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Will Steve Jobs' absence affect Apple's upcoming products?

John D. Sutter
Analysts say Steve Jobs' medical leave is unlikely to affect the next line of Apple gadgets.
Analysts say Steve Jobs' medical leave is unlikely to affect the next line of Apple gadgets.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Apple CEO Steve Jobs taking medical leave for unspecified period
  • Analysts say that is unlikely to impact Apple products in the near-term
  • In three to five years, however, things could change, they say

(CNN) -- It may seem cynical to hear news about Apple CEO Steve Jobs' poor health, which caused him on Monday to announce an indefinite leave of absence, and jump straight to this question:

"So ... what does that mean for Apple's products?"

Insensitive or not, that's the talk of the technology world of the moment. Analysts, pundits and bloggers are all weighing in on the future of the company -- with or without its messianic figurehead, who's known for micromanaging Apple's product design.

Of most immediate concern is the "iPad 2," or whatever Apple ends up calling its second-generation tablet computer. That much-hyped, much-anticipated gizmo is expected to be introduced in coming weeks and released later this year.

Some questions relating to this -- Will Jobs be at the announcement? Could this affect the specs of the new iPad? Will his health hurt iPad sales? -- were tossed around on blogs on Monday, but three analysts told CNN that those are false fears.

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Because of Apple's long product-development cycle, details of the next iPad -- and even the next iPhone, expected to go on sale this summer -- are likely ironed out already.

So they already carry the coveted stamp of Steve.

"These products are in two-year and even longer development cycles, so we can pretty much assume that stuff is already baked in -- it's just down to tweaking and rationalizing and pricing," said Will Stofega, director of mobile phone technologies and trends at IDC, a research group.

"Assuming that product is going to come out in the next three or four months, you can be pretty certain it's locked and loaded at this point," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group.

Tech news sites have already published some rumored features of the next iPad, including two cameras, a better audio speaker and a more powerful processor.

Michael Gartenberg, a partner at the Altimeter Group, and another tech analyst, put it like this: "Those products (the next iPhone and iPad) will succeed or not succeed on their own, whether Steve is at the helm or not."

He added: "Whatever Apple is introducing in the weeks and months ahead, these products have been under development for quite some period of time. Whatever mark Steve has made on those products, he's already made."

As for salesmanship, Jobs is known for giving compelling product introductions that supposedly hypnotize the world's tech media into some kind of so-dizzy-as-to-be-impressed stupor. There's even a tech-world term for this: "reality distortion field," or RDF, which Jobs is famous for creating.

Some wow-factor may be lost without Jobs to announce products in the near future, but that won't be enough to break the company, writes the Silicon-Alley Insider, a prominent technology blog.

"Apple's other executives don't have the same flair or salesmanship as Jobs, but marketing boss Phil Schiller -- who led Apple's last Macworld keynote when Jobs was out in 2009 -- should do just fine," the blog said.

However, Apple's long-term future without Steve Jobs -- or with him in a diminished role -- is a bit murkier, the analysts said.

In three to five years, an Apple without Jobs would start to look noticeably different, said Baker, from NPD.

"He's obviously the charismatic kinda guy and if you look around, product companies oftentimes have a charismatic kind of leader who's pretty visionary," he said. "That's always difficult to replace."

Gartenberg cautioned against reading too much into the news about Jobs' indefinite leave of absence.

"Apple is a larger company at this point than any one individual -- even if that individual is Steve Jobs," he said. "This is the third time that Mr. Jobs has had to take a leave of absence from the company, and twice before the company not only survived but thrived -- introduced products and continued to grow."

During Jobs' six-month leave in 2009, for example, Apple unveiled the popular iPhone 3GS. Gartenberg cited that as evidence Apple's thousands of employees are capable of taking the company forward on their own if necessary.

"It's not like Steve is building this stuff late at night in his garage anymore," he said.

Stofega believes anyone is replaceable -- even Jobs.

"If you look at Apple as more than just Steve Jobs -- the engineers, the software guys -- then you think Steve Jobs has been a great conductor," he said.

"Can you get another great conductor?" Yes, he said, but it's somewhat tricky.

Others are more skeptical.

"Apple's got a pretty tight product line right now," Baker said. "They're pretty focused. So I think in the mid-term, they'd probably be OK. But in the long term, obviously, you can't replace a guy like that."

Stofega added: "If it's a long-term situation, things will probably change at Apple. The staff and the managers and the programmers and the (user interface) people all will be in place for the foreseeable future. But it's a bit of a question mark."

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