In resigning as CEO of Apple today, Steve Jobs takes on the role as Chairman of the Board. In that regard, tomorrow will likely be no different than yesterday. Not for Apple, not for us. Except it will be totally different. We'll still be able to buy iPhones and iPads, we'll still get [iOS 5](/ios/] and iPhone 5 this October, we'll still be delighted, and things will still be magical. They just won't be the same. Steve Jobs has ended the greatest Second Act in the history of a technology company, arguably of any modern business.
Act One saw Steve Jobs co-founding Apple and helping to mainstream the command line interface and the first successful personal computer with the Apple II. He went on to make the graphical user interface popular with Macintosh. Then Apple showed him the door.
Intermission was when Jobs founded NeXT and bought and nurtured Pixar.
Act Two began when Apple started to fail and fail hard and they bought NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back to the company. He went on to launch the iMac, iTunes and iPod, OS X, Apple Retail, iPhone and iPad.
Taken apart, any one of these accomplishments would be astonishing. Taken together, they're almost unmatchable. They're world changing, or as Jobs himself might put it, universe denting. He became the personification of Apple, the incarnation, every bit as iconic as the logo. They seemed almost inseparable.
But Jobs was and is not a force of nature, he's human. His health required him to take not one, but several leaves of absence. He survived pancreatic cancer. He survived a liver transplant. And like even the greatest of heavyweight champions, battles fought, even won, take their toll.
For all his taste and all his vision, one of Steve Jobs' greatest assets has always been his strategic genius. From the timing of product releases to the timing of his medical leaves, his positioning of Apple executives on stage and within the company has been as meticulously planned as any iPhone or iPad introduction. He's not holding onto power or position for their own sake. He's handing over the company in carefully considered steps. He's leaving on his own terms, even naming his successor -- Tim Cook.
Cook takes over one of the most successful, affluent, and influential companies in the world, and he takes it over at its prime. Apple right now is firing on all cylinders. It's earning record profits after record profits, and a lot of that is due to Cook. He is the best logistics guy in the business, the best COO. But CEO is not COO, and that begs the question -- does Cook continue on as COO with some CEO duties, or does Apple start looking for a new COO? It's often asked if Apple can go on without Steve Jobs as CEO, but equally important is can Apple go on without Tim Cook as COO?
Steve Jobs is the visionary, the man who almost willed into existence the consumer electronics future. Tim Cook is the man who made those visions manifest, who masterminded getting those products onto the shelves with as little waste and as much profit as possible. They've worked together in those roles for over a decade, and with spectacular results.
Will competitors see an opening? Will HP quickly un-cancel the TouchPad? Likely not, at least not for a while still. Changes at Apple do not miraculous make for new competing products. Will partners test for weakness? Will a carrier try to strong-arm some crapware onto the iPhone? Again, likely not, not without getting hit so fast and so hard their towers feel it.
Because Steve Jobs hasn't gone anywhere. He's changed titles and offices, moved from CEO to Chairman of the board, but he's still there to lend his vision to Tim Cook's implementation. He's still there as part of the strongest team in consumer electronics, with Jony Ive, Phil Schiller, and all the rest. He's still there to say no when he has to and to help guide Apple, not towards the second star on the left and straight ahead until morning, but straight to the center of liberal arts and computer sciences that has served them so well yesterday and will keep serving them well tomorrow and beyond. And the reason for that is simple:
For Steve Jobs, as much as this is the end of Act Two, it's also the beginning Act Three.