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What Steve Jobs¿ leave of absence means for Apple

A few hours ago, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs announced he'd be taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June to deal with health issues.

Less than 10 days ago (Jan. 5) Jobs issued a statement explaining how his doctors had finally discovered the cause of his alarming weight loss -- a hormone imbalance. Jobs called the remedy "simple and straightforward," but did not indicate he'd require extended time away from Apple.

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Today's announcement, made shortly after the markets closed, dropped AAPL stock below $80, continuing a yearlong slide partly attributable to questions over Jobs' health.

Jobs said Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook would be in charge of day-to-day operations in his absence, adding that he plans "to remain involved in major strategic decisions."

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But what does this mean for the sexiest lion of Silicon Valley? Should Apple aficionados panic? What about AAPL investors? (Oops, too late, they've been panicking for months.)

While this certainly isn't good news for Apple, neither is it a disaster. Cook ran Apple the last time Jobs took some time off for medical reasons – back in 2004 when he was underwent a procedure to treat his pancreatic cancer.

Five months without Steve Jobs at the office won't change the way things are done at Apple Inc. In the decade since his return to the helm, the company has embraced and absorbed Jobs' trademark philosophical principles: simplicity and elegance.

Tales of life at Apple inevitably describe employees keeping Jobs' principles in mind as they go about their work. "What would Steve think?" may as well be engraved on every wall.

The critical ingredient Apple gets from Jobs is his ability to identify successful ideas and shepherd them through a long development process. His uncanny instincts for what consumers want resulted in such hits as the iPod and iPhone.

I suspect that's why Jobs specifically said he'd continue to be involved in "major strategic decisions."

Even when Jobs has left Apple for good (which has to happen at some point), the company won't face instant catastrophe. The board of directors will choose a capable successor. Life will go on – but it won't be the same.

Without its visionary leader, a post-Jobs Apple most likely will begin a gradual descent from an extraordinary consumer electronics company to an ordinary (though still successful) one.

Let's think positively and hope that day won't arrive for a long time.

Get well soon, Steve.

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