Less than two months before succumbing to cancer, ailing Apple co-founder Steve Jobs resigned from the office of CEO on August 24, 2011. Tim Cook (left), who had been the company's chief operating officer since 2004, took over the top spot at the world's preeminent technology company.
In terms of Apple's products, however, Cook has largely taken a conservative approach, shepherding evolutionary changes to the existing product line (iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV). The big exception -- and the biggest new product line of the Cook era -- has been the Apple Watch.
2011's iPhone 4S (pictured, left) -- introduced just one day before Steve Jobs passed away -- followed the S phone tradition of keeping the same basic design as the previous year's iPhone while innovating under the hood (the Siri digital assistant was the big add). For 2012's iPhone 5 (right), Apple finally gave the iPhone a bigger screen, going from the minuscule 3.5-inch screen of earlier models to a 4-inch display. (That's still only the surface area of an average credit card.)
Responding to calls for a "cheap iPhone," Apple introduced the iPhone 5C alongside the 5S in 2013. But the 5C was something of an odd duck: it was really just a plastic-bodied version of the previous year's iPhone 5, and -- while capable -- it wasn't really affordable compared to bargain Android competition. International versions that offered a meager 8GB of storage did nothing to increase its appeal, either.
Steve Jobs famously declared in 2010 that "no one's going to buy" a big phone. But by 2014, Samsung and other Android rivals were gaining traction with "phablets" -- giant-screened phones that dwarfed Apple's still tiny 4-inch screen (as seen on the iPhone 5S, left). Under Tim Cook, the company finally went big, delivering the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 (center) and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus (right). The result for Apple? Record profits.
What's left after going big? Apple added a unique, pressure-sensitive 3D Touch screen to iPhones in 2015, but the public response has been mostly tepid. In early 2016, amid signs that iPhone sales were peaking, the company went small again. The iPhone SE took most of the guts of the recent iPhone 6S (except for 3D Touch) and jammed them into the body of an iPhone 5S. Those who complained that the recent iPhones were "too big" finally had a good alternative, and the price -- starting at $399 in the US -- was finally a true "cheap iPhone" for the masses. Demand is said to be outstripping supply in the early months.
2010's iPad (and its successors) proved another megahit for Steve Jobs' Apple. But while Jobs was adamant that small, 7-inch tablets -- like those from Android competitors -- were dead in the water, Tim Cook's Apple introduced the iPad Mini just one year after Jobs' passing. The Mini had a 7.9-inch screen, versus the 9.7-inch standard iPad.
The iPhone went bigger and then smaller. The iPad has gone smaller and then bigger. 2015's 12.9-inch iPad Pro was the company's biggest, most expensive and most powerful tablet to date. In addition to a keyboard accessory, it also offered a stylus (of sorts) in the form of the Apple Pencil. That's another departure from Steve Jobs, who mocked the need for a stylus in his legendary introduction of the original iPhone in 2007.
A second Pro model in the more familiar 9.7-inch screen size followed in early 2016. iPad sales, while showing small signs of a revival in recent months, remain far below their peak from earlier in the decade, however.
Under Cook's reign, the Mac has seen a series of small improvements arguably more conservative than the upgrades to the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. The MacBook Pro got an iPhone-inspired high-res Retina display back in 2012. Its design has remain otherwise largely unchanged, except for the addition of a "Force Touch" (pressure sensitive) touchpad in 2015.
The biggest all-new Mac of the Tim Cook era is the new MacBook. With a 12-inch screen and ultrathin design, the 2015 model redefined laptop sexiness. Windows competitors are finally catching up more than a year later.
The original 1998 "biondi blue" iMac was Steve Jobs' signature product following his triumphant return to Apple, helping the company reverse course from near bankruptcy and setting the stage for the iPod, iPhone and iPad that followed. Under Tim Cook, the flat-panel iMacs remain design marvels, with tapered flat screens that offer stunning 5K (5,120x2,880-pixel resolution) screens.
