If the WSJ is right, and Steve Jobs really received a liver transplant about two months ago, then what does this mean for the future of Apple?
First, there's the question of whether the story is genuine. Apple public policy is that it doesn't discuss Jobs' health, maintaining that it's a private matter. However, I would have expected a report of this sort coming from a source such as the WSJ to have been vigorously denied by someone by now if it weren't true, so for now I think that we can take the report to be genuine.
OK, so if we assume that the report of the liver transplant is genuine, who talked to the WSJ? The source is cited as "a person familiar with the thinking at Apple," but that's not much to go on. People I've spoken to seem pretty confident that the story was leaked to the WSJ from the highest echelons of Apple. What's more, Apple watchers feel that the timing, specifically that this story was leaked at the end of the week following the release of the iPhone 3G S, is too coincidental to be accidental.
Note: AAPL, as it stands at the time of writing, is following the NASDAQ or Dow trend.
It's hard to overlook the fact that the timing couldn't have been better for Apple to leak information that, if allowed to come out in an uncontrolled way, could have an adverse effect on stock price. While Apple's public policy is that the company doesn't talk about Jobs' health, I'm not so sure that everyone at Apple agrees with this policy.
Then there's the whole issue of how much a CEO should disclose about his or her health to stockholders. This leak, if true, tells us that Jobs was far sicker than then stockholders had been made of previously. While I tend to lean towards health being a private matter, there will be many that look at this latest revelation as one that had the potential to really hammer the company's value.
Then there's that bit about how Jobs may return to Apple, albeit in a part-time capacity. This sounds a lot to me like someone bookending the bad news between the good news of the iPhone 3G S launch on one end, and the glimmer of hope that Jobs may be back at the helm at the other. Maybe I'm being cynical, but this sounds like trying to gloss the bad news in order to soften the blow.
Is it time to buy or sell Apple stock? I can't answer that (and I suggest that you don't take any investment advice from anyone not gambling with their own money in the stocks they're talking about). One thing, however, is clear. A period of change faces Apple, and whether that leads to a better, stronger Apple, or one that where the company just becomes another faceless entity remains to be seen.
And it goes without saying that I wish Jobs all the very best for the future. I have enormous respect for the man, and no matter how you feel about Apple products, you can't dismiss the fact that he bought a charismatic, human face to a multi-billion dollar multinational company. That's a tough job.