Macworld mania began simmering on Monday despite freshly released news that Apple's iconic chief executive Steve Jobs won't attend because a "hormone imbalance" that has his body wasting away.
By sundown a trio of Apple faithful queued on a fog-chilled walkway outside the San Francisco convention building where the annual Macworld Expo keynote speech will take place on Tuesday without Jobs for the first time in 12 years.
"If you are a loyal Apple fan, you make the pilgrimage at least once in your life," said 25-year-old Alex Lee, who traveled from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for Macworld. "I think of it as a Macintosh Mecca."
A Macintosh-loving friend, Daniel Bell, came from Canada to join Lee at what some fear may be Macworld's last hoorah.
"Macworld may go out with a bang," said Nicholas Lensander, a 14-year-old blogger from Southern California who staked out the front spot in the keynote line at 9 o'clock Monday morning.
"And who knows, Steve Jobs might appear at the end."
Jobs, 53, in a letter to the "Apple Community," said his recent weight loss and decision not to give the keynote presentation on Tuesday morning set off a "flurry of rumors about my health, with some even publishing stories of me on my deathbed."
"I've decided to share something very personal with the Apple community so that we can all relax and enjoy the show tomorrow," said Jobs, co-founder of the California company behind the Macintosh computer, iPhone and iPod.
"As many of you know, I have been losing weight throughout 2008," said Jobs, who underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004 and looked extremely gaunt at his last public appearance in September.
"The reason has been a mystery to me and my doctors," the Apple CEO said. "My doctors think they have found the cause -- a hormone imbalance that has been 'robbing' me of the proteins my body needs to be healthy."
Jobs said he has made recovering his top objective and that "the remedy for this nutritional problem is relatively simple and straightforward."
"I will continue as Apple's CEO during my recovery," he wrote.
The Apple chief said he "will be the first one to step up and tell our board of directors if I can no longer continue to fulfill my duties as Apple's CEO.
In a statement released simultaneously with Jobs's letter, the Apple board described him as "one of the most talented and effective CEOs in the world" and said "if there ever comes a day when Steve wants to retire or for other reasons cannot continue to fulfill his duties as Apple's CEO, you will know it.
"Apple is very lucky to have Steve as its leader and CEO, and he deserves our complete and unwavering support during his recuperation. He most certainly has that from Apple and its board."
Apple's share price rallied in reaction to the announcement, gaining 4.22 percent in New York to close at 94.58 dollars.
Apple has been notoriously secretive about Jobs's health and was criticized by some analysts for failing to acknowledge his medical issues sooner.
Hormonal imbalance is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer and could signal that Jobs isn't done battling the often terminal illness, said Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
"Steve Jobs is not immortal or super human," Enderle said, adding that the board of Apple is shirking its duty if it isn't grooming a successor. "The people Apple has on the bench cannot take the place of Steve Jobs."
NPD analyst Stephen Baker disagreed, saying that while Jobs is the driving force at Apple, they have "plenty of talented people to take over" the helm.
Mark Margevicius of research firm Gartner said Jobs has "great people working for him" but "Apple very much needs him to drive, innovate and lead.
"The thing that differentiates Apple is him, he's a man of great vision."
Speculation about Jobs's health had been rampant since it was announced last month that for the first time in 11 years he would not give the keynote speech at Macworld, the annual cult-like gathering of Apple devotees.
Marketing vice president Phil Schiller is to give the keynote at Macworld Expo, which runs from January 6-9 and features more than 450 companies promoting gadgets, gear, software or services tailored for Apple products.
"It certainly won't be as dramatic as last year," said Dylan Edwards, who failed to get into the 2008 expo keynote despite arriving at six in the morning to join the queue.
This year, Edwards is at Macworld to tout Uclick software crafted to route comics and cartoons to iPhones.
"Steve isn't going away and his influence on Apple has been too profound to have the momentum fade any time soon," said Edwards's father and Uclick partner, Douglas.
"I'm an Apple believer, and a stockholder."
Born in San Francisco on February 24, 1955 to a single mother and adopted at a young age, Jobs founded Apple in 1976 with engineer Steve Wozniak after dropping out of college.
He left the company in 1985 after an internal power struggle but returned in 1996 and is credited with reversing Apple's fortunes.