Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Is Steve Jobs really in charge?

April 11, 2009: 7:49 AM ET

Steve Jobs in June 2008, no captionIn what reads like a strategic leak from Apple's (AAPL) Cupertino boardroom, the Wall Street Journal reports in its Saturday edition that Steve Jobs -- half-way through a six-month medical leave -- still "maintains [his] grip" on the company from his Palo Alto, Calif., home.

But the evidence the Journal offers doesn't go much beyond Jobs' January statement to Apple's staff that he planned "to stay involved in major strategic decisions while [he was] out."

Citing unnamed "people familiar with the matter," the Journal writes that Jobs ...

  • Regularly reviews products and product plans
  • Was particularly involved in the user interface of iPhone OS 3.0
  • Is involved in the development of future projects

As examples of future products that Jobs might be working on, the Journal mentions two: the new iPhone models expected this summer and a portable device that is "smaller than its current laptop computers but bigger than the iPhone or iPod touch."

But it's common knowledge in Silicon Valley that Apple is working on these devices, and it's not clear if the Journal's sources for this part of its story know anything about the level of Jobs' involvement in them.

The only other nugget of news in the Journal's account is buried near the bottom:

"Some of these people also say members of Apple's board of directors are monitoring the situation directly, communicating regularly with Mr. Jobs's physicians."

It's not surprising that the board would want to know how their CEO is doing -- especially a CEO as closely identified with his company as Jobs -- but direct communication with his physicians goes beyond the usual bounds of doctor-patient confidentiality. It suggests that the board of directors may have played a deeper role in Jobs' abrupt decision to take a medical leave than has hitherto been reported.

Apple has not yet returned a request for comment.

Jobs was treated for a rare form of operable pancreatic cancer in 2004 and announced afterward that the operation was a success. But concerns about his health resurfaced last June when he appeared in public looking markedly thinner. In January he said he had a hormone imbalance that was "relatively simple and straightforward" to treat, then announced 10 days later that he was taking six months off to focus on health problems that were "more complex" than he initially thought.

In the interim, COO Tim Cook has been running Apple's day-to-day operations -- as he has been for some years now -- and the company seems to be doing just fine. Its shares have risen 40% since Jobs announced his leave, closing before the Easter holiday at $119.57. Second quarter earnings are scheduled to be announced on April 22.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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