Is Steve Jobs healthy and back to work on the tablet-sized iPhone OS powered device?

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UPDATE: Steve Jobs returns to work after near 6-month leave, working at Apple a few days a week, from home otherwise. Source: Reuters

For those who didn’t notice, Apple’s latest press release about the iPhone 3GS initial sales success reported a quote from Steve Jobs.

“Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning. With over 50,000 applications available from Apple’s revolutionary App Store, iPhone momentum is stronger than ever.” – Steve Jobs

This and the fact Jobs has been seen on Apple’s campus last week made me wonder if he’s coming back to work anytime soon, to present Apple’s worldwide events with his great keynotes, and to complete the work on the mysterious, tablet-PC-sized iPhone OS powered device said to be his main focus at Apple’s lately. Recent updates and rumors would confirm this to be a likely scenario, but what has really been happening to him and Apple lately?

Apple’s secrecy policy gives all journalists and fans a hard time to foresee Apple’s next moves. Even people working in the company are kept unaware of what’s going on in other departments, and –according to AppleInsider– are often given misleading details in order to track down people disclosing Apple’s secrets to the press and to rumors sites.

Steve Jobs has acknowledged that he did undergo a liver transplant at Methodist University Hospital and that he has come out of surgery in good condition. The executive finally gave permission to the Tennessee hospital to publish the news after several unconfirmed rumors surfaced all around the web.

Apparently, Jobs was the patient with the greatest likelihood of developing an end-stage liver disease among those with a blood type matching the next available donor liver; as such, he was a prime candidate for the operation and is now believed to have come out of his surgery with an “excellent prognosis” and a strong recovery.

The operation suggest that, like the majority patients who recovered from the form of pancreatic cancer he had in 2004, the cancer had metastasized in his liver, creating the “hormonal imbalance” that ultimately forced Jobs to take leave of his normal office for the past six months.

Methodist University Hospital is one of the ten largest locations offering liver transplants in the US and Jobs specifically chose the hospital due to its strong reputation for patient survival rates.

Some governance experts cited by the New York Times — in a profile of the company’s unparalleled aura of secrecy — reports that given the fact that Jobs required major surgery such as a liver transplant “now makes one of Apple’s assertions from January — that Mr. Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance — seem like a deliberate mistruth, unless Mr. Jobs’s health condition suddenly deteriorated. […] Of course, no one knows enough to say definitively.”

In a report published this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal said that although Jobs is returning to Apple this month, he’s likely to work part-time initially, a move that may ease him into a reduced role at the company while Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook assumes greater responsibilities.

Although Cook hasn’t been awarded the title of chief executive, he’s been handed control of Apple for extended periods of time on two separate occasions. The first of which was a two-month stint back in 2004 when Jobs took leave to recover from successful surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his pancreas.

Since resuming control of the company in January, Cook has been entrusted with responsibilities once reserved only for Steve Jobs, such as handling negotiations with exclusive U.S. iPhone service provider AT&T, the Journal reported Tuesday.

It is worth noticing “we” (Apple’s users, followers and fans) are likely in good hands with Cook. He was brought to Apple by Jobs in 1998, a time when Apple was in terrible shape, having lost more than $1 billion in fiscal 1997 as it gained notoriety for insufficient manufacturing practices, with bloated inventories that forced it to take costly write-downs on unsold computers and parts.

By the end of the company’s fiscal 1999, Cook had worked Apple’s inventory down to two days’ worth, or about $20 million, compared to 31 days, or $437 million, two years earlier.

That same fiscal year, Apple grew its gross margins by 9% and the company earned a $600 million profit despite slumping sales. That started the positive trend that Apple is still living today, with a continuos growth and exciting new products being released regularly since the introduction the first iMac.