Jobs or no Jobs, Apple's pipeline of products is intact (for now)

Apple’s stock was down today, but not as much as you might expect on the day following an announcement that its chief executive Steve Jobs will be taking a five month medical leave of absence. Why? Maybe it’s because Apple’s investors (and bargain hunters) realized that with or without Steve Jobs, Apple is likely set for at least the next few years.

Why do I say that? Because product development cycles are long. You can be sure that Apple has several things in the pipeline right now that will not see the light of day anytime soon — maybe not even this year, maybe not even next year. Talk of products like the Mac Tablet persists, and that’s rumored to be coming at the end of this year, but that could just as easily slip into next year — and that’s just one product that people know about (or at least think they do). There are likely a handful of other things Apple is working on that no one outside of very vigilant patent watchers have any clue about.

So even if Jobs didn’t return in June as he’s supposed to, even if he never returned, Apple would be fine for the foreseeable future. And investors have to realize that. Perhaps that’s why the stock was only down just over 2 percent today in trading, instead of 20 percent.

But if Jobs really doesn’t return to Apple, as some are saying, it’s the time after those current product pipelines run dry that things could get worrisome for the company. While it’s now being said by some that current fill-in leader (Apple chief operating officer) Tim Cook has really been running much of Apple for quite some time now (and the recent in-depth profile of him by Fortune certainly makes that seem feasible), it’s hard to imagine Cook is the visionary that Jobs is when it comes to product direction. And that’s not a slight on Cook, it’s just hard to imagine that anyone is.

So while Cook may run the business just fine, who’s going to dream up the products? Or rather, who is going to separate out and cultivate the best products that the minds at Apple come up with? Because while you can be sure that Jobs didn’t personally dream up all the current Apple products, you know that the buck stopped with him when it came to deciding what would get made and what wouldn’t.

And if you think that’s an easy job, than you probably don’t understand Apple’s recent success. In my mind, much of it has been about releasing the right, quality products at the right time that inspire people, but also choosing not to release junk just to sell more stuff, like a lot of companies do.

So I hope that whenever Jobs leaves Apple, the company has someone who has the vision to make those types of calls. Jobs has certainly formed an impressive group of executives around him, or else there wouldn’t be a legitimate debate over which of them should succeed him. But decision by committee rarely works when it comes to achieving greatness, I think one of them will have to rise to the challenge. Someone will have to become the Augustus to Jobs’ Caesar. Maybe that is Cook — only time will tell.

I get a range of reactions from people when it comes to them wondering why I like Apple as a company so much. Some are disgusted, some are just confused. At the end of the day, it’s simple. I like Apple because it makes great products. It has nothing to do with the name of the company, nothing to do with Jobs. It’s about the products.

I’m sure Apple is set with some great releases for the foreseeable future. And I sincerely hope that they are for the long run after Jobs’ reign is over.

[photos: flickr/zieak and flickr/acaben]

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