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Steve Jobs takes second medical leave. Will Apple wobble?

Steve Jobs announces an indefinite medical leave. While Steve Jobs is still CEO, what does this mean for Apple's future?

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In 2010, investors seemingly grew accustomed to Jobs' extreme thinness, focusing instead on the early success of the iPad with consumers. Shares increased 53 percent last year to top $300. With Apple no doubt polishing the second version of the iPad and competition among tablet makers expected to heat up this year and next, some stockholders may fear that without Jobs, Apple could lose its lead to tablets running Google's Android software or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

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Analysts believe Apple has plans for several years' worth of products in the pipeline. And Cook, who is seen as a logical eventual successor to Jobs, is no stranger to investors. He ran the Cupertino, Calif.-based company for two months in 2004 while Jobs battled pancreatic cancer, and again in 2009 during Jobs' most recent medical leave. Apple chugged along smoothly then, releasing a new version of the iPhone and updated laptops on schedule.

Since Cook, 50, began with Apple in 1998, he has been credited with tuning Apple's manufacturing process to solve chronic product delays and supply problems.

"Steve is clearly still the visionary behind Apple," said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, who has been covering Apple for decades.

But, Bajarin said, Cook "understands the way Steve thinks, how Steve manages. He understands Steve's vision and probably more important than anything else, he understands Apple. And I don't see any changes in direction or vision or execution even though Steve's not day-to-day."

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.