It's one of those situations that's both no big deal and a tremendously big deal. It's no big deal because Jobs has been largely out of the day-to-day operations of Apple since last January when he went on medical leave. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has been running things in Jobs' absence and will now step up to the CEO chair.
Leander Kahney runs the blog Cult of Mac, and he says that in terms of what Jobs' resignation means to future product launches: "in the short term, nothing, because they've got at least two years of products in the pipeline. And he probably already has the iPhone 5 and a prototype of the iPhone 6 built. So short term, no effect. The question is longer term, the products that come after two or three or four or five years time."
In his resignation letter, Jobs wrote "I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it." Kahney says Jobs has tried to make sure of that.
He says, "I think it's the processes that's the most important. The iPhone didn't appear before him like the knife in Macbeth. It was a product he discovered through a process of prototyping, of constant iteration. This is the same method he's used since the very beginning of his career, going all the way back to the Mac, and that process remains in place at Apple."
But now that process continues without the guy who made it. Glenn Fleishman is a frequent guest on our program and author of several books about Apple. He says historically, it's been hard to know where Jobs ends and Apple begins: "It's certainly clear Steve set tone from the top down, from the smallest detail of Apple to do with graphic design presentation, to the uniforms people wear at Apple stores, to the fit and finish of every iPod and iPhone and Mac. So at some level, everything at Apple is Steve Jobs' vision realized as perfectly as he can. At the same time, there are tens of thousands of people working to do their parts in that. So he's a great conductor in a huge symphony of people -- and one could argue there's an interpretation that a conductor brings to a piece of music and you could argue that's what Jobs brought to this: this amazing ability to summon all resources and pull it together more like the director brings to film more so than usually the way products are made at a company."
Fleishman took the news of Jobs' departure perhaps a bit harder than he expected. "I felt a little punched in the gut myself. And he's still alive! A friend said he didn't die, he just resigned. I don't know his health, how long he has left -- could be a long time, but his leaving that role is death for those of us who built lives around products he's directed."
But isn't it just stuff? Products you purchase? Fleishman says it's more than that. "It shapes the way we work in the world and view the world. It shapes what we can do with ourselves. It's the fact that we can do so much with mobile devices, that means that we're unshackled. I'm not trying to be too grandiose, but we're unshackled from the constraints work and play placed around us. Or allowed the freedom to do bigger and different things. These products are made for people to explore lives with and I think because of that we connect and relate as much more than technology. They're a part of our lives in the way a pet or sometimes a family member is. There's something that pulls at you inside. I feel sad for him as a person. This guy, an adopted child who had difficulty learning, no college degree, rose to create the largest company in the world, and now at the peak, steps down. Perfect time to step down, it's part of that epic story arc and there's something mythic and beautiful and sad about it."