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Steve Jobs’ Medical Leave Raises Questions for Apple

January 15, 2009 at 6:50 PM EDT
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Apple CEO Steve Jobs' decision to take six months of medical leave for an illness he has deemed a "horomone imbalance" caused the company's stock to fall sharply. Spencer Michels examines Jobs' singular influence in the technology world.

STEVE JOBS, co-founder, Apple: Before we do, I just want to mention…

SPENCER MICHELS: Just this past September, Steve Jobs felt well enough to make light of his health situation.

STEVE JOBS: Three things.

SPENCER MICHELS: But joking didn’t quell the speculation that Jobs, 53 years old and a cancer survivor, was sick again.

He skipped the Macworld Conference in December. And, as questions of his well-being and Apple’s future lingered, he explained that he was being treated for a hormone imbalance. Yesterday, he said his mysterious illness is more complex, and announced a leave of absence from the company he co-founded in 1976.

He told his employees: “Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction, not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well.”

The market took the news badly. Apple shares have fallen for the past two days. The charismatic Jobs is more than Apple’s leader. He is its public face and a cult-like figure, whose devotees hang on his every word and the technology products he brings them, like the iPod and the iPhone.

'Apple geeks' upset by news

KEVAN GUILLORY, radio producer: That's not a picture, dude. That's a movie.

SPENCER MICHELS: Oh, that's the movie?

Two years ago, when the iPhone first came out, we met people like Kevan Guillory, who fell in love with the product.

KEVAN GUILLORY: Idiots can do it. I can do it.

KEVAN GUILLORY: I mean, seriously, my 6-year-old kid picked it up and started playing with it. And it was incredible what she did, and she's not -- she's not a geek.

SPENCER MICHELS: Today, in San Francisco, Apple geeks were upset.

While investors and analysts are watching Steve Jobs' health and its effect on Apple and on the market, Apple users are just as concerned. We found a lot of them at a San Francisco coffee bar.

ANNIE DECKER, Apple user: People should give him a little bit of leeway and space and sort of honor what he's done, but I'm sure Apple will survive without him. I think the vision will go on.

SPENCER MICHELS: We met up once again with Apple enthusiast Kevan Guillory.

KEVAN GUILLORY: I just fear that this march of technological progress and the design and cool factor, if you will, might be winding down to a close if he's not there.

Jobs to be on leave until June

SPENCER MICHELS: While trailing way behind competitor Microsoft in the overall computer market, Apple is widely seen as the innovator in personal technology.

In 2007, people waited in lines for hours to get the first of the 20 million iPhones sold worldwide. Apple sold 100 million iPods, the handheld device that transformed the way people buy and enjoy music and movies.

In the 1996 documentary "Triumph of the Nerds," Jobs looked younger and healthier.

STEVE JOBS: I mean, Picasso had a saying. He said, good artists copy. Great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

SPENCER MICHELS: In a 2005 commencement address, Jobs found inspiration in his own mortality.

STEVE JOBS: Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool I have ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Apple was founded on April Fools' Day in 1976.

SPENCER MICHELS: Jobs will be on leave until June, but intends to remain involved with major company decisions.