When Steve Jobs died , exactly a year ago today, there was a public outpouring of grief.
Apple acolytes queued around the block to lay flowers and light candles outside the company’s store on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile Twitter struggled to keep up with the deluge of comments from fans as they paid homage to the Apple co-founder.
Mr Jobs’ relentless perfectionism had helped him create the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad and in so doing, the so-called “Leonardo of Silicon Valley” had not only built one of the world’s most successful companies, he had changed the way we lived.
But alongside the tears and tributes, there were concerns about the future. Some Wall Street analysts feared that, without its inspirational leader at the helm, Apple’s pipeline of game-changing new products would slow. The Cupertino technology giant could run out of ideas.
Commentators were also quick to note what a long way there was to fall. At the back of their minds was Mr Jobs’ first period of absence from the company then, in 1985, Apple nearly went to the wall after a power-struggle saw him squeezed out. He returned just over a decade later to not only nurse the group back to health, but to preside over a period of extraordinary growth that turned Apple into the biggest company in the world.
But Apple has gone a long way to silencing those critics over the last year. Since Mr Jobs’ death, the company’s share price has nearly doubled from $372.50 to $671.73 by afternoon trading on Thursday. Apple is not just the biggest company in the world. With a market capitalisation of $630bn (£389bn), it is the biggest company there has ever been. Even Google, another technology giant, has not been able to match that trajectory with a value increase of around 50pc over the same period.
Apple’s financial performance has also been on a steady incline. Its (Euronext: ALITS.NX - news) profits rose 21pc to $8.8bn in the three months to the end of June, while sales rose 23pc to $35bn. Both were new records, although they did not quite meet analyst expectations, briefly rattling investor confidence. But the figures did not take account of the newly released iPhone 5, which is expected to push Apple’s numbers even higher.
“The business has powered ahead. From an operational point of view it’s doing astoundingly well,” said Shaun Collins, managing director of technology analysis firm CCS Insight.
A lot of the credit goes to Mr Jobs. He launched the first iPhone, and laid the foundations for future iterations that would each be better looking than the one before. He is said to have given the iPhone 5 his blessing before he died. But Tim Cook, Apple’s former chief operating officer who took the helm of Apple a few months before Mr Jobs’s death, has also done a creditable job, winning investor confidence and stamping his own imprint on the business.
In the 12 months since Mr Jobs’ death, Apple has behaved in ways it never would have countenanced before. The notoriously secretive company has become more communicative with shareholders, going beyond the compulsory quarterly updates to tell investors what it plans to do with its cash reserves, for example. It has also started returning some of that money to shareholders, paying its first dividend for nearly two decades.
Insiders claim that Apple has also become more corporate, and that the power has shifted away from its creatives in favour of more traditional management types.
But perhaps the biggest departures from the Jobs era came last month. First Apple put out a product that was clearly sub par, jestissoning Google’s mapping service in favour of its own, home-grown version which was littered with geographical errors and spelling mistakes. It is questionable whether Mr Jobs who famously telephoned staff in the middle of the night to quibble over the exact colour of logos when they appeared on the iPhone screen would have let that slip through.
But even more surprisingly, Apple said sorry.
In an act of humility that, from Apple, was as worrying as it was unfamiliar, Mr Cook acknowledged the company had fallen “short” of its promise to deliver world class products. He even suggested that customers revert back to Google Maps while Apple fixed its own bugs.
Users claimed that Apple had sacrificed user experience just to get one over on Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) , and that Mr Jobs would never have allowed such a thing to happen. But Mr Collins is not so sure: “Apple is at the stage in its journey where things have to change because of its scale. It’s too easy to say this wouldn’t have happened if Steve was still alive.”
What is clear is that the real test of Apple in the post-Jobs era lies in the year ahead, not the one that has just passed.