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Top 15 Business News Stories of 2011

Steve Jobs Dies

Steve Jobs was a contradiction in a profit-driven corporate world. As the face of Apple (AAPL - Get Report), one of technology's and the world's most beloved companies, Jobs built his fortune on a simple premise: understand and connect with consumers.

The result was a company that, up until last the quarter, continually surpassed revenue, profit and products-shipped benchmarks, even during tough economic times.

With Jobs' death on Oct. 5 at age 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, technology and the broader business world lost its greatest marketer.

Each Apple venture -- micromanaged by Jobs himself -- shaped the cultlike status of the brand, from the clean, standard-setting designs of the iPod and iPhone to the Apple stores built to enhance the lifestyle that the products inspired.

Jobs's management of Apple took it from its founding in a Silicon Valley garage with $1,000 to the world's most valuable technology company, when Apple's market cap topped Microsoft's (MSFT) $219 billion last year.

Neither a designer nor engineer by trade, Jobs helped shape the advent of personal computers with his Apple I and Apple II in the 1970s. Then, nearly 30 years later, he revolutionized the way customers consumed media -- not only technologically but culturally -- with products like iTunes and the iPad, Jobs' last great launch.

The large, touch-screen tablet computer breathed new life into an ailing market and set the standard for the sector's design and functionality. Since the iPad's debut in 2010, it has held upwards of 80% market share, as offerings from rivals like Motorola (MMI), Research In Motion (RIMM) and Dell (DELL) fell flat.

Despite the lordlike status Jobs commanded, it didn't come without scrutiny. As The New York Times reported shortly after his death, Jobs "never mellowed, never let up on Apple employees, never stopped relying on his singular instincts in making decisions about how Apple products should look and how they should work." Jobs' perfectionism sometimes involved berating employees, said the article.

Jobs also was not afraid of taking shots at competitors. According to Steve Jobs, the biography published just after his death, Jobs accused Google (GOOG) -- whose then-CEO Eric Schmidt was a former Apple board member -- of stealing many of the iPhone's features for use in its own mobile operating system, Android. Today, Android and Apple's iOS rule the mobile markets, with Android accounting for 53% of smartphone sales and Apple holding 29%, according to the NPD Group.

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this," Jobs said, according to the book.

With each new patent lawsuit Apple serves to Android licensees, it's obvious that his words have already been put into play.

While Apple's future without Jobs has many analysts and investors wondering about new risks of investing in the company, it also begs a broader question: Will Apple, now headed by former COO Tim Cook, a leader known more for logistics than innovation, still have the same spiritual resonance to its millions of devotees around the world? -- Maggie Overfelt

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