This year, Apple has begun sharing its wealth with investors for the first time in two decades, by paying dividends of nearly $10 billion a year.
Cook's diplomacy has extended into enemy territory. Jobs was furious that phones running Google Inc.'s Android software mimicked Apple's iPhone so closely and vowed to wage "thermonuclear war" against the company through patent infringement lawsuits. The worldwide onslaught of litigation is still ongoing, but in early November, Apple agreed to a ceasefire on one front: It settled all its patent suits against Google partner HTC Corp., a struggling Taiwanese maker of smartphones.
The terms were not disclosed, but company watchers believe HTC will be paying Apple royalties on the phones it makes, and some saw it as a sign that Apple was taking a more rational stance and starting to put Jobs' take-no-prisoners fury behind it.
Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group, says the image of a "softer" Apple that's emerged this year doesn't mean Cook is a softie.
"Make no mistake: he's not necessarily a kind, gentle guy if he needs to get something done. He's a very hard-nosed, demanding boss," Howe says. "And he's very much of the Steve Jobs model, where if you're the janitor you get to make excuses. If you're the vice president, you don't."
Cook, in fact, engineered a major shakeup in Apple's top ranks this fall. Scott Forstall, the long-serving head of iPhone software development, stepped down and his responsibilities were divided among other executives. Company watchers attributed his departure to difficulties collaborating with other departments and to the scathing reviews that greeted Apple's Maps application, which replaced Google Maps.
Another senior vice president left at the same time: John Browett, who headed Apple's stores. Browett had tried to make his mark by cutting employee hours, leaving fewer people to help customers. Browett was overridden. He lasted just six months on the job.
"Being gentle and being a pushover are two different things," says Milanesi.