If Steve Jobs Doesn't Return to Work, is Apple in Trouble?

Imagining a world without Steve.

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The New York Times is reporting that Steve Jobs doesn't have cancer, but it's not far-fetched to think he might not return to his post. Although he claims he'll still be making key decisions while he's out, the Times imagines a world without Jobs, "the obsessive visionary who involves himself in the smallest details of Apple's products and advertising":

It’s almost impossible to imagine the next chief executive of Apple having the same sort of autocratic and impulsive personality. That’s not the style of the people who work there. (There’s only one queen in the hive.) And what outsider coming into the top job of a company doing as well as Apple would have the guts to be so strong-willed and independent?

Silicon Alley Insider's weigh-in is that Apple is in good shape for now, but will eventually lose its lead if it doesn't swiftly put a plan together to move forward without Jobs (my take: it probably already has.)

Pundits will argue all day that Apple is more than Steve Jobs. Fine. But Steve Jobs is Apple. He might not write code or sit in chip fabs. But he makes the big, important decisions that make Apple products Apple products. New decision-makers will make choices Steve wouldn't make. Talent will leave. Etc.

It's always possible that there are some geniuses working at Apple that Steve Jobs is holding back -- that Apple could be better without Steve. But we -- and Apple shareholders, who sent the stock down 6% in after-hours trading following Apple's announcement -- are sticking with the idea that Apple without Steve is not as good as Apple with Steve.