Apple Inc. founder and CEO Steve Jobs sent a note Monday to employees saying he's taking a medical leave of absence so he can focus on his health.

Jobs, who was treated for a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, says he will continue as CEO and be involved in major decisions but has asked chief operating officer Tim Cook to be responsible for all day-to-day operations.

tp-jobs-ipad

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has taken a medical leave of absence so he can focus on his health.

He said he loves Apple and hopes to be back as soon as he can and that he and his family would appreciate respect for their privacy.

Jobs, 55, has been instrumental in turning Apple into the dominant producer of portable music players, a leader in the smartphone business and, with the iPad, the inventor of a new kind of tablet computer. He is Apple's public face, its master showman and its saviour since he returned in 1997 after a 12-year hiatus to rescue the company from financial ruin.

Jobs still the visionary

Investors in recent years have pinned much of their faith in the company on Jobs himself, sending shares tumbling on every bit of news or rumour of his ailing health.

"Steve is clearly still the visionary behind Apple," said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, who has been covering Apple for decades. But, the analyst said, Apple is a well-run company at the top of its game.

"I think investors have to take a hard look at where Apple is and where Apple will continue to go given the fact that it has incredibly strong leadership. All the products that Apple's going to bring out in the next two years are already in the pipeline," he said.

The company announced Jobs's leave a day before it is set to report quarterly earnings. U.S. stock markets were closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In Europe, investors reacted sharply and Apple's shares closed in Frankfurt a staggering 6.6 per cent lower.

Cook took the company reins when Jobs went on medical leave from January through June 2009.

It was Cook's second stint leading Apple. Cook, who joined Apple in 1998, ran the Cupertino, Calif.-based company for two months in 2004 while Jobs recovered from surgery for pancreatic cancer. His performance then won him the promotion to chief operating officer in 2005.

Analysts credit Cook with solving problems that Apple was having with inventory management. Many people consider Cook as Jobs's logical successor.

Under Cook's direction in 2009, the company kept cranking out well-received products including updated laptops with lower entry-level prices and a faster iPhone with many longed-for features. Apple sold more than a million of the new iPhone 3GS during its first three days on the market.