Apple's workhorse desktop, the Mac Pro, got a cool design overhaul in 2013 after years of neglect. But that pricey cylinder has since been left untouched and un-upgraded, again provoking rumblings that Apple has abandoned Mac fans, especially at the high end, by leaving years-old computers in its product line. The fact that users can't swap new video cards into the Pro has further irked video professionals.
For years, many thought Tim Cook's first big Apple product would be an Apple television. But an Apple-branded panel has never materialized. Instead, the company's video streaming box got a big upgrade in 2015, adding tons of apps, a touchpad remote with Siri voice compatibility, and a decent (and growing) slate of casual games. And while Apple has continually updated the box's software since release, the other big rumor -- a "skinny bundle" of channels that would challenge traditional cable subscriptions -- appears to be going nowhere fast.
Apple's 2014 acquisition of Beats for $3 billion was the company's largest ever. With it, Tim Cook got one of the world's top headphone brands with strong appeal to the all-important millennial market. It's also said to be the top-selling wireless headphone brand -- which is why you can bet on new Beats headphones being introduced alongside the iPhone 7, which is strongly rumored to have no 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Beats acquisition also allowed Tim Cook to double down on Apple's iTunes legacy with Apple Music, its first streaming music-subscription service. The service has seen strong user growth in its first year in its quest to take down industry leader Spotify, but the app's confusing design has heralded a chorus of complaints that Apple has lost the vaunted software design mojo it had under Steve Jobs. A complete design overhaul (shown here) should help temper that criticism when it rolls out alongside iOS 10 in September.
When Tim Cook introduced the iPhone 5 in 2012, he also heralded Apple's replacement of the original Google-powered Maps app with a new app called Apple Maps. But the jokes and complaints started soon after, with everything from inaccurate directions to "melted" satellite views (like the Manhattan Bridge image shown here). Google's release of a new iOS version of Google Maps just a few months later effectively ended any threat of a user backlash, but the app was originally so bad that Cook even offered an apology. In the intervening years, however, Apple Maps has improved significantly.
Published:Caption:John FalconePhoto:Screenshot by James Martin/CNET
Apple Pay (2014)
One of the biggest examples of Tim Cook's continued push of Apple into services has been Apple Pay. The system enables the iPhone or Apple Watch to be used for contactless payments at a growing list of participating vendors. Samsung, Google and even major retailers have countered with rival payment systems.
If Apple's product lineup during Tim Cook's first five years has been more evolutionary than revolutionary, that's because one doesn't kill the goose that lays the multibillion-dollar golden eggs. But Apple's next five years will undoubtedly be about exploiting the research and development that Cook has been guiding behind closed doors. One such potential future product is said to be a smart speaker along the lines of Amazon's popular Echo. Such a product could help Apple make inroads into the smart home market that it has yet to effectively crack. (Shown: Beats Pill Plus, one of Beats' wireless Bluetooth speakers.)
The biggest current Apple rumor revolves around the company's automotive plans, dubbed Project Titan. It's unclear if Apple is planning to produce its own car (a la Tesla), partner with an existing manufacturer (BMW?) or maybe just offer a smart car platform that would be open to all automotive manufacturers. That final option would be something like a supersized version of CarPlay (shown here), which offers an Apple dashboard interface when an iPhone is plugged in to the car's charger.
Apple has yet to release any sort of virtual reality or augmented reality product, even as the iPhone itself is used by third-party hardware and software vendors to deliver VR and AR experiences like Google Cardboard and Pokemon Go. Tim Cook has publicly expressed interest ("It's really cool. It has some interesting applications.") and we'd be shocked if Apple doesn't already have some interesting prototypes in the workshop. "iVR" glasses before 2020 feels like a no-brainer. (Samsung's Gear VR is shown here.)
Tim Cook's other big Apple legacy will be its bold new "spaceship" world headquarters, scheduled to open in 2017. His challenge will be making sure that Apple's post-iPhone products are as breathtaking as the office space in which they're being designed.