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“I don’t think anyone thinks Apple is going away tomorrow,” he said. At the same time, he said, “ultimately it’s the leader who creates a culture.”

While Apple’s focus on attractive design and ease of use has fostered a culture of innovation, heavy secrecy is also a cornerstone of its operations.

The veil the company drapes over its inner workings encourages a furious online trade in speculation and rumors about Apple and its products.

Outside the company’s Cupertino headquarters Thursday, Apple employees were unsurprisingly tight-lipped about their boss’ decision, saying they’re under strict orders not to talk to reporters.

“It’s called job security,” one employee said.

Jobs’ replacement as CEO is Tim Cook, a longtime Apple executive who has temporarily filled the spot when Jobs has gone on medical leave. While no one including Cook can currently match Jobs‘ tech industry star power, some longtime industry observers say the key to Apple’s future success lies in how much attention it can continue to draw to its products, not its leader.

Says Computer History Museum software curator Al Kossow: “The question is whether Tim Cook is going to keep innovating.”

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Marcus Wohlsen can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/marcuswohlsen