Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs, who is two years younger than I am, has been fighting pancreatic cancer for at least seven years and got a liver transplant in 2009. He always said he'd step down as CEO when he couldn't perform the job. Today, he did.
It doesn't necessarily mean he's dying. I don't know if he's dying. He's been pretty successful so far in fighting pancreatic cancer, which is usually not one of the more survivable ones, and if it has popped up somewhere else inside him he's got plenty of options. Anyway, best of luck to him.
So what does this mean for Apple, which lately has been America's Sweetheart, corporately-speaking?
Apple has tended to play up Jobs' role in the company when he's well, and play it down when he's out sick. So let me cover what we're pretty sure we know about that.
There is absolutely no question that Jobs, who actually grew up in Silicon Valley, started his career as an intense micro-manager, who trusted his gut over anyone else's market research. So the real question is to what extent maturity and illness has induced him to be otherwise.
Jobs left Apple for years and cofounded Pixar. When he left, Wall Street was sure Apple would benefit from new leadership that wasn't so meddlesome and mercurial. Instead Apple foundered, and when Jobs sold Pixar and returned to Apple he was hailed as a conquering hero and proceeded to justify it by reshaping the company's direction until it was more successful than ever.
At Pixar, Jobs was not hands-on, leading some to believe he had changed. And there are many who believe that his illness, which affects stamina, may have obliged him to learn to delegate. There seems to be general agreement in Silicon Valley that Jobs has a strong bench.
But it is also true that as recently as a couple years ago, Jobs delayed the iPhone launch by rejecting not one but two prototypes until he got what he wanted. In other words, even older, wiser and sicker, Jobs has bet the ranch on his gut instincts. And it worked.
Jobs will remain as chairman - Apple didn't have a separate chairman before - and his chief operating officer is taking the CEO post. That guy is apparently good at running the company and his team has been especially good at negotiating with contractors and suppliers to keep down the price of Apple's wildly popular products.
So what does happen now? First, Jobs is still working for the company. Second, the new CEO has been executing Jobs' strategy for years and probably had at least some say in it. Wall Street analysts are writing that the company's course is probably set for two or three years at least. After that the deluge, perhaps, but we'll see.
Here is a litmus test for me: watch what happens to the Apple stores. On paper those brick-and-mortar outlets must be a huge cost factor, but for me they are at least as important to Apple's success as the particular features on iPhones and iPads. Most technology consumers are working harder than ever and don't have the time to read thousand-page instruction manuals. The Apple stores are a refuge for these people. Beware anyone who fiddles with that.