Apple Inc. founder and chief executive Steve Jobs said he will take a medical leave of absence from the company until the end of June, according to an e-mail from the CEO to Apple employees.
"Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well," Jobs wrote in the e-mail. "In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought."
Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, will take on the chief executive responsibilities until Jobs' return.
Apple's shares fell 6.54 percent in after-hours trading on the news of Jobs' medical leave.
"Steve Jobs is a pop culture icon," said, Avi Greengart, an industry analyst with research firm Current Analysis. "There's definitely the notion that Steve Jobs is Apple."
"Where Steve Jobs' [absence] will be most acutely felt long-term is deciding what products to kill, what products to keep … making the decisions that enable a healthy set of platforms," he said, adding that Jobs's e-mail indicates that he will continue to be involved in decision-making while he is on leave.
"Apple has a very deep bench - there are a lot of talented individuals up and down," Greengart told ABCNews.com. But he also said that no matter how talented Jobs' successor may be, he or she may not have the same pull in terms of decision-making.
"He is the leader. He is their icon," said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. "Without him, there will be some questions about where this goes in the future."
The shift comes a little more than a week after Jobs issued a statement downplaying widespread speculation about his apparent weight loss over the past year, including rumors that a pancreatic condition he had suffered had worsened. The 53-year-old attributed his gaunt appearance to an easily treated hormone imbalance.
Jobs' assertion is buoyed by the fact that the pancreatic condition he survived -- called a neuroendocrine tumor, or NET -- is much less deadly than the more common form of pancreatic cancer that took the lives of "Last Lecture" professor Randy Pausch and New York Times reporter Dith Pran, and which actor Patrick Swayze now faces.
Only about 2,000 to 3,000 neuroendocrine tumor cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, and up to half of those with malignant forms of these tumors are still alive after five years, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute. When those with nonmalignant forms of these tumors are included, the survival rate is even higher.
Conversely, doctors estimate that about 30,000 people were diagnosed with the deadlier form of pancreatic cancer this year, which has a five-year survival rate of about 5 percent.
"My decision to have [Apple marketing chief] Phil Schiller deliver the Macworld keynote set off another flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed," Jobs noted in a statement issued Jan. 5, on the first day of the MacWorld 2009 conference. "Fortunately, after further testing, my doctors think they have found the cause -- a hormone imbalance that has been 'robbing' me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy."
Jobs further noted in his Jan. 5 letter that the remedy for the problem is "relatively simple and straightforward," and that he has already begun treatment to correct the condition.