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Apple’s products can command a premium in part because of their design and materials, choices made by Jonathan Ive, Apple’s top design executive, and his team. Ive has been with Apple since 1996 and has overseen the industrial design of the iPod, the aluminum-body Macbook laptops, the iPhone and the iPad.

“He’s responsible for the look and feel of the stores, the products, the software. And no slight to Tim (Cook), but we think he’s the most important person in the company,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst for Kaufman Bros.

Without more information about Jobs‘ medical condition, it’s impossible to say when the CEO might be able to return to work — if at all. Apple has a history of extreme secrecy when it comes to the iconic CEO’s health, disclosing major illnesses only after the fact.

The company waited until after Jobs underwent surgery in 2004 to treat a very rare form of pancreatic cancer — an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor — before alerting investors. That type of cancer can be cured if diagnosed early, unlike the deadlier and more common adenocarcinoma.

By 2008, Jobs had lost a noticeable amount of weight, but Apple attributed his gaunt appearance to a “common bug.” In January 2009, Jobs issued a statement saying the weight loss was caused by a hormone imbalance, and that the treatment was simple. He backtracked less than two weeks later, however, announcing a six-month medical leave. During that time, he received a liver transplant that came to light two months after it was performed.

Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, which performed Jobs‘ 2009 transplant, said Monday that he is not a patient. It declined to comment on his current condition.

Medical experts who do not treat Jobs can make some educated guesses.

Dr. Michael Poryako, medical director of liver transplantation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, listed a slew of conditions that might be affecting Jobs, including jaundice and kidney and vascular problems — not to mention side effects from the immunosuppressant drugs patients take following an organ transplant.

However, he said it’s unlikely Jobs‘ body is rejecting his liver two years after the transplant.

“If the liver is functioning appropriately, people tend to return to normal muscle mass and normal physiologic functioning, which makes them feel better and look better,” he said.

Dr. Roderich Schwarz, director of surgical oncology at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, said it is possible cancer has invaded Jobs‘ new liver.

Schwarz, who also has not treated Jobs, said it’s possible the CEO is also having problems linked to his initial surgery targeting the pancreas, which controls key digestive enzymes.

Apple’s board members approved Jobs‘ request for medical leave. Most did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Arthur Levinson, chairman of Genentech Inc., declined to comment. Millard Drexler, CEO of J. Crew Group, was unavailable for comment, according to a spokeswoman. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore referred a reporter to Apple’s press office.


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