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) -- Are investors losing faith in


because there's no visionary spark at the helm?

I think that's a significant part of Apple's stock performance of late. There was a grace period after Jobs' passing, but as time wore on, the absence of a true, charismatic visionary at the top has hurt Apple.

There's no problem from an operational aspect -- things are running like a top. Yet there is a huge deficit in the passion the iMaker once exuded. Maybe it's just perception, but it is clear that the reality distortion field has dimmed and people who were once devotees of the Apple aura are now being swayed by number of features rather than the balance between form and function.

After all, Apple didn't ascend from the ashes because it engaged in a feature war. In fact, Apple did the exact opposite: The company bucked the trend, rejected the status quo and reduced features, reduced choices, made things simple, elegant, and you felt like the products were made just for you. The philosophy that brought Apple back from obscurity was simplicity.

Part of that vision, Jobs' vision, was that Apple wouldn't kowtow to focus groups and broad market appeal. No, instead the company would simply create insanely great products, and if you were someone who was willing to pay the price for a premium product, then all was good. If not, then Apple (Jobs) didn't want you as a customer.

All this talk about Apple releasing a cheaper iPhone so it can broaden the consumer base is antithetical to this vision. It's doubtful that Apple, with Tim Cook at the helm, is likely to go down that path. Unless of course, Cook has lost the spirit of his mentor. I feel Jobs' impression will last for quite some time.

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Cook is a smart man, a highly effective operations executive, and perhaps history will prove him to be the best. I think he knows not to upset what works. The problem is that he may not know what to do when the landscape changes, and he's forced to innovate. If he's truly inherited the vision thing, and if Jobs did his job well enough to surround Cook with people who can collectively carry on in a Jobs-like way, then all is good.

But we need a sign. We need to feel Jobs' vision lives on, that it is embodied in the key executives, and that it's strong. The problem is, neither Jony Ive nor Phil Schiller, the two most likely to show a modicum of charisma, have yet to connect with the public. Apple needs a charismatic leader.

Will someone rise to meet that need? Who is the most likely candidate, and how will he or she learn to be that charismatic leader? It can certainly be done, and perhaps all it will take is some hard work and training.

It sounds simplistic, but think back when Jobs was young. He was awkward, with few social graces, and no one ever labeled him as charismatic. But he learned, he studied, he practiced. Perhaps it took the humility of leaving Apple and starting NeXT from the ground up to mature; perhaps he just did it because he recognized it was the simplest path to selling his vision.

I think Ive can do it. He's already mastered simplicity, the balance of form and function, and aesthetics. He's tempered and well-liked. Ive just needs a good dose of charisma.

Who do you think can lift Apple?

-- Written by Ernie Varitimos, author of the Apple Investor blog.

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This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Ernie Varitimos has a long history with Apple as an investor, trader and consumer of its technology. He started his career as a rocket scientist and has spent the past 25 years driving, controlling and influencing technology in the financial industry. Ernie is a former hedge fund manager and current futures trader.