Apple's lead over rivals could narrow without Jobs

If the death of Apple's inspirational leader means a slowdown in the company's blistering pace of innovation, it could give breathless rivals like Microsoft and Samsung a chance to catch up.

The extinguishing of the creative force behind the iPod, iPhone and iPad means a host of competitors -- already closing the gap in some markets -- will redouble efforts to counter the domination of Apple Inc in consumer electronics.

"No question, competitors like Microsoft will try and capitalize on any weakness, stumble or oversight to shift the public's attention away from Apple and toward their own offerings," said Todd Lowenstein, portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management.

"Apple is still the unquestioned leader, but competitors like Android and Microsoft are coming to market with compelling offerings and seemingly are starting to close the gap."

Luminaries of the tech world paid tribute to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs after his death on Wednesday, from Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates and Google Inc chief Larry Page to Samsung Electronics' CEO G.S. Choi and Sony head Howard Stringer.

But investors said emotion will not take any edge off fierce competition with Apple.

"The downturn in the economy will likely spur more and more competitors with more and more mimicry products," said Stanley Crouch, chief investment officer at fund manager Aegis, pointing to Amazon.com's new low-cost tablet computer as a recent example.

"When you get this incredible pressure from low-cost entrants, it's very tough to maintain market share and margins," said Crouch.

SAMSUNG'S CHANCE

South Korean conglomerate Samsung is one of the best placed companies to deliver something fresh and exciting to rival Apple, analysts said.

It already makes the closest competitor by sales to Apple's iPad tablet and the two companies are scrapping for top spot in the smartphone market, having overtaken Nokia, the market leader for the past decade, earlier this year.

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