What’s Next for Apple?

Four years of fresh Apples?

According to a report in the Daily Mail, before he passed away, Apple icon Steve Jobs planned four more years worth of products, guaranteeing a wealth of new goodies for the foreseeable future.

Jobs spearheaded one of the best corporate turn-around stories of the ages, and built Apple into a brand to rival Sony. So it’s not too soon to ask what will happen to Apple without him, even with all those products in the pipeline -- but it's the wrong question.

To ask what's next for Apple is to imply that there has been a gap or a lag in action. There hasn’t been.

Apple hasn't been in a holding pattern since Steve Jobs fell ill and took a medical leave of absence. This year alone the company has released new operating systems for both mobile and desktop devices, a new iPhone, a new line of iMacs, new Macbooks -- oh, and ever heard of iPad 2? That's hardly a holding pattern.

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Jobs didn’t pass unexpectedly. The man was aware of his mortality and spent the last of his energy making sure that his company would live on with his vision and passion. Remember that despite his medical leave of absence as CEO, he still served as chairman of the board until his passing Oct. 5 at age 56.

Friends and sources who work at Apple say they are saddened to have lost their leader, but they don’t seem to be wandering around cyberspace like the Lost Boys. These are capable and brilliant people with confidence in their ability to innovate.

And innovate they do! A quick browse through recent Apple patent filings reveals designs for mobile solar-powered devices, Minority Report-style gizmos you can interact with through a wave of your hand, and near-field communication -- a form of touch-to-pay that lets you use your iPhone at a store’s checkout counter.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A friend recently told me that the attitude at Apple is somber yet resilient. This is not a company that will wallow in suffering. Apple is too busy trying to change the world, even without Jobs. That resilience, according to my sources, even has the company revisiting ideas and features that Jobs had previously vetoed -- respectfully, of course. And senior product managers are now taking a more prominent role by shepherding projects and designs.

Like millions of others, in the days since the passing of Steve Jobs, I've found myself far more broken-hearted than I ever thought I would be. I wasn't friends with Jobs. I didn’t know him personally. I met him once, last year at the launch of the original iPad. He walked up to the table I was standing at and simply said, “What do you think?” And we talked for only one or two minutes after that.

I never knew him personally, but he has spoken to me personally many times -- through his products. I respected Jobs immensely, and I find myself asking not only how I can implement his passion in my professional life, but in my personal life as well. That is what it means to inspire people.

And just as Jobs could inspire complete strangers like myself, he inspired those who worked closely with him. I felt it coming from Jobs’ hand-picked successor Tim Cook as he delivered an impressive new product line at last week’s iPhone 4S launch.

No, Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. He's from the South and speaks with a slight accent. He probably wears different clothes to work every day. He smiles an avuncular smile when he speaks, unlike the mad-genius smile Jobs often wore. Plus he's gentle and lacks Jobs’ biting competitive edge.

But none of that means he won’t be capable of his own brand of genius. Can he come up with a product as groundbreaking as the iPad? That's a question no one can answer. Is there any accounting for inspiration?

As I watched Cook present the company’s latest products last week, and hand off the stage to the men who had designed each piece of the product at hand, I felt inspired by him as well. I knew that I was watching a man who knew how to steer the massive ship he now captains, a man with an enormous amount of creative talent in each department.

And I thought to myself, You know what? This place is going to be okay.