→ The latest: Will Steve Jobs retire in June?
Assuming Steve Jobs returns in late June, as scheduled, his medical leave is approaching its halfway point. So how’s Apple doing in his absence? Very well, we’d say — almost as if he hadn’t left.
- Apple has rolled out several product updates, including new desktop Macs and a new iPod shuffle. They are as good as (or better than) expected.
- Apple gave an early preview of its forthcoming iPhone 3.0 software, which looks fantastic, and will keep Apple’s mobile software platform far ahead of its rivals. (The iPhone developers we’ve talked to so far are in love.)
- Apple executives have done a fine job as showmen. Notably, iPhone software head Scott Forstall and iPhone marketing exec Greg Joswiak did a nice job during the recent iPhone event.
- Apple stock is up 32% since its January 15 open, while the S&P 500 is down 3%. This suggests that investors could be more comfortable with Apple COO Tim Cook’s longer-term leadership of the company, if it becomes necessary.
Apple’s solid performance so far is expected. Most of the stuff Apple has shown off so far this quarter was probably being worked on when Steve was still leading the company day-to-day. (And if Steve is still participating in major decisions, he’s undoubtedly had an impact on Apple’s announcements.)
And anyway, we were never concerned about what would happen to Apple during a six-month leave. The potential for Apple to slip is several months (or years) down the line, if Steve decides not to return, or if key members of the Apple leadership team leave for other opportunities. (We asked an Apple representative to comment on whether Jobs is still planning to return in June, as he had announced in January. Apple’s response, via email: “As you know, Steve is on a medical leave of absence and there is nothing further to say.”)
Meanwhile, Apple’s second quarter is coming to a close, and Wall Street has given the company a slightly lower bar to hurdle. Analysts have trimmed their March quarter sales expectations (so far) to $7.9 billion, representing 5.4% year-over-year revenue growth, down from $8.2 billion consensus in January. And March quarter EPS consensus has dropped to $1.08 from $1.13, down from $1.16 a year ago.