LOS ANGELES — Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, and so far that hasn’t been a problem for Apple.
It has become the world’s most valuable company, adding about $265 billion in value since Cook became chief executive 13 months ago. Shares have soared 76 percent, and profits continue to rise.
Investors feel valued with Cook lending them an ear and handing them a dividend.
But all that may not be enough.
With Apple expected to announce the long-awaited iPhone 5 starting at 1 p.m. today, and reap heavy sales from it, analysts and software developers are looking beyond the product launch to whether Cook can set his own course at the company after the death of its co-founder.
“I think we are definitely still riding Steve Jobs’ stewardship,” said Matt Brezina, chief executive of mobile startup Sincerely Inc. “Tim needs to define what kind of leader he is externally. As a developer on their platform, I’m not quite sure what kind of leader he is yet.”
Much of Apple’s success still can be traced back to Jobs. So far, Cook has delivered only incremental product improvements, with the Siri-equipped iPhone 4S and an iPad tablet with better screen resolution. The iPhone and the iPad are credited to Jobs.
Last quarter, the company, usually known for reporting blowout numbers, released disappointing financial results, missing analysts’ earnings-per-share estimates for only the second time in more than 30 quarters.
So the pressure is on Cook to deliver some of that old Apple magic, and it’s not likely to be with a new version of a 5-year-old smartphone.
“The $64,000 question is, does Tim have the ability to lead the organization to another major breakthrough in a new product category?” said Pete Solvik, managing director of venture capital firm Sigma and a former Apple employee.
“I have little doubt he is going to have continued success with revisions of the current products. Everybody hopes that he has the ability to sustain the business with a new hit too.”
An entirely new product, such as a much-rumored iTV television set, would help Cook build his own legacy, said Scott Thompson, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets. He said Cook needs to introduce such a device within the next 12 months.
“It will be the first true opportunity he will have to show he can deliver end-to-end product as well as his predecessor,” he said.
“Apple has to find a product that’s going to help it sustain its earnings momentum in the long run and continue growing earnings at an annual rate of 15 percent or more,” he said. “This year-over-year comparison gets much more difficult as the company continues to drive record earnings.”
Cook, 51, joined Apple in 1998, calling the move from Compaq “without a doubt the best decision that I ever made.”
After he replaced the ailing Jobs, worries were expressed that innovation would suffer without the company’s visionary co-founder. But the transition has been almost seamless, analysts and industry watchers say, thanks to Jobs’ careful grooming of Cook and Cook’s experience filling in for Jobs during three medical leaves.
“Apple hasn’t missed a beat throughout what must have been an emotional transition across the company,” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said. “It’s a testament to the company’s faith in Tim and his tremendous leadership.”
When Jobs died last October, it “was absolutely the saddest days of my life,” Cook said at a conference in May.
“But at some point late last year, I sort of ... somebody kind of shook me and said, ‘It’s time to get on,’?” he said. “And so that sadness was replaced by this intense determination to continue the journey, and that’s where it is today.”