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One of the biggest questions in consumer tech as we head into 2009 is whether Steve Jobs will be healthy enough to lead Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . Rumors of his waning health have been routine blog fodder based on the CEO's appearance at recent events. The chatter heated up two weeks ago, when Apple announced that Jobs wouldn't appear at next month's Macworld. Oh, and that next month's conference would be the company's final Macworld.
A brief glimmer of optimism emerged yesterday when iconic Web 2.0 watcher Robert Scoble chimed in.
"I'm in Palo Alto," he posted in FriendFeed. "Just had yogurt at shop that Steve Jobs eats at frequently. They said he was in a couple of days ago and is in great health."
In a copycat Web, others jumped on the seemingly flimsy thesis with upbeat headlines:
- "Local yogurt store tells blogger that Steve Jobs is in great health," writes VentureBeat.
- "Apple's Jobs is (Still) Fine," reads a CNBC headline.
- "Goldman: Jobs Health Rumors are Wrong," The Mac Observer writes.
Then came Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz, raining on the parade.
"Steve Jobs' Health Declining Rapidly, Reason for Macworld Cancellation," reads his grim headline. Relying on an unnamed source who has supposedly always been accurate, Gizmodo claims that the annual Macworld event was called off to "remove the hype factor" from the event in case Jobs isn't around for what would have been Macworld in January 2010.
Few companies are as CEO-dependent as Apple. It's hard to imagine Apple without its leader -- dressed in a black mock turtleneck and jeans -- introducing new products.
The success that Jobs has had since his return to Apple has even inspired other companies to bring back founding CEOs to turn their companies around. Unfortunately for companies like Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , the return of the prodigal CEO has been more myth than reality. The legend completely fell apart at Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) this year.
Either way, Apple has to make sure that investors know that its success is about more than just one executive. Everyone wants Jobs to be fine, but no CEO is forever. Since Apple has shied away from addressing the health concerns, it better hope that new stylistic visionaries emerge out of next month's Macworld.
It doesn't seem to have a choice, no matter what the yogurt shop owner may say.