The speculation game began the moment Apple announced the resignation of co-founder Steve Jobs on Wednesday for health-related reasons.
How will the absence of the man most responsible for turning Apple into the world's largest technology company -- the man who visualized and then created ground-breaking electronic devices for consumers (and now businesses) -- affect the company's prospects?
The truth is that nobody -- not journalists, not analysts, not Steve Wozniak (not even bloggers!) -- can predict with certainty how Apple will fare in a post-Jobs world. Even Jobs himself was just asserting an opinion in his resignation letter when he wrote, "I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it."
It could be argued that Jobs knows more than anyone whether Apple will prosper now that his health apparently has deteriorated to the point where he no longer has the energy to run the company. After all, Jobs built the company, created the culture and hired the top executives, including new CEO Tim Cook, who now must now execute on his vision and strategy.
It also could be argued that Jobs's "most innovative days are ahead of it" comment was intended to reassure investors. Indeed, Wall Street seems to be taking news relatively in stride. Shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) were down only 1.73% to 369.71 in Thursday's late-morning trading, this after the man most closely identified and credited with Apple's phenomenal success said he was leaving for good. (Though the inevitability of Jobs's departure -- he is a cancer survivor, but has looked weak and gaunt in his infrequent public appearances since taking an indefinite medical leave of absence in January -- may have cushioned the blow for investors.)
The real issue is not what Steve Jobs brought to Apple, but what he takes with him. Jobs was the "secret sauce" that propelled Apple to unimaginable heights. And while Jobs did his best to prepare Apple for the day when he no longer would be part of the company -- creating a vision and culture, choosing the best people for the job -- it's hard to replace secret sauce.
It's also hard to measure and replicate, which is why no one really knows what will happen to Apple now that Jobs has left the building. Not even Jobs.