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Apple's Rollercoaster Year With Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an event to announce new products in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

For Apple (AAPL), 2012 could best be called “the year of Tim Cook”—or rather, “the year without Steve Jobs.” After working as interim CEO since January 2011, Cook officially became the CEO on August 24, 2011, shortly before Jobs’ death, and he’s had a lot of pressure and watchful eyes on him in 2012. 

Many people speculated whether Apple would start to slide after its visionary leader and founder passed. But Apple’s stock gained almost 50% under Cook’s leadership, hitting an all-time high of $705.07 in September 2012. It also hit its highest market capitalization this year to become the largest stock ever at $623.5 billion. But lately the stock has been sliding, dropping 20% from its all-time high.

It certainly was a year of changes, though. Apple revamped much of its product line—iPhone, iPad, iMac, Macbook Pro, iPod touch, Mountain Lion, iOS and iPod nano—but there were no Earth-shattering releases or improvements. Many of the new features were predicted before the release and didn’t contain any huge surprises, such as the new Retina display. As a result, some people still have a cautious eye on the company and its stock has also taken a dive in the past couple months, at one point falling more than 20% below its September high.

New Products, New Fixes
Apple’s first major launch of the year was the new iPad with Retina display, released March 7. But the iPhone 5 was Apple’s biggest product release and also Yahoo’s second most-searched term for the year.

Introduced on September 12, pre-orders for the iPhone 5 began five days later, and they sold out in less than an hour after becoming available. Then, during the first weekend of sales, the company sold over 5 million iPhone 5s, and more than 100 million Apple devices were updated with the new iOS 6. 

Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter results included 26.9 million iPhones sold, which accounts for nearly half of the company’s sales. The company had record fourth-quarter revenue of $36 billion and profit of $8.2 billion, a 24% jump in profit since the year-ago quarter.

But the much-anticipated phone wasn’t without its pitfalls. Harking back to the “Antenna-gate” days with the iPhone 4, Apple was heavily criticized for getting rid of Google Maps on the phone and introducing its own map app that didn’t perform nearly as well. In an unprecedented move, and showing his new style of leadership, Cook released an apology letter after the fact saying: “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.” He even went so far as to encourage customers to use other map alternatives while Apple works on fixing their app.

Only a month after the iPhone 5, Apple also introduced the iPad Mini, a 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display and a new iMac. After the Mini’s release, Apple sold 3 million iPads in three days.

Cook’s Influence on Apple
Despite some missteps, Cook has raised Apple’s stock price 40% to $538.79 as of early December since the beginning of the year. It wasn’t a steady climb uphill, though. Apple’s stock has been dropping in value since September. This was mostly due to missed expectations on new products, management changes, increasing competition and the fiscal cliff.

In October, Apple announced the abrupt departure of vice president Scott Forstall and its head of retail, John Browett. Forstall was in charge of the mobile operating system, iOS, that drove the iPhone and iPad. He also had been with the company for 15 years and was a part of the original team responsible for creating Apple’s desktop and laptop software. The management shakeup was the clearest sign that Cook is putting his stamp on the company, for better or worse.

Tim Cook also brought some change to Apple’s employee benefits. The company has long stood apart from other Silicon Valley companies in its employee perks. Co-founder Steve Jobs had not conformed to the free lunches or other benefits that are popular with many tech companies. But under Cook, Apple has started to offer small changes—new employee discounts, matching charitable donations and some flexibility on what‘s assigned to employees, as reported in The Wall Street Journal: his could partly be an effort to retain its employees and keep them happy. But it also shows the different leadership style that Cook brings—one that gives more credit to the employees throughout the company and a more collegial environment.

What’s Coming
Expectations for Apple remain high going into 2013. Rumors of a new iPad and iPhone are already circulating, indicating a mid-2013 launch, but nothing is confirmed yet.

An Apple TV is another possible major product on the horizon as the company moves more into the TV world. There’s currently the set-top box, but analysts have long-predicted a TV to come. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster indicated a November 2013 release in a recent report. He said the set is likely to cost between $1,500 and $2,000 with a screen size in the range of 42 inches to 55 inches.

Cook has yet to confirm. But investors and consumers are watching the company closely and expect Cook to continue delivering on revolutionary products as the company has done for several years now.