At the Vatican, white smoke coming from a chimney at the Sistine Chapel indicates that a new Pope has been selected by the College of Cardinals. Well despite yesterday’s news of Steve Jobs’s departure again from Apple for medical reasons there is as yet no sign of white smoke in Cupertino where Jobs remains firmly in charge.

Readers expect me to comment on this news and I will, but frankly I’m still trying to figure it out so here are a number of random thoughts.

I sent an e-mail to Steve Jobs early last week and he didn’t respond. That’s not in itself such a big deal because Steve periodically ignores me. But other folks at Apple were copied on the message and they didn’t respond, either. That is telling. What it tells me is that this medical leave was no last-moment thing, that it was well on its way 10 days ago.

Well sure, you say, what’s the big deal with that?

The big deal is that Steve Jobs was supposed to participate with Rupert Murdoch later this week in the announcement of The Daily — News Corp’s electronic newspaper for the iPad. Suddenly that announcement has been pushed-back, supposedly over subscription prices. Yeah, right. It’s pushed back because Jobs was no longer available. But until yesterday Apple was quite happy to have us all thinking Steve would appear in New York later this week.

There’s a lot of slick timing at work here. First the Verizon iPhone then killer earnings followed by the Daily, but then that all went kerblooey so when do you announce the bad news while keeping the damage — both legal and financial — to a minimum? Yesterday was the best they could do. thanks to Martin Luther King.

I have no idea what’s going on with Steve’s health. He could be having a whole-body transplant for all I know. But he’s neither a fool nor a sentimentalist — just a narcissist — so I am sure he’s been giving a lot of thought to the succession at Apple. And it is my guess the next Apple CEO won’t be Tim Cook, not because Tim isn’t a good executive but because he isn’t Steve’s creation.

When the white smoke finally drifts over Cupertino that new CEO is going to be a surprise to everyone.