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Riding Apple's Coattails

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) announces its fourth-quarter earnings Monday after market close, and its results impact not only investors but members of its supply and partner ecosystem, as well.

Although Apple traditionally develops much of its technology in-house -- the iPad runs on a new, custom-designed chip -- the Cupertino, California-based company still relies on a vast network of external suppliers to manufacture pieces of its popular products.

Well known for its obsession with protecting trade secrets and intellectual property, Apple does not provide an official list of its suppliers and requires that its key partners maintain a strict code of silence. However, firms like iFixit and iSuppli that specialize in taking apart and analyzing gadgets have provided insight into the manufacturers of Apple's major components through "teardowns" of its products. Research has revealed that Apple relies on many of the same suppliers for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Independent mobile game developers are another big layer in Apple's ecosystem. Apple has the largest network of game developers of any consumer electronics platform, and its iOS devices overtook the Sony (SNE - Get Report) PSP in popularity last month, according to the International Gamers Survey 2010.

Bing Gordon, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a former Electronic Arts (ERTS) exec who helps manage the iFund -- a $200 million initiative that receives advice from Apple and invests in mobile app technology -- believes investors are hot on Apple's gaming platform because of the company's reputation for quality and its previous success with launching iTunes.

"When Apple launched iTunes and the app store, those were two breathtaking changes -- there are a lot of other companies who tried to sell things digitally unsuccessfully," Gordon told TheStreet. "iTunes is a miracle."

Read on for five innovative companies riding the tide of Apple's success, from chipmakers to app developers.
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