NEW YORK (AP) — "Those jobs aren't coming back."

That's what Steve Jobs reportedly told President Obama when asked at a dinner in early 2011 whether Apple would consider moving some of its manufacturing from China to the United States.

Jobs' successor, CEO Tim Cook, might have another response for Obama: Yes, we can.

Though the metal edges of its PCs and mobile devices are as sharp and severe as ever, Apple is emerging under Cook's leadership as a kinder corporate citizen. Cook's announcement this week that the company is moving the production of one of its Mac computer lines to the U.S. is just the latest step in a softening of the company's image following the October 2011 death of CEO and co-founder Jobs.

"Cook is a gentler being in terms of how he projects himself," says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. That's partly of necessity, she says — people wouldn't tolerate Jobs' arrogance in a new CEO — but it's also a reflection of Cook's personality.

Cook didn't say which computers would be made in the U.S., or where the company might locate facilities. But bringing assembly-line jobs back to the U.S. lights a symbolic beacon of hope for working-class Americans who worry that the global economy has no use for them.

Cook's reforms have been both internal and outward-facing. Earlier this year, he visited the Chinese factories where Apple products are assembled, amid an Apple-financed audit of working conditions. Shortly after, Foxconn promised to limit working hours and raise wages.

U.S. workers are getting a better deal too. The Wall Street Journal reported in early November that the company will let some employees take up to two weeks of paid leave to work on pet projects that might benefit the company. The program is similar to a famous perk available to Google employees, who get to devote 20 percent of their time to entrepreneurial "hobbies."

In addition, the company now matches employee donations up to $10,000 a year. Tim Cook himself made $100 million in charitable donations early in the year, another contrast to Jobs, who had little interest in philanthropy.

Under Cook, Apple has also become more investor-friendly. Jobs, perhaps scarred by Apple's lean years in the 1990s, was opposed to Apple parting with its cash reserves. That lead to the company accumulating a rainy-day fund of nearly $100 billion in cash by the end of his tenure — a hoard that investors would have liked for themselves.

This year, Apple has begun sharing its wealth with investors for the first time in two decades, by paying dividends of nearly $10 billion a year.

Cook's diplomacy has extended into enemy territory. Jobs was furious that phones running Google Inc.'s Android software mimicked Apple's iPhone so closely and vowed to wage "thermonuclear war" against the company through patent infringement lawsuits. The worldwide onslaught of litigation is still ongoing, but in early November, Apple agreed to a ceasefire on one front: It settled all its patent suits against Google partner HTC Corp., a struggling Taiwanese maker of smartphones.

The terms were not disclosed, but company watchers believe HTC will be paying Apple royalties on the phones it makes, and some saw it as a sign that Apple was taking a more rational stance and starting to put Jobs' take-no-prisoners fury behind it.

Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group, says the image of a "softer" Apple that's emerged this year doesn't mean Cook is a softie.

"Make no mistake: he's not necessarily a kind, gentle guy if he needs to get something done. He's a very hard-nosed, demanding boss," Howe says. "And he's very much of the Steve Jobs model, where if you're the janitor you get to make excuses. If you're the vice president, you don't."

Cook, in fact, engineered a major shakeup in Apple's top ranks this fall. Scott Forstall, the long-serving head of iPhone software development, stepped down and his responsibilities were divided among other executives. Company watchers attributed his departure to difficulties collaborating with other departments and to the scathing reviews that greeted Apple's Maps application, which replaced Google Maps.

Another senior vice president left at the same time: John Browett, who headed Apple's stores. Browett had tried to make his mark by cutting employee hours, leaving fewer people to help customers. Browett was overridden. He lasted just six months on the job.

"Being gentle and being a pushover are two different things," says Milanesi.

Earlier on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Tim Cook Goes To China

    Apple's problem of allegedly poor working conditions at its suppliers' factories in China had been known for some time, but this year Cook actually stepped up and did something about it. After the <em>New York Times</em> <a href="" target="_hplink">published an expose</a> on the human cost of manufacturing an iPad, Cook went to China to visit manufacturing sites. <a href="" target="_hplink">Steve Jobs reportedly never set foot in a Chinese factory</a>. More substantially than a PR stunt, Cook also <a href="" target="_hplink">asked</a> the D.C.-based Fair Labor Association to independently audit Foxconn's and other's component manufacturing facilities. Investigators found that laborers often worked <a href="" target="_hplink">more than 60 hours per week</a> in March. Since then, Apple reportedly <a href="" target="_hplink">sketched out a timeline</a> for having workers work sane schedules.

  • Tim Cook Doesn't Make Employees' Lives Miserable

    OK, so we can't exactly speak for <em>every</em> single one of Apple's <a href="" target="_hplink">60,000 employees</a>, but there are few indications that underlings are happier under Cook than they were under Jobs. <a href="" target="_hplink">As <em>Fortune</em>'s Adam Lashinsky wrote</a> of an annual retreat for top execs in April, "the spirit of the meeting was upbeat and even fun [...] a stark contrast to the grim and fearful tone Jobs engendered at the meetings." Indeed, peppered throughout Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs are many episodes of Jobs berating his workers for their incompetence. Cook, in contrast, seems like a leveler head.

  • Tim Cook Is Not A Scrooge McDuck

    Steve Jobs was many things, but "charitable" wasn't one of them. But just a week into Cook's tenure, <a href="" target="_hplink">the new CEO started a program</a> in which Apple matches dollar-for-dollar any charitable donation made to a nonprofit, up to $10,000. Such gift-matching systems are standard at many American companies; but this was a first for Apple. To boot, <a href="" target="_hplink">Apple under Cook also gave away $50 million to Stanford hospitals</a>. By contrast, Jobs <a href="" target="_hplink"> personally didn't have any public record of giving to charity</a> and once reportedly employees that <a href="" target="_hplink">Apple giving away money was a waste of time</a>. Jerk moves.

  • Tim Cook Shares Some Of Apple's Massive Pile Of Cash

    This ain't exactly charity, but it is a good thing. While Jobs wasn't one to give to investors any of Apple's trucks-full of cash in the form of dividends or stock buyback, Cook is fine with it. In February, <a href="" target="_hplink">Apple issued a $2.65-per-quarter dividend and promised to buy $10 million worth in stock back from investors</a>. In short, Cook wanted to reward investors, both big and small, for the years they'd keep their money in the company.

  • Tim Cook Has Made Apple A Ton Of Money

    Of course, the most important thing for investors is the stock price itself -- and wow, it's doing fantastic. In one year, Cook has made Apple 77 percent richer. On his first day, a share of Apple was trading for $376. As as I write this, it's trading for $667. That ends up being an additional $353 <em>billion</em>. Of course Jobs should be credited with the upward trajectory he left the company with, but it was Cook who guided the company to that high.