Why Steve Jobs is Apple's Most Important Product

Apple sent the business world buzzing late last week by announcing that CEO and tech icon Steve Jobs had recently gone under the knife, apparently to treat whatever was causing his drastic weight loss. His gaunt appearance at an investors’ conference last month sent waves of hushed rumors throughout the tech world, with Apple-philes concerned about Jobs’ health. What was behind the weight loss? Another bout with cancer? A "common bug," as an Apple rep so calmingly put it? It turns out, Jobs’ condition stemmed from the internal organ shuffle he underwent in 2004 to treat pancreatic cancer, and he developed an internal infection; hence, the surgery to fix it all up.

But the company was reticent to give away any details about Jobs’ condition, saying that it was "a private matter." Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, the promulgator of Jobs’ "private matter," appears to have done a fairly good job of damage control surrounding the surgery issue. On the day of his announcement, Apple stock (NYSE: AAPL) plummeted 10% overnight, but ended the next day down only $4 to finish at $162.  

Umm, excuse me? A "private matter?" Allow me to respectfully disagree. I can think of about 7.51 billion reasons why this isn’t exactly a private matter.

If Jerry Yang left Yahoo for health reasons, things would be OK without him (or maybe not, but that’s another story). Bill Gates has already left Microsoft, though not for health reasons. But despite the recent mixed press about the software giant, its profit margins are still very strong. If Steve Jobs were to leave Apple to take care of himself, the company would never be the same. That’s because Steve Jobs is Apple’s best and most reliable product.

He’s guided Apple from its days as a rogue PC-making startup in the early 1980s to its current status as the undisputed gadget colossus of mainstream America. Sure, the company has taken some missteps (*cough* AppleTV *cough*), but Jobs pulled Apple up by its bootstraps and kept on trucking. Without Jobs, there’s no single rallying point for Apple, no enduring symbol of its capacity to create game-changing products. Who could replace him, Steve Wozniak? He’s too busy living life on the D-list. There is simply nobody else that can do what Jobs has done.

When people buy an iPod or iPhone, they are buying into the image that Steve Jobs embodies – a stylish, techno-savvy, non-nerdy consumer. Users of Apple products have the occasionally-smug satisfaction of knowing that they are quantifiably cooler than the average Joe with a Dell or a Zune mp3 player. And they’re right.

Not everyone can pull off the black turtleneck tucked into a pair of jeans. But the hardest part of Steve Jobs’ wardrobe to step into are his shoes.

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