How the first year without Steve Jobs was Apple's biggest ever

Jonathan Weinberg
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Tim Cook confirms Apple is shifting some Mac production to U.S.

When Apple boss Tim Cook walked onto the stage in San Francisco back in October 2011, his first public act as CEO was to announce the iPhone 4S.

Now nearing the end of his first full year in charge of the American electronics giant, Mr Cook can surely reflect on an ultra-busy 12 months - but one that has yet to be as industry-defining as the years of his predecessor.

Legal battles with Samsung and the disastrous Apple Maps ensured Apple sometimes made headlines for the wrong reasons - but Cook's leadership piloted the company safely through.

Stepping into the shoes of Steve Jobs was never going to be easy but since taking charge, Cook launched product after product, starting with the new iPad aka iPad aka iPad 3 back in March to record-breaking pre-orders when the iPhone 5 arrived in September.

[Related: The top 10 gadgets of the year]

Then came the arrival of the much rumoured but still unexpected introduction of the seven inch iPad mini alongside an unforeseen fourth incarnation of the best-selling 10inch tablet, just six months or so after the previous model had been revealed – much to the annoyance of some loyal customers.

The new operating system Mountain Lion also rolled out, along with, an updated version of Apple TV, iOS 6 and the accompanying Map-gate fallout, the rollout of new iPods, Retina screen MacBook Pros and the thinnest ever iMac desktop.

And then there's the legal wrangles between the company and rival Samsung and a shuffling around of senior staff including moving Apple's British design guru Jonathan Ive into a wider role and the departure of former Dixons chief John Browett.

But while Apple's share price is currently down on a September high of more than $705, it still hovers around the $600 mark. That is nearly 50% higher than the level at which it started 2012 showing investors are keeping faith with the Cook-led business.

Can Apple keep growing?

Mobile industry analysts are upbeat. Geoff Blaber, of CCS, said despite the high expectations on Tim Cook, he has delivered, mainly by sticking to the path and strategy firmly set under Jobs.

Geoff said: "Tim has always been exceptionally good at the operational stuff, so that the business stays on course, and that's very much what they've done in 2012.

"The performance of the iPhone business has been the high point. When you consider they came into the mobile phone market in 2007 and changed user expectation of a smartphone but were widely underestimated by all the incumbents.

"When you look at the volumes they are still achieving now and more significantly the fact with just seven per cent of the mobile phone market, they have 70% of the operating profit, that's a phenomenally strong position. They must now achieve such a strong position in other segments."

He added: "The biggest single thing they will struggle with is investor expectations. The way the share price has yo-yo'd shows that is the biggest challenge. But Apple continue to way outperform the rest of market, particularly when you look at the disproportionate level of profit they are extracting from the tablet and phone space."

Tony Cripps, of Ovum, believes that while Apple Maps was the low point, it has been another strong year despite greater competition from Android and cheaper tablet devices such as the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

He said: "The upside of 2012 is the phenomenal level of growth that they seem to continue. They grow at a speed startups would be hugely envious of. They are very good at launching into different markets gradually so there is an overall ratcheting up of the number of devices sold.

"It is a much more sustainable thing as far as Wall St is concerned rather than ploughing all of your resources into all of your markets simultaneously. Then you would see a period of hyper-growth that would flatten out quite quickly."

The next challenge for Apple

It is this growth that gives Mr Cook his biggest challenge for 2013 with many analysts now seeing China as his key mission.

The next year is sure to see an iPhone 6, iPad 5 and maybe even that much-touted Apple TV, but the release of Apple's latest products in the Far East this month will set the stall for Mr Cook to hammer home his own legacy onto the business.

Announcing the latest set of financial results recently, he said: "We're entering this holiday season with the best iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod products ever, and we remain very confident in our new product pipeline."

But while this 12 months has been mainly a task of steadying the ship,  Mr Cook must now go full steam ahead in 2013 in what will certainly be an even greater test of his nerve and of the nerve of investors and customers alike.

All will be awaiting the same kind of innovation and market-leading vision that Apple was built on under Steve Jobs.

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