Apple's talismanic chief executive Steve Jobs admitted for the first time yesterday that he has had a liver transplant. Confirming intense speculation from legions of Apple devotees, Mr Jobs, in trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck, took to the stage at a press conference in San Francisco. It was his first public appearance since his return to work in June after six months' medical leave.
"I'm very happy to be here," he said, after a standing ovation lasting a full two minutes. "As some of you may know, about five months ago I had a liver transplant. I now have the liver of a mid-20 [-year-old] person who died in a car crash and was generous enough to donate their organs. I wouldn't be here without such generosity.
"I hope all of us can be as generous and think about becoming organ donors," he continued. "I'd like to thank everyone in the Apple community for their support. It really meant a lot... I'm back at Apple, and loving every day of it."
From the Mac, to the iPod to the iPhone, it is at press conferences such as these that in the past few decades Mr Jobs has habitually changed the way many people live their lives. Yesterday's revelations were less dramatic: a new iPod nano that is able to take video and upload it directly to YouTube, and iTunes LP, a new feature for the music download service iTunes that adds videos, liner notes, lyrics and other extras when users buy an entire album as opposed to individual tracks.
But of far greater significance than the products launched is the simple sight of Mr Jobs, albeit rather thin, but nevertheless alive and in relatively good health. It is the news that thousands of Apple evangelists will have been praying for. But more so, as the founder, CEO and irrepressible soul of one of the world's most innovative and admired companies, the matter of Mr Jobs's health is believed by many to be a billion-dollar question. The investor Warren Buffett criticised Mr Jobs for the secrecy he maintained over his health, saying: "Steve Jobs is important to Apple. Whether he is facing serious surgery or not is a material fact."
Mr Jobs, who in 2004 was diagnosed with a rare, treatable form of pancreatic cancer, made a series of confusing announcements in January regarding his health after many noted his increasingly gaunt appearance at public speeches.
Apple initially claimed Mr Jobs had a "common bug", which eventually became a "hormonal imbalance". A few days later Apple said the problem was "more complex" than he had thought.
The details of his medical problem were only made clear through documents leaked to the press – reportedly with Mr Jobs's approval – that he had undergone a liver transplant in Memphis, Tennessee. He had moved to Memphis because of the short transplant waiting list in Tennessee, and wanted to be near by if a liver became available. Many media outlets suggested his money and celebrity had seen him receive preferential treatment in the wait for a transplant. The Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute said he was, "the sickest patient on the waiting list at the time".
Technology analysts had speculated Mr Jobs would use this press conference to unveil the Apple Tablet, a touch-screen Mac iPhone and iBook hybrid that has Apple devotees salivating and might just revolutionise our lives all over again. But instead, by quietly encouraging the millions who hang off his every word, to just think about becoming organ donors, he may have done even more.