Steve Jobs last night put the company he founded 35 years ago under new management, submitting his resignation as chief executive of Apple and finally succumbing to the health problems which have dogged him for years.
Although he will keep the title of chairman, and stay involved as an adviser to the company, he handed day-to-day decision-making control to his deputy, Tim Cook. And in a short and emotional resignation letter, sent to the board yesterday and published to "the Apple community" last night, Mr Jobs left no room for hope that he will resume his former duties. "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's chief executive officer, I would be the first to let you know," he wrote. "Unfortunately, that day has come."
The resignation robs the technology world of one of its foremost innovators, visionaries and showmen, and casts Apple itself into an uncertain future. So closely are its products associated with Mr Jobs that trading in Apple shares has swung wildly for years in response to each new rumour about his health.
Even last night, when trading in Apple shares was again halted to allow investors to digest the news, Mr Jobs gave precious little detail about his medical prognosis, and about how involved he will be able to be as chairman. Mr Jobs took indefinite medical leave from his post in January of this year. But he continued to direct major decisions, such as the design features of the latest iPad tablet computers – which was just the latest in a string of revolutionary devices that will stand as his legacy for years after he is gone.
Although he has on occasion looked thin and unwell, he appeared regularly in public to represent the company, unveiling its iCloud music-storage service to an adoring audience of technology press and bloggers in June and attending a dinner of Silicon Valley bosses with President Barack Obama in the spring.
"I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role," Mr Jobs wrote to staff yesterday. "I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you."
A 21-year-old Jobs founded Apple Computer with his friends Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne in the bedroom at his parents' California home on 1 April 1976, and its early devices helped to turn the personal computer from the preserve of hobbyists into an easy-to-use device that everyone would desire.
After being thrown out of the company in a boardroom row over strategy a decade later, Mr Jobs eventually returned to rescue Apple, overseeing the launch of first the iPod music player, then the iPhone and now the iPad. Although Mr Cook has none of the showmanship with which Mr Jobs promoted the launch of each device as a world-shaking event, he has nonetheless built his own following in Silicon Valley, where he is praised for his command of the manufacturing process.
Mr Cook paid his own tribute to Mr Jobs last night: "Steve has made countless contributions to Apple's success, and he has attracted and inspired Apple's immensely creative employees and world-class executive team. In his new role as chairman of the board, Steve will continue to serve Apple with his unique insights, creativity and inspiration."
From Macintosh to the iPad
1976 Jobs co-founds Apple
1980 Apple's stock market flotation is biggest since Ford in 1956
1985 Leaves Apple to concentrate on new ventures, including Pixar and NeXT
1997 Returns to Apple promising to revitalise the flagging company
2000 Resumes as Apple CEO
2002 iPod launched
2003 iTunes launched
August 2004 announces he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has undergone surgery to remove tumour.
2007 iPhone launched
June 2009 Returns to work six months after taking time off for liver transplant as part of cancer treatment
January 2010 iPad launched
17 January 2011 Announces he is taking a break from day-to-day operations to concentrate on his health.
11 March 2011 iPad 2 launched
24 August 2011 Jobs resigns as Apple CEO.