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BREAKING NEWS: Steve Jobs, the iconic leader of Apple, is stepping down as the company’s CEO, but will remain as chairman of the company. Tim Cook, the company’s respected chief operating officer, will replace the Apple co-founder as chief executive.

Reuters, the Associated Press and other news services just distributed news bulletins reporting the developments. Here’s the Apple news release, which notes that Jobs submitted his resignation today and “strongly recommended” Cook as CEO, implementing the company’s succession plan.

Jobs has struggled with health issues including pancreatic cancer and earlier this year announced that he was taking an indefinite medical leave.

Update, 4:03 p.m.: In the news release, Apple board member Art Levinson seeks to alleviate concerns about Jobs leaving the CEO’s office: “In his new role as Chairman of the Board, Steve will continue to serve Apple with his unique insights, creativity and inspiration,” says Levinson.

That suggests Jobs may be taking a more active role than Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has since leaving day-to-day executive duties at the Redmond company.

One major question: Have we seen our last Steve Jobs keynote?

[Follow-up: What Apple can learn from Microsoft in the Post-Jobs Era]

Here’s the full text of the news release:

Apple’s Board of Directors today announced that Steve Jobs has resigned as Chief Executive Officer, and the Board has named Tim Cook, previously Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, as the company’s new CEO. Jobs has been elected Chairman of the Board and Cook will join the Board, effective immediately.

“Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company,” said Art Levinson, Chairman of Genentech, on behalf of Apple’s Board. “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.”

“The Board has complete confidence that Tim is the right person to be our next CEO,” added Levinson. “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.”

Jobs submitted his resignation to the Board today and strongly recommended that the Board implement its succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO.

As COO, Cook was previously responsible for all of the company’s worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple’s supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries. He also headed Apple’s Macintosh division and played a key role in the continued development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships, ensuring flexibility in response to an increasingly demanding marketplace.

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.

Update, 4:21 p.m.: Here’s the text of Jobs’ resignation letter.

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

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.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

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