Apple CEO Steve Jobs to Take Open-Ended Medical Leave

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who battled pancreatic cancer in 2004 and received a new liver in 2009, is taking a medical leave of absence. No return date was offered.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Jan. 17 in an e-mail to Apple employees that he'll be taking another medical leave of absence to focus on his health.

Jobs didn't offer any details about his health, or how long he plans to be on his board-sanctioned leave, but he wrote that he'll continue to act as CEO and be involved in "major strategic decisions for the company." During his absence, however, COO Tim Cook will be responsible for the company's day-to-day operations.

"I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011," Jobs wrote. "I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can."

Almost exactly two years ago, Jobs, who in 2004 successfully battled pancreatic cancer, sent a similar letter to the "Apple community," saying that his weight loss and poor health in 2008 were due to a "hormone imbalance." However, a few days later, on Jan. 14, 2009, Jobs sent out a second letter saying that his health issues were "more complex than I originally thought." He added that curiosity over his failing health was a distraction to him and his family, as well as to everyone at Apple, and so he planned to take himself "out of the limelight" to focus on his health, and "allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products."

In the second letter-during which Cook was likewise put in charge of operations-Jobs said that he'd be back at the end of June. After his return, it was revealed that in April he'd received a liver transplant in Tennessee, a state where the wait time for an organ transplant is far shorter than in Jobs' home state of California.

The transplant stirred much debate, with critics suggesting that Jobs' wealth had enabled him to essentially cut in line ahead of others waiting for a liver door. While a certain degree of wealth was necessary to make the temporary move to a region where a lower overall population results in a wait time shorter than that of the national average, Dr. James Eason, the chief transplant surgeon at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, released a statement in June, justifying the surgery.

"He received a liver transplant because he was the patient with the highest MELD score (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) of his blood type and, therefore, the sickest patient on the waiting list at the time a donor organ became available," Eason said in the statement.

Jobs also faced the ire of investors, who complained that they should have been alerted to the severity of Jobs' condition and grumbled about the possibility of filing lawsuits.

With Cook in charge, there's no reason to expect things at Apple won't proceed smoothly. The company is beginning the rollout of a Verizon Wireless iPhone 4, and over the summer is expected to introduce its newest version of the smartphone.

"There is a lot of respect for Tim Cook internally at Apple and externally, and he has proved to be able to drive the company well," Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi told eWEEK. "It is hard to say how much involvement there has been and will be from Steve Jobs while he's out, but considering how long the two have worked together, there must be deep respect and strong collaboration between the two."

She added that Cook's performance during Jobs' 2009 leave was strong enough that "Apple recognized that with a bonus."

It's unknown whether Jobs' current leave is related to his liver, his pancreas or another matter. Until he returns, he said in his most recent letter, "My family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy."

Apple is scheduled to announce the results of its 2011 first fiscal quarter Jan. 18.