The only thing surprising about Steve Jobs's resignation — which Apple had telegraphed several times already — was the timing. Why now? Because of health concerns, maybe. Or maybe because now, right now, is the perfect time for the company to transition.
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When I say now, I'm not talking about the dusky timing of the press release; the cardinal rule of bad news is that you bury it as late as you can. I mean now in the broader context of Apple's future. And if the company's going to not just survive but thrive without Jobs, he couldn't have left any sooner. And he definitely couldn't have waited.
Apple has literally never been stronger. A month ago they reported record quarterly earnings in a period with no significant product releases, no back to school or holiday boost, all amid what turned out to be a grotesquely challenging three months for competitors like Dell and HP. They were, for a brief period, the most valuable company in the world. Incredible.
And a month from now? They'll be releasing their next iPhone on America's three major carriers. And very possibly something altogether new: an affordable iPhone, a handset for the masses. If that device does emerge, Apple will have transitioned from yuppie luxury to unprecedented populist value.
So that's where Apple sits now, cratered between two mountainous achievements. If they'd waited any longer, the iPhone 5 announcement would've been fully shrouded in memories of Jobs; with a month's distance, new CEO Tim Cook has a chance to stand on his own. He can bask in the reflected glory of the iPhone instead of languishing in Jobs's shadow. The company will feel like it's in good hands. Because it is.
What's easy to forget is that companies have long, long product cycles. The iPhone 5's been done for months; ditto, likely iPad 3. And iPhone 6 plans are well underway. They'll all have a touch of Jobs in them. Even products with a longer horizon, future generations of MacBooks with sick-skinny bodies and flash storage and no optical disc, AppleTVs teeming with apps, will have Jobs's imprimatur. Especially since, uh, guys? He's staying on as Chairman of the Board. He's involved.
So yes, there is a chance that Steve Jobs is resigning now because his medical situation has become so severe that he has no other choice. But we certainly hope not. And sincerely don't think so. Because this feels calculated, in the best possible way, to happen at the best possible time. Now.