Steve Jobs has handed over the Apple reins to chief operating officer Tim Cook, effective immediately.

The news was issued with an open letter from Jobs: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Although his resignation was not unexpected, given Jobs’ health problems over the past several years, losing a visionary leader so closely affiliated with a company’s success was always going to feel like an unpleasant surprise. Apple’s stock fell 5.15 percent to $356.89 in after-hours trading following the announcement at about 3:40 p.m. PT (6:40 p.m. ET).  fell $19.37.

Jobs has been private – almost secretive – about his battle with pancreatic cancer, the first public sign of which was his 2004 leave of absence. His appearances became less frequent, although Jobs did personally unveil Apple’s iPad on March 2 and the iCloud suite of services at Apple’s June 6 developer’s conference June 6.

Cook, who now takes the title of interim CEO, has been with Apple since 1998 and is widely respected as a reliable leader who has had considerable influence on the company’s soaring stock price. Apple recently became the most valuable company in the world, with a market capitalization in excess of $330 billion.

Apple’s board rewarded Cook (pictured, right) with a $5 million bonus, as well as 75,000 restricted stock units in appreciation for “his outstanding performance.”

“The board has complete confidence that Tim is the right person to be our next CEO,” Art Levinson, chairman of Genentech, said in a statement on behalf of Apple’s board of directors. “Tim’s 13 years of service to Apple have been marked by outstanding performance, and he has demonstrated remarkable talent and sound judgment in everything he does.”

Analysts generally agree with the Board, as shown in a collection of responses gathered by Reuters.

Cook is credited with restructuring the unsexy but essential side of Apple, its manufacturing operations, and piloting its migration to third-party suppliers that resulted in higher profit margins on iPads, iPods, iPhones and all other products.

“Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company,” read Levinson’s statement. “Steve has made countless contributions to Apple’s success, and he has attracted and inspired Apple’s immensely creative employees and world class executive team. In his new role as Chairman of the Board, Steve will continue to serve Apple with his unique insights, creativity and inspiration.”

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