The people now in charge of Apple are still enigmas to most outside the technology industry,and it is difficult to imagine any of them taking on the mythic proportions of Steve Jobs,the co-founder who died on Wednesday.
Even Tim Cook,who twice served as acting chief executive before taking full control in August,is little known,and his actions this week suggest he does not aspire to being in the spotlight as Jobs did.
In his first product launch since Jobs resigned in August,Cook on Tuesday opened and closed a 90-minute presentation to introduce the latest version of the iPhone,which is Apples largest and most important product in terms of the revenue it has generated.
But Cook yielded a relatively greater amount of stage time than his predecessor would have to his colleagues: Scott Forstall,iOS mobile software chief,explained and demonstrated the improvements in that operating system,and marketing guru Phil Schiller showed off the iPhone 4Ss capabilities.
They and others,including Jonathan Ive,Mac hardware designer,had been just as critical to developing and selling Apples wares before. But the way Jobs ran things,he often left the impression that he had worked alone for months on a product in his garage and had just raced to the launch to show it,said Michael Gartenberg,Gartner technology analyst. The one thing about Apple that will change going forward is that we are not going to see one person representing himself as the physical manifestation of all Apple, he said. Cook was willing to turn the stage over to those other executives.
Even if he wanted to,Cook would be hard pressed to assume all of Jobs mantle. The co-founder took the company from within 90 days of bankruptcy when he rejoined it in the late 1990s,to become the second most valued in the world by market capitalisation in just 14 years,overturning the music and mobile phone industries in the process.
In some ways Jobs acted as if he were the only customer who mattered,ignoring market research and focus groups and selecting from among Apple employees the ideas he found most appealing.
Jobs inspired great work from people and was a consummate salesman,infecting consumers with his enthusiasm. His longtime deputy Cook,by contrast,appears controlled and lower key,an operations and logistics expert more interested in spreadsheets than graphic designs.
Perhaps Cooks biggest adversary,Gartenberg suggested,will now be the myth of Jobs as a giant who created everything instead of as a leader who wisely selected options.
But Cook has already set out on moving Apple beyond that myth. One of his first acts as CEO was to promote another of Apples stars,Eddy Cue,who interacts with many outsiders as the master of iTunes,the media and software applications store.
Cue is the key to securing the loyalty of outside developers that are critical to Apples future success against Googles Android operating system,and he must deal with media companies who balk at the cut that Apple takes on content,such as 30 per cent on magazines on the iPad.
Cue has worked at the company for 22 years,overseeing the creation of the companys online store in 1998,the iTunes music store in 2003 and the App store in 2008. In February,he stood alongside Rupert Murdoch to announce the launch of The Daily digital newspaper,available exclusively on the iPad. In anointing him senior vice-president of internet software and services,Cook wrote in a memo to staff: Apple is a company and culture unlike any other in the world and leaders like Eddy get that. Apple is in their blood.
In his current capacity,Cue is tasked with developing Apples new iCloud services,which gives users access to their software and content from any Apple device without having to manually transfer any of them.
Also reporting directly to Cook is Ive,the UK-born designer who is considered a design genius for drawing the pared-down lines of the iPod,iPhone and iPad,and Mr Schiller. The other core executive is Forstall,Apples senior vice-president of iPhone software,who came up with the inner workings of the device that lets users swipe,tap,and pinch their way through the phones applications.
Cook let Forstall demonstrate an innovative feature of the iPhone 4S this week,the voice recognition function known as Siri. Forstall worked for Jobs even before Apple,at NeXT,the computer company Jobs founded after leaving Apple in 1985. But on stage on Tuesday,Forstall and Cook both showed their truest dedication was not to their mentor Jobs but to his legacy,Apple Inc.
Though Jobs laboured to leave the company he co-founded in as strong a position as possible,the rapidly changing world of technology provides no guarantees of stability.
Apple begins the era without Jobs,holding an enormous war chest of $76bn in net cash and equivalents on its balance sheet enough to buy the top two PC makers by revenue,Hewlett-Packard and Dell,outright.
Both companies are among those scrambling to come up with a plausible rival to the iPad,the tablet that has sold 30m units in less than two years and that Léo Apotheker,the outgoing chief executive of HP,admitted was transforming the world of personal computing.
Given enough time,such products are likely to emerge,analysts say. Already the Samsung Galaxy Tab is taking enough market share that Apple has accelerated a defence of its intellectual property in the courts,where it claims the Korean company,the worlds top technology company by sales,stole features of Apples design.
Amazons soon to be released Kindle Fire tablet,priced near cost at about $200,shows that a deep-pocketed rival is willing to spend to take on Apple in the entire chain of distribution,in content music,video and books as well as the devices on which they are consumed.
The companys broadest challenge comes from the fact that Apple has set off on a singular path,linking its hardware with its software and services. Tim Cook,chief executive,said that such a strategy meant the company cold provide a seamless,integrated experience for users.
Experts say that Jobs also instilled a culture of striving for excellence in the company. You are competing with smartphones or with music players Apple did not invent those. You are competing with a way of creating things that does not involve committees and focus groups,but smart people doing their jobs, said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.
However,the flipside of its approach is that it provokes Apples rivals to pull together and form alliances. The clearest example is in Googles Android software. Google took the bold step of licensing the code for free. Every major handset maker now offers Android phones. Its combined market share surged past that of the iPhone,and more programmers are being induced to write apps for it.
Additional reporting by Maija Palmer
© 2011 The Financial Times Limited