Even in the upper echelons of industry, there are few business leaders whose retirement would command headlines around the globe - but Apple's extraordinary Steve Jobs is one of them, and his decision to step down as CEO this week was an event significant enough to push the fall of Tripoli off the front pages, even if only temporarily. It was also an event significant enough to wipe the GDP of a reasonably sized small country off Apple's market capitalisation, although given the firm's present valuation, even those gargantuan figures are just a glitch on the graph.
Jobs is a remarkable, high-profile, hands-on CEO, a man whose story causes the eyes of every technology dreamer or business student to gleam. The extent of his personal influence over Apple is unquestionable; the turnaround of the company after he returned from the exile imposed upon him by the managers he hired to run the firm in the 1990s is the stuff of business legend. Yet few question that the team he leaves in place is supremely competent, creative and driven by the same vision and values Jobs himself has followed. So why the jitters on the stock market?
The reason, quite simply, is uncertainty. Apple isn't in a traditional business, where you can easily project forward your sales and talk in terms of gradually breaking into new markets. Rather, it's a disruptive company - a trend-setter whose enormous successes in the past decade have come from smashing apart traditional industries with radical products that upset the market balance and establish Apple as the financial leader in the new order. The iPod did it to portable music players, the iPhone did it to mobile phones, and the iPad so utterly dominates the nascent tablet market (which is itself rapidly cannibalising the low-end laptop market) that some analysts have argued that there's no real market for "tablet devices", there's only a market for iPads.
That's all well and good, and Apple's valuation in the light of those developments (and the quieter but nonetheless impressive rise of the firm's traditional laptop and iMac systems, which have become major players in the consumer computing space) is fully deserved. It's also, however, a risky business - and the stock markets, at least, have felt for some time that Apple's success leans heavily on Jobs' unique skills as CEO. With him gone from the company's day-to-day operations, few expect Apple to crash and burn, but the possibility of direction changes or things being done differently loom over the firm.
Five years ago, the games business wouldn't have cared. Jobs' departure from Apple half a decade ago would have caused games industry bosses no more concern than a fleeting thought about whether their next iPod would be as good as the last one. Today, though, Jobs' departure is as ground-shaking an event as Satoru Iwata quitting Nintendo would be - or as Ken Kutaragi being ousted from Sony was.
There are, surprisingly, still those who question Apple's relevance as a gaming platform holder. Much of that, I suspect, is founded in a basic sense of personal antipathy towards Apple. There's an audience of people, many of them fairly technically minded types who enjoy tinkering with their devices, who find the Apple approach to computing restrictive and don't understand why consumers are willing to pay a premium for design and user experience, rather than taking the time to learn how to use a more complex but ultimately more powerful system.