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Nearly all the key Apple executives have been at the company for years, many of them joining the company around the time of Jobs‘ 1997 return.

The biggest area of concern is Ron Johnson, the man in charge of the Apple stores that have become the main showcase for the company’s sleek devices. Johnson is leaving Apple in November to become J.C. Penney Co.’s CEO, but Howe thinks Apple won’t have much problem finding another savvy merchant to replace him.

Jobs has done such a masterful job plotting Apple’s progression from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad that the next few years of new products are probably already in the pipeline. With an operating system already in place for use on a multitude of devices, it’s likely that Jobs already has laid the groundwork to place Apple’s technology on other gadgets with screens, including in-car navigation systems and televisions, Bajarin said.

Investors appear to be betting that Apple won’t miss a beat. Apple’s stock dipped $2.46, or less than 1 percent, Thursday to close at $373.72.

Things could get rocky if it becomes clear Jobs‘ health is getting worse. He has looked frail in his recent public appearances.

Jobs resignation letter indicated he isn’t feeling well enough to be a full-time CEO. But analysts think that could just mean he has figured out he needs to focus more on his health and spend just part of his time as Apple’s chief visionary.

The resignation may even turn out to be a positive for Apple because it will end the perpetual guessing game about who is going to succeed Jobs as CEO and give Cook even more of a chance to prove his management chops, said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu.

Jobs’ decision to step aside “is very brave,” Wu said. “Some guys hold on to the last minute, but he had the foresight, the maturity level to do this. It’s a huge step.”

Apple’s hot streak probably made the choice easier, Bajarin said. “If there ever was a time where Steve Jobs was going to make his own health his top job, this is it.”

It could well be that Jobs will relish the opportunity to focus more on big-picture ideas and less on the more mundane tasks of running a company that can now be left to Cook and others, said Jay Elliot, a former Apple vice president who worked closely with Jobs in the 1980s.

Steve is incredibly passionate about the product, his whole life is driven by the product,” said Elliot, who wrote a book “The Steve Jobs Way _ iLeadership For a New Generation.” “I view him as an artist making sure the final painting is a masterpiece.”


AP Technology Writer Jordan Robertson in San Francisco contributed to this story.