On the financial front, Cook issued Apple's first dividend since 1995. Although both Enderle and Global Equities analyst Trip Chowdhry give Cook a very low grade for that action, saying it will hurt the company's cash position over the long haul, most of Wall Street disagreed, pushing Apple's valuation to unheard-of levels: $668.87 a share as of yesterday's close, with a market cap of $627 billion.
Cook didn't create that value, but 12 months are more than enough time to inflict real damage, notes IDC's O'Donnell. After all, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Léo Apotheker knocked HP's stock price down by more than 40 percent in just 11 months.
Losing control of the reality distortion field
Still, there is a legacy issue that Cook has not done well controlling. For years, Apple managed the press more successfully than any other technology company. By jealously guarding access and shutting down internal leaks, while at the same time giving favored publications and reporters early looks at new products, Apple used the press to garner huge amounts of free publicity and build surges of consumer enthusiasm for its products.
But in the last year or so, it's gotten out of hand. There were so many leaks (real or imagined) of details about the iPhone 5 that consumers apparently backed off from purchases of the current versions. It happened last summer after a crescendo of rumormongering, and again this spring and summer -- in a rumor frenzy that lasted even longer, thus depressing sales even more. That phenomenon always happens when a new iPhone is about to be released, but never as drastically and as early as it did this year. As a result, Apple paid the penalty, badly undershooting Wall Street's sales expectations and denting its halo of market invincibility.
Then there's the "vision thing." Given the length of product cycles, we simply won't know what Cook can really do to propel the product innovation until Apple has cycled through the products born under Steve Jobs. That will take another year or two. (Chowdhry downgrades Cook for not shortening that product cycle.)
There's also a phenomenon that academics call "regression to the mean." Or to put it in simpler terms, what comes up must come down. It may simply be impossible for Cook or anyone to keep Apple so far ahead of its competition for many more years.
We'll see. Cook doesn't yet merit an A, but as Stanford's Sutton puts it: "Can you imagine anyone else during a better job?" No, I can't.
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