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When does Apple's Tim Cook era really begin?

New Apple CEO Tim Cook may be underestimated at first, but analysts say his imprint on the company's road map will start appearing in the years to come.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Tim Cook, a natural pick, has taken over Steve Jobs' role as Apple CEO. Jobs, however, is becoming chairman of the board and most likely be involved major product strategy and design issues.

So when will Cook be the true front man for Apple?

As ZDNet blogger David Morgenstern noted, the sky didn't fall when Apple experienced a changing of the guard yesterday. And when you read the responses from the likes of WSJ's Walt Mossberg and GigaOm's Om Malik, one thing is clear, Jobs isn't gone and any hints at an obituary are widely premature.

Jobs will be less visible for sure, but it's safe to say he may be one of the more involved chairmen in the corporate world. Jobs' departure as CEO wasn't a surprise, though it still managed to surprise a lot of us.

The kudos for Cook are far and wide. Frankly, there was no other Apple CEO option. Cook stepped up and ran Apple three times. He has managed Apple's supply chain to the point where it is the company's best asset.

Now there's a strong management bench at Apple, so multiple players are working on product designs and road maps. But at some point the CEO owns the success or failure of future Apple products.

The conventional view is that the Cook era will come in about five years. Analysts say that Jobs' vision and associated product road maps for Apple most likely carry out about five years perhaps longer. Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, said:

We believe Tim Cook will carry out a long-term (five-year) road map that he and Jobs jointly established, including several iterations of Apple's existing products as well as new categories, like an Apple Television as soon as late 2012.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek wrote:

We believe Steve Jobs has his fingerprints on Apple products for the next two years. In the near term, we believe the company will release a new iPhone and enter China with a low-cost iPhone. We see the company releasing an LTE iPhone and also gradually converging its iOS and Mac products. We also continue to believe that Jobs will introduce another revolutionary product such as an iTV or something video-related before his final departure from the company. Though many of the future products may be conceptual at this we believe Steve Jobs' vision of the Apple ecosystem goes beyond five years.

That view creates on interesting management case study. When Apple actually launches TVs, Cook will be on the hook for the execution. But it will be Jobs' product vision. Apple rolls out iPad 6 in a few years and will Cook or Jobs own the vision? In other words, Cook takes over the company, but may be seen as the operational guru before he gets credit for great products, cutting-edge designs, and all the perks that go with them. Cook will be widely underestimated at first.

For other CEOs, the urge to make an imprint on a company as its new leader may be irresistible. But Cook doesn't seem like the egomaniac type. He seems suited to pick up the baton from Jobs.

We'll eventually know what traits mark Cook's Apple, but it may take years for those qualities to surface.

This story originally posted on ZDNet's Between the Lines.

Correction at 7:35 a.m. PT: Tim Cook had stepped in for Steve Jobs three times in the past.