The Apple announcement turns out to be pretty straightforward—a modest dividend and a modest share repurchase program. From the press release:
Subject to declaration by the Board of Directors, the Company plans to initiate a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share sometime in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2012, which begins on July 1, 2012.
Additionally, the Company’s Board of Directors has authorized a $10 billion share repurchase program commencing in the Company’s fiscal 2013, which begins on September 30, 2012. The repurchase program is expected to be executed over three years, with the primary objective of neutralizing the impact of dilution from future employee equity grants and employee stock purchase programs.
They note that this will lead to about $10 billion per year in dividend payouts which they say will be among the highest in the country. Apple’s aggregate cash balance should still grow under this program, but a lot of that cash will continue to be held abroad. Apple doesn’t want to “repatriate” those foreign profits because in order to do so they would have to pay corporate income tax on the money. Like a lot of firms, they’re hoping that Republicans will someday soon either enact a corporate income tax cut or a temporary “repatriation holiday” which will let them move it to the US cash free.