Apple Inc. set off shock waves Tuesday by announcing Steve Jobs will not speak at what the company said would be its final appearance at the Macworld trade show.

The news sent the company's stock downward, and raised questions about whether Jobs had new health problems or some new products were not ready.

But another question is likely to persist after the debate dies down: How well could Apple keep up the pace of new products without its iconic chief executive?

Speculation about the continued reign of Jobs — which has popped up from time to time since his 2004 treatment for cancer — underscore how closely Apple's fashion-setting products are identified with its co-founder.

There is no sign of any change in his status; an Apple spokesman wouldn't address the issue of his health, but said, "If Steve or the board decides that Steve is no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I am sure they will let you know."

What if that situation does change? There is reason for optimism, based on the evolution of the team that develops Apple's hardware, software and services, some people familiar with the company's internal workings say.

Some of them believe the group is now strong enough that, barring an exodus of top talent, the company could keep churning out innovative products without Jobs.

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