After Steve Jobs, what now for Apple?

The tributes are flowing in to commemorate the life of visionary Steve Jobs. But already, some of the focus is turning to what comes next for the company he founded, Apple.

The tributes are flowing in to commemorate the life of visionary Steve Jobs. But already, some of the focus is turning to what comes next for the company he founded, Apple.

Jobs died Wednesday at age 56. Though the cause of death has not been made public, he had been fighting a well-publicized battle against pancreatic cancer since 2004.

In the early 1990s, when Jobs returned to the company he founded after an unceremonious ouster years earlier, the company was an also-ran in the technology space. Microsoft was the most important technology firm in the world, and Google didn't even exist yet.

Today, Apple employs almost 50,000 people globally. Annual sales are expected to exceed $100 billion this year. The market capitalization of Apple stock is in excess of $350 billion — making it the second-most valuable company in the United States, after oil conglomerate Exxon.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, shown unveilling the iPhone 4S this week. When Steve Jobs stepped down on Aug. 24, he handpicked Cook as his successor. Analysts will be closely watching the company's results on Oct. 18. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
"It's like the end of the innovators," said Scott Robbins, 34, who described himself as an Apple fan of 20 years and who rushed to an Apple Store in San Francisco when he heard the news on Wednesday night. He was one of the thousands of people who are mourning Jobs's passing around the world.

The company took a similar tone in a statement posted on the Apple website.

"Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being," the statement read. "Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."


Will Apple go bad without Steve Jobs? Have your say. 

If Apple's spirit and foundation is gone, what will become of the company?

When he stepped down on August 24, Jobs handed the reins to his handpicked successor. Apple CEO Tim Cook is generally credited with being an excellent manager and savvy strategist.

On the creative front, there are concerns that Jobs's shoes are impossible to fill. While he was undoubtedly the visionary behind all of Apple's biggest successes, Jobs was not renown for his consensus building. And in retrospect, his most influential decisions had far less than unanimous support within the company.

"The best tech companies are not democracies. They are dictatorships," was how Dana Blankenhorn put it on the influential investment website Seeking Alpha Thursday. "What Apple needs is a new visionary, with a new vision. Until it finds that it will be just another tech company."

During times of uncertainty, decisive leadership is needed. Cook may possess the right stuff, but he hasn't had an opportunity to demonstrate it yet. The only significant event thus far of the Cook era has been the release of the latest iPhone iteration earlier this week.

The unveiling of what turned out to be the iPhone 4S – not the iPhone 5 people were expecting – underscores how the company is in some ways a victim of its own successes.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=1266 size=small]

The product boasts a number of major upgrades of features that will no doubt be well received. But anticipation for the device were so high that in many ways the company had nowhere to go but down.

Investors had evidently been preparing themselves for news of Jobs' death. Every time Jobs had a health scare in the past, the stock would immediately tank, before recovering to trade higher than where it was within a few weeks.

But as trading opened on Thursday, Apple stock moved little. It was briefly down by less than 1 per cent, but in the afternoon the stock was relatively unchanged at $377.60 on the Nasdaq.

Jobs, who died Wednesday, saw Apple grow into a giant that employs almost 50,000 people globally. Its annual sales are expected to exceed $100 billion this year. (Beck Diefenbach/Reuters)

"While expectations for Jobs' involvement as chairman were likely small … he was still potentially available as an adviser and leader in the background," Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ittai Kidron wrote in a note to clients Thursday. "This intangible is no longer available, and we expect it will weigh on the shares over the next few days."

Thus far, the early returns on the Cook era are largely positive. The stock is worth more today than it was the day he was named CEO, and that's during a six-week stretch when equities have fallen precipitously.

The company is scheduled to post its latest earnings results on Oct. 18. Analysts are expecting another record quarter. But the numbers will be even more closely scrutinized than usual, because of Jobs' departure.

"Apple is Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs is Apple, and Steve Jobs is innovation," Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said recently. "You can teach people how to be operationally efficient, you can hire consultants to tell you how to do that, but God creates innovation … Apple without Steve Jobs is nothing."

Apple's key products

1977: Apple II computer

1984: Macintosh computer

1998: iMac computer

2001: iPod 

2003: iTunes store

2007: iPhone

2008: App store

2010: iPad

Indeed, Apple is facing challenges on all fronts.

Despite the hype, Google-powered Android devices still outsell iPhones by a significant margin.

Nokia and others still dominate the lower-end cellphone market that most of the world still operates on. And Apple is a laggard in India, the world's second-largest cellphone market, where Waterloo-based RIM has made strides.

"Apple won't fall quickly. There will be a pullback, then a recovery, and things will appear to be going well," Blankenhorn said. "But rivals will start catching up."

With files from The Associated Press