Steve Jobs, who has been struggling with his health since 2004, resigned as Apple CEO on Wednesday, the company said. He will be replaced, as widely expected, by Tim Cook, the company's chief operating officer.
Apple gave no reason for Jobs' sudden departure, but the 56-year-old Jobs has been on medical leave since January and has looked gaunt at brief appearances to unveil the iPad 2 and at a conference in June. He has been treated for a rare form of pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant.
Cook, 50, is a 13-year veteran of Apple and has filled in repeatedly for Jobs. Anlysts and others have speculated for years that Jobs would be unable to stay at the helm of the company he co-founded in a garage in 1976 because of his health, but Jobs has been fiercely private about his medical condition.
"I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know," Jobs wrote in a letter to Apple's board. "Unfortunately, that day has come."
(TEXT: Steve Jobs' Resignation Letter)
Jobs has been elected chairman of the board and media reports quoted Apple insiders as saying he would remain involved in the company's operations. He asked specifically to stay on as an employee.
“Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company,” board member Art Levinson said in a statement. “The Board has complete confidence that Tim is the right person to be our next CEO."
Apple's shares were suspended from trade before the announcement and quickly fell 7 percent in after-hours trading.
Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak, Mike Markkula, and others and they developed the Apple II home computer, which first went on sale in 1977. Jobs left Apple Computer in 1985 to develop a new operating system and the NeXT computer company. He came back to Apple in 1996 when it bought NeXT and became CEO in 1997.
(PICTURES: Steve Jobs Through the Years)
His flair for showmanship and charismatic personality have been widely credited for some of Apple's success and investors will be worried about the future of Apple.
"Given that it's just ahead of the iPhone 5 release it is a surprise because this company is near and dear to his heart and he has been instrumental in re-architecting this turnaround and its explosive performance," Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw LLC, was quoted as saying by Reuters. "So the fact that he is stepping down ahead of a much anticipated product release is not a good sign."
Under Jobs' leadership Apple has gone from being an ailing personal computer company to an innovator that has led the field in developing the iPhone, iPad and sleekly designed and sought-after personal computers.