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Apple's Magic Can't Last Without Jobs

Shareholders have to be wondering whether Apple, minus Steve Jobs, can produce wares that shine on their own.

At times like these,


(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

is really a one-man show. And that man, as he announced


Wednesday, is on medical leave until June.

This gives Apple one year to continue enjoying the fruits of Jobs' efforts should he not return, says one analysts, as operations chief

Tim Cook

fills in as interim CEO.

Meanwhile, Apple's board will be scrambling to fend off shareholder lawsuits concerning its handling of the potentially material information about the CEO's



But a bigger concern to shareholders is whether Apple can continue to make the magic happen in a market that appears to get more challenging each week.

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Fearing further negative surprises, many investors crowded toward the exits sending Apple shares down 5% Thursday.

And analysts were far from agreement on what Apple's Job-less prospects hold, offering a mix of upgrades and downgrades on the news.

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One-Year Grace Period

Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner summed up the consensus view saying: "Apple will always be better off having Jobs in charge rather than anyone else."

Jobs' absence probably won't have any impact on products coming out this year, Reiner says. "The filtering and sculpting work that Jobs does has probably already been done. It's 2010 and beyond when Jobs' absence will be felt," Reiner says.

Apple is expected to have at least three new major products this year, according to analysts. Among the possibilities are a refreshed iMac desktop lineup, Snow Leopard, the previously announced update to Apple's Leopard operating system and a cheaper version of the iPhone.

Analysts are particularly focused on the so-called nano iPhone. Assuming Jobs contributed to the new variations of the iPhone, some analysts predict a repeat in mobile phones of what the iPod did to portable music players. One such predition from Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research caught the attention of avid Apple watchers by calling for 77 million iPhones to be sold in 2013.

But not everyone is quite as optimistic.

RBC analyst Mike Abramsky downgraded Apple to a sell Thursday, citing the leadership void and new evidence of even weaker consumer spending ahead. According to Abramsky's report Thursday, a recent Changewave survey of people planning to buy Apple products shows a five percentage point drop in the number of potential Mac laptop buyers since November and a four percentage point drop in iPhone buyers since September.

The data in Abramsky's report suggest that even Apple's two hottest-selling categories are coming under pressure in the consumer spending slowdown.

The growing popularity of so-called netbooks, the sub-$600 computers from Asian manufacturers, may have taken some of the shine off Apple's pricy notebooks. Apple has been gaining market share against larger PC makers like No. 1


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and No. 2


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. In the faster growing notebook category, Apple increased its share to 3.2% in the third quarter from 2.7% in the prior quarter, according to iSupply.

Much of Apple's success over the past decade has been attributed to Jobs' uncanny product decisions. But it's also notable that that same period was marked by the

decline of the PC industry

, which suffered from brutal price wars and dismal product quality. Add to that a slumping economy and cut-throat competition from lower-cost rivals, and you have bit of a challenge.

With -- and particularly without Jobs -- Apple is in for a rough few years.