Talk about a tough act to follow.
Now that Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO to become the company's chairman, the reigns of the company are now in the hands of Tim Cook.
First of all, nobody replaces Jobs. Beside the fact that he's an icon that has transcended the position of CEO, Jobs was both the visionary behind Apple's products and services, and the marketing genius that lured consumers into that world.
To call this the "Tim Cook" era of Apple would be slightly inaccurate. As chairman, Jobs in theory at least will still be the visionary behind the company's big-picture strategy and, of course, the master pitchman we all know him to be. But this leadership switch at the very least raises the possibility that Jobs may not be around for much longer to handle even those duties.
So who is Cook? The short answer is that he's been the heir-apparant for some time. As COO, Cook earned a reputation as a highly organized leader who has served as the operational glue keeping Apple running for years. He's the guy behind the logistics, supply chain, etcetera. He also oversaw all of Apple's sales and operations.
Prior to Apple, Cook held stints at Compaq and IBM. He came to Apple in 1998, charged with overhauling the company's manufacturing, distribution and supply operations. Since then, Cook twice took over temporary duty as CEO, first in 2004 when Jobs had his first cancer surgery and again in 2009 when Jobs had a liver transplant. Durint that time he became known to the Apple faithful on the keynote stage during the Worldwide Developer Conferences held in that time.
For a more in-depth profile of the man, check out this Forbes story from 2008.
As for Apple's music initiatives, Jobs was at the forefront of building iTunes. He personally negotiated the licensing deals with the major label heads. He was at the table brokering the U2 iPod deal. And when things got contentious with the music industry, he reframed the debate by going straight to the fans with a well-timed blog post (calling labels "greedy" when they wanted to raise prices in iTunes, or blaming labels for iTunes lack of DRM interoperability).
You're not likely to see the same kind of high profile wheeling-and-dealing from Cook. But in the short term at least, he doesn't really have to. Cook is coming in at a time when several new Apple products are just being rolled out -- the iCloud service expected for this fall, a much-anticipated iPhone 5, the recently launched Lion operating system. iTunes is largely running on its own now. The deals are set and just need renewing every so often. The last big licensing negotiation was for iCloud, and that's been settled.
Between these new products and Jobs staying on as chairman, we likely won't see the real impact of the transition to Cook for some time. It does, though, raise questions about the future of iTunes. Is a subscription music service in its future? Does it sort out its problems with Ping or its impasse with Facebook? Will Apple TV ever become more than a "hobby" and evolve into a real business for Apple that brings iTunes media into the mainstream living room?
In the next few days a lot will be written about how Jobs' departure is "the end of an era" -- and it unarguably is. The question now is, What era now begins? Cook is a nuts-and-bolts man. He's the guy who executes the big idea. It's not yet clear whether he can develop the big idea too. And Apple can only execute on its existing ideas for so long.