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Steve Jobs And The Art Of Perfect Timing

It’s no coincidence that the early iPhone ads were backed by a track aptly titled ʻPerfect Timingʼ. A key part of Appleʼs success since the return of Steve Jobs has been their ability to choose the optimal opportunities at which to unveil new products, introduce new features and release corporate news.

So how much planning went in to the choice of Martin Luther King day on which to begin Steveʼs 2nd medical leave of absence? And how confident can we be that the companyʼs unprecedented success will continue without him at the helm? The initial shock felt by the markets in response to the news of an immediate sabbatical is understandable, but upon closer inspection itʼs plain to see that any fear of an imminent failure of Apple under Tim Cook is completely irrational.

Off the back of 10 successive quarters of continuous revenue growth, and a significant (78%) increase in earnings, Appleʼs outlook has never looked so good. How many other tech companies can boast holiday-quarter sales of $26bn and a demand for products that continues to challenge supply many months after launch? In fact, in the cold light of day, Steveʼs decision to take leave now is a clear illustration of his confidence in Appleʼs strength and prospects.

Thereʼs no disputing that Apple have reached some exciting milestones in recent weeks. With 160 million iOS devices now sold, and downloads from the App Store about to exceed 10 billion, the company is definitely at the top of its game. Furthermore, the holy grail of increased share in the traditional computer market is tipping in Appleʼs favor, with growth of 23% in Q4/10 against an industry-average 6% decline. 70% of Apple units sold in this sector were MacBooks, demonstrating their dominance in the laptop market from such a feature-rich and high-ticket portfolio.

When considered in context with this historic performance, it is no surprise that both Steve and Tim are buoyant about their position at the start of another important year. So what of the road ahead? 2011 will see the imminent launch of an improved 2nd-generation iPad with rumors already rife of a wealth of new features. Retina display, dual-cameras, an SD-card slot, reduced weight and potentially-improved SOC processor will make the iPad2 a definite ʻmust-haveʼ, and forecasters are already predicting iPad sales of over 13 million units this year, in a market where many competing models still look to be a country mile away from being true contenders.

By the end of the year, we may have witnessed the unveiling of a further-enhanced iPhone5, potentially featuring ʻnear-field communicationʼ (NFC) for contactless payments, which would once again revolutionize the cellphone market. Plus it is expected that the trend for increased laptop mobility set by the recently enhanced MacBook Air range will be extended to the MacBook Pro series, with a refreshed lineup of ultra-portable, ultra-powerful solid-state laptops expected over the next 12 months.

Additionally, Steve has hinted that exciting things lay ahead in the evolution of MobileMe and Appleʼs cloud services. And we are still expecting great things to emerge from Cupertino as a result of Appleʼs acquisition of Lala for a potential cloud-based streaming music service. Not to mention the possibilities that Apple TV presents to Apple to redefine living room entertainment. In Tim Cookʼs own words, during Tuesdayʼs stakeholder conference call, “[We are] very happy with the product pipeline.. The team has an unparalleled breadth and depth of talent and innovation that Steve has driven in the company, and excellence has become a habit, so we feel very confident about the future of the company.”

With a successful tenure as interim leader already in the bag, following his sterling effort during Steveʼs earlier leave of absence in 2009, he can afford to be optimistic. And if Apple is to continue its growth over the long-term, itʼs vital that investors and pundits can trust the company to perform without Jobsʼ constant presence. Unless this leave of absence is for some kind of cloning, then Tim – this is your time to shine.