he announced products and how he put them in the public eye," said Enderle. "The iPhone wasn't the first smartphone. It was a success because of the way it was packaged and delivered."

While Enderle believes that Apple could show dramatic changes within 24 months -- conceivably before the already-stocked product pipeline is exhausted -- Gottheil was more optimistic about its chances without Jobs.

"Three years out, Apple is less likely to dazzle, to explode," said Gottheil. "There will be more duds. But the product lines begun during the Jobs years will be executed very well."

The analysts disputed whether collectively, the executive team at Apple equaled Jobs, or could stand in his stead. Gottheil thought they could, and with the exception of Jobs' performance on stage during product launches, would.

"The real question is whether the people at Apple can execute the strategies he's set, and use the lessons he's taught," said Gottheil, who believes they are up to the task.

"Of course, after this when a product launches with flaws, people will say, 'If Jobs were there, that wouldn't have happened.' Well, Jobs was there when Apple launched products with flaws," said Gottheil.

Enderle wasn't as sure.

"Operationally, Tim Cook is great," Enderle said. "But like [Steve] Ballmer [the CEO of Microsoft], who is incredible operationally, he's not the visionary.

Jobs' resignation may have been a surprise, but it wasn't totally unexpected.

A survivor of pancreatic cancer, Jobs took a leave of several months' duration in 2009 during which he had a liver transplant. In January 2011 , he again stepped away for medical reasons.

In a letter he released today through Apple's public relations department, Jobs did not give an explicit reason for resigning, but intimated it was health related.

"If there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know," Jobs said in the letter. "Unfortunately, that day has come."

Jobs has made few public appearances since January, among them the product launch of the iPad 2 in March and the keynote of Apple's annual developers conference in June. Also in June, he spoke before the Cupertino, Calif. city council to promote a new campus the company wants to build.

Gottheil and Enderle agreed that his resignation was related to his health.

"If he had the operational strength to run the company, he wouldn't have stepped down," said Enderle.

Both analysts bemoaned his departure.

"He was the CEO of the decade for an entire decade," said Enderle. "He was the iconic CEO that started off the century."

"It's the end of an era," said Gottheil.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

See more articles by Gregg Keizer .

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