Apple is currently the world’s largest tech company, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Established on 1 April, 1976, Apple has moved from CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs’ garage, to offices in 317 locations around the world, plus 323 Apple Stores. The past 10 years has seen Apple redefine consumer electronics and become a household name. With Apple at the height of its success, we look back over the past 35 years to see what made it the company it is today.

2011 onwards: Future predictions

While Apple continues to innovate, speculation continues over Jobs’ health

Apple’s history is one of research, development, innovation and success. From the Macintosh with the Xerox Parc-inspired UI to the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple sets the bar. Net profits in 2010 hit $14,013m – in 1996 net profits were running at a $816m loss. A thousand dollars invested in the company on 18 May 1998 would have grown to be worth $20,798 a decade later, according to Sharebuilder. Recently, Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed Apple sold one million MacBook Airs in the three months to December alone. The newly introduced iPad 2 also forecasts success for the Cupertino company: Goldman Sachs is predicting shares will be valued at $450 each by 2013.

It’s all a far cry from October 1997 when Dell CEO Michael Dell said that if he were Apple’s CEO, he’d shut the company down and “give the money back to the shareholders”. Ten years later Apple stock exceeded Dell’s in market value, prompting Jobs to write to staff: “Team, it turned out that Michael Dell wasn’t perfect at predicting the future.” Today, Apple’s share capital eclipses that of Microsoft and Dell combined. Apple is the world’s most valuable tech company.

This outstanding turnaround reflects a company that has managed to combine future envisioneering with an understanding of the networks of the past. That Blue Box phone phreaking period helped inform Jobs’ understanding of the nature of computers and networks.

Jobs looked healthy but thin when he introduced the iPad 2 this March, with observers saying he seemed active and energetic off-stage. Was this launch excitement, or recovery?

Looking forward, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster expects Apple will introduce branded television sets with built-in iTunes access. More immediately, Apple is expected to introduce Spotify-like music subscription services, while implementing some form of App support on Apple TV. This summer we’ll see Apple introduce even more levels of multi-touch support as part of the new interface of Mac OS X Lion. But Apple doesn’t get everything right: MobileMe remains uncompelling for most and the company has thus far failed to initiate a successful social networking strategy.

Perhaps the biggest fear within the firm remains the health of Steve Jobs, now 56. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and in receipt of a life-saving liver transplant in 2009, Jobs this year took an extended medical leave of absence from the company. While thin, he appeared full of energy at Apple’s recent iPad 2 launch, but industry observers continue to speculate about his health. “I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy,” Jobs wrote, but has made no comment on his condition.

Can Apple still prosper without Steve Jobs? The company is, of course, the sum of many parts. Most consider it likely his tasks will be split among three members of the existing executive, with Ive stepping up to take more control of product development.

However, the history of Jobs and Apple is so intertwined and synonymous that it is difficult to think of the company without thinking of him. After all, not only did he co-launch the company – he rescued it from the edge of extinction as well.