Apple CEO Steve Jobs is scheduled to make his comeback this month, and some are speculating he will make his first public appearance at the Worldwide Developers Conference next week.
Jobs took a six-month leave of absence in January to take himself out of the limelight and focus on his health -- and to allow Apple to focus on executing product delivery. At that time, Jobs said his leave would extend to the end of June.
A survivor of pancreatic cancer, Jobs' decision to step down followed speculation, analysis and finger-pointing around his health after he continued to lose weight last year. It was initially reported that a hormone imbalance was the culprit, but later Jobs admitted the issues were more complex than once thought. There was even a misprinted obituary about Jobs.
Jobs' Team Keeps Winning
That was the last of the public disclosures about Jobs' health. Now The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Jobs' problems involved an inability to digest protein. The paper cites people familiar with the matter as saying Jobs is recovering and plans to return to Apple later this month as promised.
Despite Apple's public statements that Jobs will return in late June, some believe he will make at least an appearance at the WWDC, perhaps in conjunction with a new iPhone introduction. What he won't do is give the keynote address. Apple said Philip Schiller, the company's chief marketing officer, will pinch-hit for Jobs this year.
Jobs may not return full-time, either. Tim Cook, Apple's COO, has been trying to fill Jobs' CEO shoes since January. Industry watchers expect Cook to continue that role for some period after Jobs returns. Apple has performed well in the public markets since Jobs' departure. The company's shares have risen 68 percent in the past six months.
Apple Proves a Point
Michael Gartenberg, a vice president at Interpret, declined to speculate on the Journal reports. If Jobs shows up at WWDC, he said, he will receive a warm welcome from the crowd. If Jobs doesn't make an appearance, on the other hand, investors won't be disappointed because Apple has already set the expectation for a Jobs return at the end of June.
"My position has long been that there is much more to Apple, Inc. than any one individual. There are tens of thousands of other employees there and a very capable senior leadership team, any one of whom in their own right could be a CEO of a company," Gartenberg said. "It's not surprising to me that Apple has thrived and prospered even without Steve visibly at the helm over the last few months."
In fact, Gartenberg said, WWDC attendees may not see Jobs for one reason: Apple may want to emphasize the fact that the company has prospered and launched products without the corporate icon driving the publicity machine.
"This speculation once again shows that all things Apple and all things Steve get scrutinized and put under the microscope in a way that we don't see with any other company," Gartenberg said. "We'll have to wait to see what the story is on Monday."