The Leave

Whatever we expected, we all hoped we’d seen our last Steve Jobs medical leave. When the news went out this morning, there was a collective, wincing “Fuck.”

I’m not going to speculate about Steve Jobs’s health, but I will speculate about Apple. The announcement of his leave was perfectly timed: on a weekday, but a holiday on which the U.S. stock market is closed. Apple’s stock is surely going to drop on this news when the market opens tomorrow, but it shouldn’t be a panic.

More important than the holiday, though, is that Apple announces its quarterly results tomorrow, and they’re expected to be excellent. Some smart analysts are expecting Apple’s actual revenue to beat the consensus estimates by $2 billion. That’s an astounding number. Nine years ago Apple didn’t even have $2 billion in revenue for Q4. Here’s Apple’s PR announcement from January 2002 for its Q4 2001 financial results — $38 million in profit, $1.38 billion in revenue. Tomorrow’s numbers are going to be around $6 billion in profit, $26 billion in revenue.

The company has never been in better shape than it is today. Hit products in growing markets, best-of-breed technology, top-notch engineers and designers, thriving retail stores, and the strongest brand in the history of consumer electronics.

Nobody is ever truly ready for news like this, but you can be prepared. Apple is.

Already, just today, we’re inundated with stories pondering Apple’s executive leadership. This story at The New York Times gets it right: Apple has a deep bench. This story, also at the Times, gets it wrong: Apple doesn’t need to anoint Cook “CEO” or “delegate Steve Jobs’s power more formally to someone else”.

Here’s the thing. Apple’s been here before. Jobs missed most of 2009, and when he returned, it was a while before he got back to full time. The product cycle continued. Existing products were improved. New products were released. Future products progressed in development. Was it the same without him? No, of course not. Did the company function just fine? Yes.

Jobs’s leave of absence is cause for concern — and for good thoughts and well-wishes. It is not cause for panic.