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Summary:

This is the first in a series of posts over the next week that will highlight key people, companies and trends to watch in 2012 in the secto…

Apple CEO Tim Cook
photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

This is the first in a series of posts over the next week that will highlight key people, companies and trends to watch in 2012 in the sectors we cover most, from publishing to legal, and from mobile to advertising.

Two weeks from today will mark the five-year anniversary of the day a device that would change the world was first shown to the public. As we look ahead to 2012, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will remain the most compelling story in tech not just because of the iPhone and its cousin, the iPad, but because of the immense pressure on CEO Tim Cook and Apple’s management team to live up to the standard set by a legend.

It’s certainly going to be another ridiculous year in the mobile tech industry, even though it’s hard to believe that anything could top 2011. The patent wars will continue, Google’s purchase of Motorola (NYSE: MMI) could change the Android community, and Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) will continue to sink deeper into a pit of irrelevance and despair.

But one topic stands out.

The first quarter of 2012 will be the first full quarter that Cook and his lieutenants will have been in charge of Apple following the death of Steve Jobs in October. Apple has never been stronger, and Cook has been auditioning for this job for several years. Right now, it’s hard to imagine Apple losing steam in 2012.

Yet decisions will be made during this year that will shape Apple for years to come, and those who have been hoping that Apple will finally make a significant mistake will be watching those moves like hawks.

Apple is the most influential company in consumer technology, hands down. It enjoys a position Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) did in the late 1990s, or IBM did in the 1970s: the choices it makes have ripple effects far beyond its own business.

For example, Apple could make or break mobile payments this year depending on how it wants to act. It could settle for the “patent peace” Google’s Andy Rubin would certainly like to see if it becomes clear that Apple won’t win a total victory, or it could fight on knowing that it can outspend several mobile companies while distracting them from competing in the marketplace. And if the rumors are true, it could finally be the computer company that changes the way we watch television.

Fairly or unfairly, nearly every decision that Cook and Apple make this year will be accompanied quickly by someone asking “Is that what Steve would have done?” People have been predicting Apple’s downfall for years in order to seem prescient when and if it happens, but now that a mourning period for Jobs has passed, any slip will raise questions as to whether Apple will ever be the same without him.

That will only heighten the scrutiny on what is already the most-scrutinized company in technology, not only among tech writers with mouths to feed but among competitors hoping they can duplicate some of the magic (and some of the profits) that Apple has enjoyed over the last five years. Cook and his team seem up to the task: all they have to do now is go out and prove it.

Jobs famously referred to death as “life’s change agent” in his legendary speech to Stanford graduates in 2005. Change is the last thing Apple wants to see in 2012.

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  1. Apple is bound to have a rougher time without their product visionary and slave driver. After reading the Steve Jobs biography I have a different look on the guy behind the iPhone and iPad. Also I’m somewhat appalled at how the 99%ers that are protesting corporate greed haven’t turned on Apple with their 71% profit margins on the iPhone. After seeing how mean they are as a company regarding patent suits, how mean their leader really was, and how they gouge their customer, I can’t wish anything but ill will upon Apple in 2012. But I’m well aware that the general consumer are a bunch of idiots and will continue to lace the Apple pockets with plenty of their hard earned credit card dollars.

    1. No one is forced to buy Apple stuff.  Everyone can decide for themselves. I happen to feel that Apple products are worth every penny, and the fact that Apple innovation spurs competitors to up their game benefits us all.  Apple should certainly defend itself agains blatant copying (and will only win in court if their claims are justified). I don’t begrudge Apple its profit. In fact I hope they thrive and continue to lead the way with more amazing, fun, and useful inventions. 

      That being said, Apple is no different than other corporations in that its executives are disproportionally compensated.  This is a general societal problem for which I have no suggested solution. (Concentrated wealth controls policy, thereby begetting more wealth). A boycott of Apple won’t change that.

    2. Wow — mean, stupid and bigoted, all in one comment. Pretty good, iFonePhag4S.

  2. “Change is the last thing Apple wants to see in 2012.”

    WRONG!

  3. no one is even close to matching apple design standards or supply chain management 

    android os is just another “me too” with no actual innovation, which is why they keep losing court battles

    Sony, Rim, and Micro/Nokia are dead in the water 

    Samsung floats along for now but they have no media / content integration into their platforms

    who ever can get a la carte tv subscriptions working with your favorite sports team package wins the tv war ( the final frontier of 2012 ) it might not be Apple but I see them radically more capable then every other player in the tech / content space

  4. As Jobs believed, Apple does want to see change in 2012. Cook et al know, as trained by Steve, they want to be the company that supersedes and disrupts Apple. This means what is working today will be replaced by something else and Apple wants to do the replacing. Not a Google, Microsoft, Samsung, etc., they are skating to where the puck is, not where it will be, maybe Amazon gets it.

    1. Long term I think you’re right. But I doubt that 2012 is a year where that is going to happen. Even Amazon, while having generated interest in a tablet, has a long way to go before they match Apple on quality software development. And the smartphone/tablet markets are just getting started, it’s not like they are old, stale, and lacking for innovation.

  5. The article, as it appears at 5:00 PM PST on Dec 26, says “The first quarter of 2011 will be the first full quarter that Cook and
    his lieutenants will have been in charge of Apple following the death of
    Steve Jobs in October.” — but the 2011 should of course be 2012

    1. You are, of course, correct. Thanks for pointing it out, and it has just been fixed.

  6. “Change is the last thing Apple wants to see in 2012.”

    I disagree too. When Apple stops trying to change is when they might start to be in trouble. They won’t be the same Apple and I’m ok with that. I have no doubt they will stay hungry and try to improve on what they’ve got in 2012.

  7. Radio Free Omaha Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    There is a company in Cupertino. There is no more Apple.

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