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Apple’s R&D spend up 33 percent for 2011

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Jony Ive is the driving force behind Apple's new product designs.

Apple (s aapl) has increased its research and development spending from $1.8 to $2.4 billion this year versus last, according to a filing made Wednesday by Apple to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). That’s a 33-percent increase, and makes the 2011 total more than half what it spent during the previous four years combined.

That’s a lot of money, but Apple’s year so far has been one of considerably earth-shaking transitions. The introduction of iCloud, its continued beta development and eventual release, can’t have come cheap, and it represents a paradigm shift in the focus of the company, something Steve Jobs conveyed on stage at WWDC in June. There’s also iOS 5 as a whole, which represents the biggest leap forward for iOS since it was first introduced.

Apple is also known to have its product pipeline planned out at least three years in advance. It’s quite possible that special attention was paid to Apple’s next big thing to follow the iPhone and iPad, especially because Jobs’ illness had progressed so much in the past year. Comments from his biography claim that he’d “finally cracked” a dedicated Apple television, which would definitely entail considerable R&D costs.

While in the past Apple has been praised for doing a lot of innovating for relatively little money, a heavy infusion of R&D money at this critical juncture in the company’s history is probably a good sign. Apple needs to wow customers to keep up investor confidence, and money invested in coming up with amazing products is a good way to do that. Also, Apple has a huge pile of cash reserves, so it definitely won’t miss the additional money.

Apple also experienced considerable growth in the area of its global workforce. Apple now employs 63,300 people worldwide, up 28 percent from last year. A lot of those new hires come on the retail side, which accounts for about half of its total employee head count. Apple has planned to open as many as 40 new stores by the end of the year.