There were stumbles, however. The new CEO presided over criticisms of Apple's Chinese manufacturing partners, protests and upsets among the Chinese workforce, endless IP lawsuits, and a recent executive team jumble that hit the headlines and Apple's share price. But true to predictions, Cook seemingly managed all this with a humane style—something that holds true in his recent press exposure, where he fanned the Apple TV rumor flames. The Chinese firms were investigated in an independent inquiry, and wages boosted; lawsuits were fought, lost, and—crucially—settled amicably in the case of HTC; and the executive team shuffle was seen as a good thing for Apple teamwork and renewing its design innovation appetite. Cook's even bumped up Apple's charity efforts, and rewarded staff with perks.
Meanwhile Siri's still the darling of the voice control world, even though Google's piling effort into rival Android features and Samsung's pushing ahead with its own system. But Siri's gotten smarter and upcoming updates will let her book your movie ticket for you, just by chatting. The camera in the skinny iPhone 5 may only be a small improvement over the iPhone 4S's, but it's still among the sharpest shooters out there, despite Nokia's camera-centric Windows phone push. iPads continue to dominate the tablet market globally, although the market's maturing and peers are naturally emerging, with Samsung at the lead and Microsoft's Surface popping eagerly into existence. So Apple's adapted its long-held iPod tactic and countered with the new, cheaper iPad mini. That trick's working already.
China's becoming even more a jewel in Apple's crown, supplying 15% of 2012's revenues (up from 12% last year). Plus the iPhone 5 is hitting the streets in China imminently, with the support of the second and third biggest cellphone networks. Cook, however, has also started to talk about making a line of Macs in the U.S.
Lastly there's already a buzz about what may be a big 2013 for Steve Jobs' old firm. Its rivals are indeed growing tastier, but this fruit isn't falling from the tree yet.
[Image: Flickr user Randychiu]