Steve Jobs may have been on medical leave for the last six weeks, with an unspecified but possibly very nasty illness, but he clearly has no intention of taking it easy. The ailing Apple boss dragged himself from his sick bed yesterday to make a surprise appearance at the launch of the iPad 2 - he told an audience that he’d been working so hard on the new iPad that he ‘didn’t want to miss today’. A noble sentiment, if it’s true. But will this go down as a missed opportunity?
The new iPad itself didn't set many pulses racing: it's a bit thinner, a bit faster, comes in two colours and has another camera. So - more of the same, basically (our friends at Stuff.tv have more on the new features). Nonetheless, (an admittedly gaunt-looking) Jobs was in bullish form, lambasting the iPad’s rivals and insisting the competition was ‘flummoxed’ by its success. ‘They’re trying to launch these days with at most 100 apps’, he added, whereas Apple now has more than 65,000. And he may have a point: research by iPass found recently that 57% of mobile workers would opt for an Apple device, given the choice.
On the other hand, Google's Android operating system, which is already the biggest player in the smartphone market, could yet threaten Apple's tablet ambitions too. Having seen its lead in personal computers overhauled by Windows-powered machines back in the day, Apple will be keenly aware of that - but Jobs insists the iPad won't share the same fate (despite its market share falling from 95% to 75% in less than a year).
Jobs's surprise appearance was clearly a boost for Apple yesterday - the share price jumped by 1.2% (which is a lot for a company of that size). But it also highlighted Apple's ongoing problem: the perception that Jobs' presence is critical to the company's future success. And since it's still refusing to say exactly what’s wrong with him, or how serious his condition is, or what will happen if he doesn't come back, there's a lot of uncertainty around.
You could argue that yesterday's launch was a golden opportunity for Apple to give someone new a chance to win over the company’s many fans - like Tim Cook, the firm’s COO, who's taken over the reins while Jobs is away. Having Jobs there might have been a good short-term move, but it doesn't solve Apple’s long-term problem.