SAN FRANCISCO — Since Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 as chief executive, the company has been on an unparalleled upswing, highlighted by the immense popularity of the iPad and iPhone.
Now, with Jobs no longer leading, Apple will have to prove it can keep its momentum. If the recent past is any indication, the company will continue to move forward.
Apple said late Wednesday that Jobs, 56, resigned from the CEO post, in a move that seems motivated by his ongoing, yet still unspecified, health issues. Jobs had taken an indefinite medical leave in January, marking his third such leave in seven years. Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, previously survived pancreatic cancer and received a liver transplant.
Taking on the role of board chairman, Jobs now passes the CEO role to Tim Cook, 50, the company's chief operating officer, who had been acting CEO since January. For years, he has been running Apple's day-to-day operations, and he has long been seen as the natural successor. Under Cook's leadership, Apple briefly became the most valuable company in America early this month.
While Jobs is the most recognized person at Apple, he is not the only one responsible for the company's success. Many industry watchers believe that despite his importance, Apple will continue to innovate and not just survive, but thrive.
"Steve Jobs put in place at Apple a culture of innovation," Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross said.
And its innovation has translated to sales. With Cook running the company, Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the most recent quarter, which ended in June, bringing sales to nearly 29 million iPads since they began selling in April 2010. Apple also sold 20.3 million iPhones in the same period, which was millions more than analysts expected. The company's stock has risen 8 percent since Jobs announced his most recent medical leave.
The first time Cook was in charge back in 2004, things went so well that Apple promoted him from executive vice president to chief operating officer in 2005.
During the second time, which lasted from mid January to the end of June 2009, Apple released a new version of the iPhone and updated laptop computers on schedule. The company also announced that its iTunes app store hit a major milestone: More than a billion apps were downloaded within the first nine months of its existence. Apple's stock rose 62 percent during that time.
Cook, an Alabaman, has been an asset to Apple since his arrival in 1998. He is credited with tuning Apple's manufacturing process to solve chronic product delays and supply problems. His inventory management skills helped Apple build up its $73 billion hoard of cash and marketable securities — funds that it can use to keep its lead in the portable electronics market.
Cook's supporting team includes Jonathan Ive, who oversees the elegant, minimalist design of Apple's products; Philip Schiller, the marketing chief; and Scott Forstall, who supervises the iPhone software.
"The bench at Apple is extremely strong," Cross said.