But strong or not, on track or not, without its mercurial leader, Apple just feels different to long-time company observers.
Gottheil said Jobs' absence is most obvious when Apple trots out its executives for a major product refresh or launch. The setting may be the same, the structure of the presentation similar if not identical to what Jobs defined, but there's something missing.
"It was expected, of course, but without him, their presentations lack punch," said Gottheil. "Somehow they aren't able to blow enough smoke, shine enough mirrors without Jobs."
Milanesi took up the thread when she talked about The Next Big Thing -- always capitalized when used with Jobs -- the idea that Apple would always have something amazing waiting in the wings. "Innovation is great, but maybe now that doesn't come every year, it comes every 5 years or every 10 years," she said.
"You don't get people like Jobs very often," said Gottheil. "He was in there at the beginning, like an artist is at the beginning of an art form. But when you're at the beginning, when you're defining that art form, you get to lay down the tracks that everyone else has to travel."
That was Jobs could do, Gottheil said. And that, more than anything else, is what is different about Apple without him.
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