Apple CEO search slows for Xmas

Apple Computer Inc.'s self-imposed year-end deadline for naming a new chief executive is fast approaching, but there's little sign the company will have any major pre-holiday announcements.

Even as MacWorld Expo looms on the horizon, the company has revealed little about its search for a new leader.

"We haven't changed our status, but that doesn't mean we won't," Apple spokeswoman Katie Cotton said. "It's an expectation, not a deadline."

Naming a new CEO would lift Apple's sagging stock.

The company has said for months that it expects to name a new CEO by the end of the year, but many of the people rumored to be top candidates have taken jobs at other companies.

In mid-November, new Apple board member and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said he had a favorite candidate, but little has been made of the issue since.

Part of the problem is that whoever takes the job would have to run the company under the influence of interim CEO Steven Jobs, or push the charismatic Apple co-founder out of the way, analysts said. Jobs began running Apple shortly after CEO Gil Amelio was ousted in July.

"Steve casts a long shadow," Dataquest Inc. analyst James Staten said. "That factor isn't going to change."

Meanwhile, the upcoming MacWorld Expo trade show in San Francisco features Jobs' keynote on Jan. 6. The last time Jobs spoke at MacWorld, in August, he dazzled the crowd, unveiling a revamped board of directors - including himself - and a $150 million investment from Microsoft Corp.

But analysts don't expect the company to drop any bombshells this time around. Instead, they say the company will tout existing products and software upgrades as it tries to get older products off the shelves and push its new product line powered by the speedy G3 chip.

Many said they'd be surprised if Apple used the forum to tap a new CEO.

"If someone signed on the dotted line, there becomes a buzz," said Tim Bajarin, president of the research firm Creative Strategies, adding that Apple has been tight-lipped about both the candidates and the process. "I'm not getting any clear cut indication that anything's wrapped up."

Indeed, the mood surrounding expectations at Apple is much different than even a month ago, when Jobs held a much-hyped meeting in the same Cupertino, Calif., auditorium where he introduced the Macintosh personal computer in the early 1980s.

Many were anticipating Apple would announce a new CEO or a deal with Oracle to release network computers.

Instead, it revealed a new line of G3 computers and plans to sell products online.

"It was big news for Apple, but it was anticlimactic," Bajarin said.

So far under Jobs, the company has received more than $12 million of online orders and has joined with CompUSA to open up a series of ministores dedicated to Apple products within the superstore's space. It also has begun a new round of belt-tightening, eliminating employee sabbaticals and replacing cash rewards with stock options.

However, the moves haven't been enough to stem losses and slips in both stock price and market share. Apple's third-quarter market share has slipped to just 3.3 per cent, and Tuesday's closing stock price of $14.31 hovered just above a low of $12.75 reached in July.

Still, Apple could have some surprises at MacWorld and beyond.

"Steve has ways of pulling rabbits out of his hat," Bajarin said. "I would never bet against Steve."