COMMENT: Does Apple need Steve Jobs?

Okay, before we get flamed to death by the Mac community for questioning their golden cow, let's ask ourselves one simple question: does Apple really need Steve Jobs?

While the market will no doubt panic, the fanboys wear black turtlenecks, blue jeans and trainers till June, and the blogsphere go into a dizzy array of panic as to who will deliver their keynotes in the future, the simple fact is that he is one man and not the only employee at the company.

Okay, so he is a massive driving force, there is no denying that, but this isn't a snap decision, this isn't him being hit by a fast moving truck and not getting up again, this is him quietly stepping down, maybe to come back, but what you can be sure of is that this decision will have come after months of planning and organisation - not just a couple of days.

He has gone part time before, Tim Cook, Apple COO, ran the business in 2004 when Steve Jobs took time off to fight cancer, and I am sure Jobs will still be getting daily if not weekly updates (those famous Monday meetings) to how the company is performing.

Add that to the fact that it's a quiet period at the moment (the Macworld keynote told us that) and Apple is playing it safe.

Why have a man that is not fully focused at the helm in troubling times, combined with journalists baying at the gates for a snippet of information that is likely to send the stock price crashing because the CEO didn't turn up for his morning yoghurt at the usual time?

So what's the move? To bring in Tim Cook once again to do Jobs' job without causing too much of a stir.

Cook, whom Apple has been slowly increasing the profile of, is currently responsible for all of the company's worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple’s supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries - no small task.

The job means he knows the company inside out, isn't likely to try anything crazy and clearly isn't interested, judging by the lack of screen time at Macworld, in stealing the limelight, well not just yet.

Like a maternity cover (it is only 6 months remember), he will no doubt use his time to sail the Apple ship on a steady course through the waters of economic downturn, until either the time that Steve Jobs will say that he will quietly bow out (possible but unlikely), or Jobs bounces back on to the stage no doubt to announce some earth shattering new product like the Apple MacBook netbook.

So should Mac fans be worried about the temporary departure of "Stevie"? Not in the slightest.

It's probably a given that Apple has already mapped out every move it is to make this year with products and launch dates put in place.

We, the press, might not know when the company's operating system, Snow Leopard, is coming out, but Apple will not only have the date, the time, but also the plan for when the OS after that (no it hasn't been announced) is likely to be coming out as well.

Look at Microsoft, Bill Gates is no longer at the helm, Steve Ballmer is, but that hasn't stopped the company continuing to function. In fact looking at it you could say that the company has gone from strength to strength since he left.

The company's new OS, Windows 7, is getting positive feedback from the press and users over Windows Vista; Xbox 360 had a healthy Christmas in terms of sales smashing previous records; and the Yahoo deal might just happen.

Tim Cook might not be as well known as Jobs, he might not be as good (time will tell), but can it really all go to pot in 6 months?

Come back in June and we'll let you know.