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I finally got around to watching the stream of Wednesday’s iPad announcement at about 11:30 local time last night. Of course, I couldn’t wait until the bitter end to go to bed, and falling asleep was a bit challenging even at that late hour. After a […]

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Steve JobsI finally got around to watching the stream of Wednesday’s iPad announcement at about 11:30 local time last night. Of course, I couldn’t wait until the bitter end to go to bed, and falling asleep was a bit challenging even at that late hour. After a short but good night’s rest, I awoke with a thought that had absolutely nothing to do with the iPad, and everything to do with the iPad all at the same time.

I have a strange sense that we were watching what is perhaps the penultimate performance by the master of the keynote. Please understand, this is entirely an intuitive sense that something wasn’t quite business as usual. I have no knowledge of any such information, nor am I making a prediction. I’m just offering my take on what I saw. And I saw several telltale signs that Steve Jobs may be on his way to relinquishing his CEO role at Apple. Here are my thoughts.

  1. Jobs went out of his way to point out that Apple is a $50 billion company.
  2. There were a couple of historical references, including the great black-and-white photo of Jobs and Woz and the first PowerBook.
  3. Though they weren’t necessarily presented in this manner, that sounds a lot like personal legacy to me. Reading between the lines, the unspoken message is “I’ve turned this garage band into one of the most powerful companies in the world today.”
  4. With one quick comment and supporting slide, Jobs made a major strategic shift and repositioned Apple as a mobile products company, which has a much more exciting future than computers.
  5. He also made a clear effort to convince the media in attendance that they could sell this device. The subtle message is that if they can get traction on the iPad while growing or maintaining the other three product lines, they can succeed well into the future without him.
  6. Schiller and Forstall played pretty significant roles in the iPad announcement and Jobs is nowhere to be found in the announcement video. Neither of these unprecedented, but noteworthy nonetheless.

My gut tells me that the earnings and iPad announcements this week was the first real indication that the public reveal of Apple succession is underway. I expect Jobs to become non-executive chairman, maintaining a public profile and involvement as inspirational leader and assurance for investors. Cook will take over as CEO and Oppenheimer remaining CFO. Cook will remain the behind-the-scenes operational genius, with Schiller, Forstall, and to a lesser extent Madsen being the public personae for products. Schiller is the Mac guy (yesterday, his role was relegated to iWork, which is a port of a desktop suite of apps). Forstall is the iP guy (iPhone, iPod, iPad). If the future of the company is truly as a mobile products company, that suggests Forstall will have an increasingly visible role with the company, with Schiller taking a back seat. Indeed, Forstall seems more at ease leading a major presentation, save for his inability to hide the remote while clicking to change slides or averting his eyes to the confidence monitor. The wild card is designer Jonathan Ive, but my guess he is very passionate about the design side of the company and doesn’t want the hassles of the business.

Apple doesn’t need a breakthrough device for some time. If it continues to execute well on its current product lineup–something Cook excels at–they should be in great shape. Right now or soon after the iPad ships might very well be the perfect time for Jobs to announce his successor.

  1. A great innovative thinker.Who pulled Apple towards success with commitment.

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    1. I agree.

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    2. Agreed

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    3. What happened to all the chatter about the I-phone ending exclusive deal with AT&T? I think Apple will live to regret its decisions. Yes, Apple products are hot right now but nothing consumers will move on and to other products as they come available. I will never leave my carrier for the I-phone and I know their are others out there that feel the same. Get the clue Apple your days of popularity are numbered. Job bashed Adobe for being lazy, he needs to look at his own approach of expansion as lazy. After all this time Sprint and Verizon should have the I-phone. Get a clue Jobs.

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  2. Dave Ottalini Friday, January 29, 2010

    I’m not sure Steve can do much more to make this company a success. It may well be time for him to take a step back and really enjoy his life and family. It would be nice to see Apple share some its wealth through an educational foundation (say) that Jobs could work with (yes – like the Gates Foundation) but in any case, he deserves to “retire.” On the other hand, he is a workaholic so it will be interesting to see what he does over the next year or so.

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  3. Stanley Goodsoil Friday, January 29, 2010

    I can’t believe you just wrote this. I had the same thoughts while watching the Stevenote. I didn’t notice really any of the things you mentioned but, something just seemed like Steve was saying, I am getting ready to say goodbye. It’s interesting that someone else picked up on it. Now that you make your case, it seems like it is almost inevitable.

    It also goes along with the reported “this is the most important thing I ‘ve ever worked on” comments from Steve. It seems like he’s brought what he considers the big achievement to market and he’s ready to step away from the helm, at sometime soon.

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    1. Funny. I just commented on that down below. I totally agree with what you’re saying.

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    2. Same here. I had the very same thoughts when I watched. I got the feeling rather than an iPad(its an excuse). Its a milestone of what he has done so far. And it was more of a goodbye note than anything else.

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  4. I think we all know Jobs will be going soon – especially if his ill health kills Apple stock – and a successor is being groomed, but who?

    Only Jony Ive has the charisma, but that’d mean a shift in his role.

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  5. I just wonder who will be his replacement. It is just very hard to imaging an Apple without Jobs.

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  6. Meghann Cheetham Friday, January 29, 2010

    It’s so sad to think that Steve could be leaving his post as CEO; what a decade it has been for him. At least he would be leaving on a high.

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  7. sorry about last post missed the last paragraph.

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  8. It’s going to happen someday. People put way too much faith in Jobs as the embodiment of Apple; that works great for overall guidance and product announcements, but it’s too risky otherwise. As long as Apple can hold onto their philosophy and keep attracting talented workers, I’ll be happy.

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  9. @Thorsten

    Obviously the iPad’s not for you, then. But HTML5’s going to kill Flash in 2010.

    Just like Apple were the first to ditch floppy discs and, to an extent, optical drives – they seek to lead on online tech.

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  10. I don’t see this at all. I thought he looked really healthy. And as long as he is healthy he will do what he loves, which is run Apple. There is nothing else he would want to do. He will stop running Apple when he is dead, end of story. If that is in 1 year or 30, the same truth holds.

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    1. Running Apple is what Jobs *wants* to do. There is no other life that he can’t wait to live. He will only leave Apple if he can no longer run it. Period. Considering he looks healthy, expect him to continue at Apple for many more years.

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