It does seem to me that Apple will struggle to replace Steve Jobs. He has an unusual combination of talents.
As the near-hysteria surrounding his resignation illustrates, perhaps his greatest talent is that of making other people believe - in him and his plans.
Not just people too, but smart, creative, difficult people; programmers and artists. If managing programmers is like herding cats, he is a cat whisperer par excellence.
Allied to that, he obviously has a compelling vision to believe in.
He’s not perfect - he doesn’t get everything right, and when he chooses to focus his micro-management skills on you, I expect it’s a complete nightmare. He doesn’t strike me as capricious though, and whilst I suspect that a lot of what he does is driven by intuition, his intuition is well tuned and consistent. Under Jobs, Apple has had a clear philosophy, and on the whole the products that it sells fit together, do what they are meant to, and just make sense.
It’s going to be hard for Apple to replace all of the above. They can find a charismatic leader, a details guy, or a visionary, but all three in one is asking a lot. More to the point - finding one who’s vision is already compatible with Apple’s current position and future heading is going to be very difficult. You’d think that the most likely place to look for someone with a compatible world view would be within Apple, albeit not at the board level. Ask yourself this though - “would Steve be working for Steve?”. Maybe not.
Whatever happens, I’m sure that Apple have enough inertia to be fine in the short to medium term. Longer than that, and it’s possible that things will drift. That’s natural though, and probably healthy. I suspect that Apple’s position of dominance now would have been anathema to many of the early employees, who were also instrumental in making it what it is today. The new versions of those people shouldn’t be at Apple now - they should be working in the startup that will knock Apple off its perch one day. Overseen and driven on by the next Steve Jobs. Which is entirely as it should be.
In the meantime, I wish Steve well. He and a handful of other people at Apple, Xerox and Next have changed my life, and I’m grateful to them all for that.