For signs of Apple’s future, look beyond any one person

Apple (s aapl) and its fans will no doubt feel the loss of Steve Jobs as CEO, but while the man may have been the primary architect and a key building block of the company that has sparked multiple computing industry revolutions, he isn’t the lynchpin. Even with Jobs out of the equation (which he isn’t, yet, since he’ll be staying on as chairman of the Apple board), the future for Apple looks bright.

The device that became an industry

The iPhone (and now the iPad) are unique among similar devices in that only they have spawned sprawling industries dedicated solely to their support and supplementation. Sure, people make accessories and software for other smartphones and tablets, but they don’t make them in such volume specifically for what essentially amounts to a single new annual device from a single manufacturer each year.

According to one count, the iPhone has 71,890 active developers, and the iPad has 51,677. That’s an industry of more than 120,000 content producers targeting a platform that sustains itself on just one new product a year from one company, and I’m not even including the various accessory makers that also cater to Apple devices. Payout from Apple to developers to date is $2.5 billion, which is higher than the GDP of some small developing countries.

Talent flocks to and begets greatness

When Jobs took a medical leave in January of this year, still retaining the title of CEO, I wrote about how the company has a deep executive bench with people who are all individual industry leaders in their own right. Erica wrote yesterday about Tim Cook, a figure who has guided Apple through Jobs’ absence in the past, even amid some of the scariest economic turmoil we’ve faced, and still managed to lead the company to multiple record quarters. Michael Grothaus at TUAW has an excellent first-hand account of Tim Cook that says more for his ability to take over as CEO than I ever could.

But even leaving the executives aside, Apple has managed to build a team that includes some of the best and brightest engineers, product managers and marketers the world has ever seen. In a Wired story from 2008 about the invention of the iPhone, we get a glimpse behind the scenes at the dedication of individuals committed to creating a quality product that lives up to the company’s reputation. Apple is the most valuable brand on earth, and the company’s employees respect that as much as Jobs does, and are no less excellent at what they do for his departure.

Products designed for a lifetime

Apple’s products aren’t casually created based on whatever technology happens to be available at the time. You can tell that because the company doesn’t overreach and pack in features like 4G radios and NFC chips just because they happen to exist, the way many Android(s goog) handsets do. Apple products represent a measured balance of tech and simplicity that caters to how the largest number of buyers are or will actually be using their devices on a daily basis.

Part of achieving that balance is knowing what you’ll need to include next. That’s part of the frustration of being an Apple device buyer, since sometimes we can see what should come next, too — like a camera for the iPod touch — and are disappointed when it doesn’t arrive as early as we expected it to. But Apple is smart about including these things when it needs to, rather than when tech enthusiasts think it should. It’s not a mistake when they arrive, and you can bet Apple engineers are aware of what tech is and will be available before you are; Apple devices are in this way designed with a roadmap for the duration of the life of the product.

Deviations from that roadmap are possible if market conditions or changing expectations call for it, but the existence of such a roadmap means that products coming out of Cupertino won’t disappoint in the near-to-mid future. For more detail about Apple’s process, a May 2007 article by the MIT Technology review illuminates the amazing depth in Apple’s hardware design guidelines, another thing which won’t disappear with Jobs out of the top seat.

Creating a culture, not a company

Steve Jobs won’t yet be leaving the company entirely, and even when he does, his influence won’t. Jobs hasn’t merely built a company during the past decades; he has infused the people he works closely with and those who work under them with a cultural ethos that strives for excellence. If Jobs was the only one at Apple who required perfection and consistent, high-level performance, you’d have a very frustrated guy in a black turtleneck and we’d all still be using Motorola RAZRs(s mmi).

Apple’s stock prices will shudder at the news of Jobs departure, and countless tech pundits will wring their hands and cry doom, but in the end Apple shares will rally, we’ll get a new iPhone this fall that propels Apple to more record quarters, and we’ll get back to doing what we do best: watching in wonder as Apple continues to change the world.