Apple ( AAPL) has topped a lot of institutional investors' buying lists in the last quarter, so it's no great surprise that this tech giant is on top of this one as well. Apple has done an amazing job of creating an ecosystem around its product offerings, tying together its product range from Macintosh computers to iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Software is key to Apple's strategy; where other computer makers saw their margins erode as their offerings became commoditized, Apple remains able to collect a premium for its products because it's the only game in town for consumers who want to use the iOS or Mac OS X systems. That's a key factor in Apple's bargaining power. Because the firm's products are in high demand right now, Apple can negotiate favorable terms for its contracts with retailers and with partners such as AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ). As the firm continues to expand the stickiness of its systems with new offerings such as iCloud, it should have little trouble retaining its scale. From a financial standpoint, Apple is equally impressive. The firm currently has more than $81 billion in cash and investments on its balance sheet -- ample dry powder to return value to shareholders in 2012. Speculation over a dividend payout or a large-scale share buyback continues to keep investors guessing. Last quarter, institutions bought $1.7 million shares of Apple's stock. For example, Chase Coleman's Tiger Global Management increased its position in the stock by 13.3%, and George Soros' Soros Fund Management scooped up an additional 12,620 shares. Apple shows up on recent lists of 13 Tech Stocks to Buy in 2012 and 21 Stock Picks That Experts Agree On.