In a move likely to spark renewed questions about CEO Steve Jobs' health, Apple late Tuesday said that the keynote speech at next month's Macworld Conference & Expo will be delivered by Philip Schiller, the company's senior product marketing executive.
Apple also announced that it will no longer exhibit at the San Francisco event, which runs Jan. 5-9, after next month's show.
"I'm surprised," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, of the announcement that Schiller would handle the keynote, something Jobs has become famous for giving. "But it's part of the continuity that they attempted to establish when they rolled out the MacBooks, when Jobs didn't do a solo."
During the October MacBook event, Jobs shared the stage with other senior executives, including Tim Cook, the company's chief operating officer. Over the years, Jobs has used his time on stage to unveil numerous new products, including the company's MacBook Air laptop earlier this year, and the first iPhone in January 2007.
"Clearly, Apple wants to showcase their top management, but this is an interesting time to do it, when the stock is under pressure," Gottheil said. "But I think they want to communicate that the company is a good deal more than Jobs, and that its ongoing health and prosperity is not connected to him."
Although Apple's shares were up 68 cents, or 0.7 percent, Tuesday to close at $95.43, they dropped $2.48, or 2.6 percent, to $93 in early after-hour trading.
Jobs' health has been a matter of concern for some Wall Street analysts, and a topic of discussion among Apple users and investors for months. The speculation started in June, when Jobs appeared gaunt at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference, and was fueled by talk that he might again be seriously ill. In 2004, Jobs announced that he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his pancreas.