Unpack any new Apple product and you’ll see the message “Designed by Apple in California”. For me, those five words more than anything else symbolise the influence of Steven Paul Jobs on the world’s largest fruit-based technology company.

California. Freedom. Sunshine. Surf. Skateboards. The endless summer of golden youth …

The five words and their consistent appearance are a tiny thing. But it’s this meticulous attention to detail, driven by Jobs’ personal blend of perfection and egomania, that has been a key element of his transformation of Apple from a company on the brink of collapse in the mid-1990s to the world’s largest technology corporation today.

It’s not just about consistency of branding, though that’s obviously incredibly important. It’s about the quality and usability of the products themselves. A control-freak’s focus on the user experience, or UX as it’s called in the trade, that demanded every produce was silky-smooth to use.

Every pixel on screen in exactly the right place. Every product package constructed precisely so.

Designed by Apple in California.

The process generates such objects of desire that people queue overnight to buy them, and I know of at least one fanboy who became rentboy to fund his purchases.

Of course, Apple is in many ways just another big corporation. Its products may be designed in California, but they’re constructed in the sweatshops of China, just like everyone else’s. “Freedom” you said? Bah!

Apple’s lawyers aggressively attack perceived violations of its patents, trademarks and copyrights just like everyone else’s. The company is so relentlessly secretive that they could be breeding an army of giant attack turtles in the basement for all we know, ready to be unleashed upon the world. Just like everyone else’s.

But somehow all that is ignored, and the focus stays on chairman Steve and his magical vision.

And who cares, when Apple delivers quarter after quarter of record revenues and profits?

Well maybe that’s about to end.

I’m assuming you’ve all seen the news that Steve Jobs just resigned as Apple’s CEO. Heck, it’s the headline story on every news site in the planet, it seems.

“Ailing Silicon Valley pioneer Steve Jobs has resigned as chief executive of Apple in a stunning move at the technology giant he co-founded in a garage,” said ABC Online, with the somewhat predictable home page headline “iQuit”.

“Stunning”? Um, Jobs has been on medical leave since January, and blind Freddy can see he ain’t exactly been looking more healthy. The news shouldn’t have stunned anyone.

It’s as if the ABC and the rest of the world has been in denial. Wall Street certainly has been. During the quarterly earnings calls analysts are even more sycophantic than with other profitable technology companies. They’ve simply accepted without question Apple’s word that a succession plan was in place.

And now they’ll find out. New CEO Tim Cook has plenty of cred for the job. But Jobs he is not. That’s the fear. Could Apple’s secrecy and constant focus on Jobs now come back to haunt it?

Jobs has asked to continue as chair of the board. But Bill Gates continued as chair of Microsoft after resigning as that company’s CEO, and under new CEO Steve Ballmer growth has flatlined. We’ll soon find out whether Cook has drunk enough of the Kool-Aid to follow in his master’s steps.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey