Grim news for Apple fanboys: your patron saint will no longer be overseeing the object of your worship. Steve Jobs has officially announced his resignation. Tim Cook will now be taking over his role as gadget overlord.
Jobs has been dealing with what seem to be some pretty nasty health issues (they'd have to be bad for him to hand off his brainchild), so it's probably in his best interest not to maintain responsibility for one of the largest, most influential companies in the world. Here's hoping he gets to relax a little in his retirement, at least.
The reaction to the news, the branding of the move as "historic" shows that we consider companies in the tech world a little differently from the rest of the capitalist empire. When the CEO of a credit card company steps down, it probably makes the rounds among Forbes readers, but most of us carry on with our lives unperturbed. I was genuinely shocked by the news of Jobs's resignation because it is, in fact, the first time something like this has happened. Tech companies are still relatively new to this world. Their pioneers still run them; the first people to make strides in the industry are still around, still working. And we link the personalities of tech CEOs to our experience of using their products far more than we do with the CEOs in any other industry. You may love certain everyday products, but you don't know or care who founded the company that makes them. The success of technology brands is in part based on the character of their founders. Even if we don't like the guys, we're interested in who they are and what they're like.
The celebrity of tech CEOs stems in part from our conception of them as pure entrepreneurs, blazing innovators who drew brilliant new inventions from nothing. Whether or not their personal creativity exceeds those of other inventors, we still like to feel connected to their work because it's all so new. We like to feel that the new iPhone was made just for us, that Steve Jobs is an artist and we are his patrons. Or we like to believe that he's a swindler who's brainwashed millions of people into purchasing shiny, overpriced products. Either way, we interact with him on a level of character--not just as consumers, but as audience members.
Will Jobs's stepping down change the way we think of Apple? Will it mark a new course for the company? Given that Tim Cook has already overseen much of the company's work in the past year or so while Jobs was on medical leave, I'd say he's got a pretty good grasp of what makes consumers tick. After all, Apple's been doing well despite Jobs's absence. They've brought in new products that people still love to buy. And Cook came strongly recommended by Jobs himself. I'd wager he's very much the spiritual successor to the father of Apple. So don't worry--your iPhones will still come in white and your laptops will still be shiny and clean.