2011's Most Momentous Moments for Apple
This year was one of tremendous loss for Apple, but the company also seemed to gain a great deal of momentum. Its iconic cofounder and CEO is gone, but the company managed to change the way people buy software, drive its tablet dominance even deeper, bring revolutionary new features to its OS and introduce a service that has people talking to their phones in a whole new way.
12/15/11 5:00 AM PT
2011 was a big year for Apple fans. Maybe not as big as the introduction of the iPhone or iPad, but a lot of amazing things happened, and the company gathered an astounding amount of momentum.
Of course, 2011 was also the year Apple CEO Steve Jobs died. Many Apple fans knew he was sick. Some saw photos of his frail frame and worried. I did. And it's hard not to worry that his little dent in the universe might get pounded back out and glossed over. But 2011, wow. There's momentum there, for sure, even as Jobs took a medical leave in January. Momentum.
All Aboard the Apple Train
On Jan. 6, Apple's Mac App Store opened for business. It promised to replicate the astounding success of the iOS App Store for mobile apps on the Mac, a sometimes seemingly forgotten stepchild to the iPhone juggernaut.
Some developers were angry over Apple's need to curate, control and take a 30 percent cut of their profits. What was wrong with letting customers simply download their apps from the developers' own websites? Lots of things, it turns out. The biggest issue was discovery. All these new Mac users buying into OS X via the iPhone halo effect meant that most of them didn't know where to go to find apps, who to trust, and what even existed.
Add that to the fact that some applications didn't use standard ways of installation and were annoyingly painful to keep updated and licensed properly. The whole ecosystem was begging for Jobs to step in and fix it.
And he did. I love the Mac App Store. I've purchased more apps in 2011 than I have in the last six years. I know where to go. I trust the downloads, the installation, and the updates. Now, I am far more likely to invest in apps for the Mac, and each time I do, I become more and more invested in the Mac platform and ecosystem. In the very first day, Apple, despite a low inventory, delivered 1 million Mac app downloads. That's amazing. The Mac App Store was a huge, massive innovation for the Apple world, and one that I believe remains under-appreciated.
Finally, Verizon Gets the iPhone
In February, Apple finally satisfied all the AT&T haters by opening up the U.S. to a Verizon iPhone. And what happened? AT&T didn't crumble, and Verizon didn't start offering new contract or cellular data fees that were radically better than AT&T's. It was a bit of a letdown for some who seemed dead set on believing that AT&T was pure evil and pathetically incapable of handling the massive iPhone data loads.
Turns out Verizon probably couldn't have done much better had it been the first company to launch with the iPhone. Either way, the point remains: Verizon became a turning point in the U.S. for other carriers to start selling the iPhone, making it easier than ever for anyone to get one. Had this opening up not started in early 2011, it's safe to say that millions of people would likely be using Android-based phones now instead.
iPad 2 Adoption Defies Expectations
Whether we're in a post-PC era or not, the iPad 2 came out in March and immediately started selling. While other tablets entered the market in the first half of 2011, they were largely ignored by the masses. And even decent tablets had a hard time competing with Apple's pricing. Apparently not many manufacturers could compete with Apple's astounding supply chain and manufacturing wizardry -- US$499 and $629 (for 3G and GPS) wasn't so ridiculously high after all.
In fact, it wasn't until late this year that other retail giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble were able to create low-cost, smaller, less-featured tablets, like the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet, at prices significantly lower than Apple. And these little media-friendly tablets are likely being sold at a physical loss per unit in the hopes that owners will buy other products through their ecosystems.
As of right now, whenever I travel around on business, close to home or far away, I can spot iPads left and right. Other tablets? Not so much. A few here and there. I was just in Best Buy looking at new physical keyboard options for my iPad 2 ... and where were the aunts and uncles looking at tablets? Not the Samsung Galaxy Tab display. No, they were all handling the iPads.
For Apple fans who have been users (and addicts) through all the bad years as well as the good ones, this massive uptick is gratifying, I've got to say.
'Firing on All Cylinders'
In Apple's second fiscal quarter, reported in April, the company revealed that it was basically kicking butt and taking names, despite a faltering economy and an elite product line with a high cost of entry.
During the quarter, Apple sold 3.76 million Macs, a 28 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. It sold 18.65 million iPhones in the quarter, representing 113 percent unit growth, and also sold 9.02 million iPods during the quarter, which represented 17 percent unit decline. That decline was expected since iPhone buyers don't usually also need iPod touches. And the iPad? Apple sold 4.69 million iPads during the quarter.
"With quarterly revenue growth of 83 percent and profit growth of 95 percent, we're firing on all cylinders," reported Jobs (while on medical leave). "We will continue to innovate on all fronts throughout the remainder of the year."
Later, come August, the valuation for Apple as a company soared past Exxon to become the world's most valuable company. Sure, these valuations fluctuate, but for Apple fans, this was an astounding revelation. I remember when Apple was on the brink of disaster and took a loan from Microsoft to stay afloat.
Along the Way
Of course, all through 2011, Apple fans were getting updates to MacBooks, new innards for the iMac, and, finally, an update to the Mac mini, which seemed to be totally ignored for months and months. But these things are all just business as usual for Apple fans. 2011 promised far more than evolutionary CPU enhancements or the eventual delivery of white iPhones and iPads.
In June, Apple announced Mac OS X Lion with 250 new features, alongside a new version of iOS and iCloud -- with delivery later in the summer and fall. Meanwhile, in July the Apple App Store for iOS hit more than 15 billion downloads and created new millionaire developers along the way. iOS gaming beat the mobile gaming pants off Nintendo and Sony.
Lion roared to life on July 20, and 24 hours later a cool 1 million Mac fans were running it the next day. This is enviable adoption, no way around it. While many seemed to think Lion was just an evolutionary new version of Mac OS X, I tend to differ. What's revolutionary? The use of gestures to move and flick your screen and content around. After using a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad with Lion, using anything else to navigate -- PCs and older Macs included -- is sometimes painful for me. And the flicking motion that was bass-ackwards when I first started playing with Lion? It's 100 percent natural now. This is either the genius of the Jobs at work ... or the effects of his maniacal power over really smart employees.
Then, on Aug. 24, Apple revealed an open letter from Jobs. "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come," Jobs wrote. "I hereby resign as CEO of Apple."
Hardcore Apple fans saw this coming. And we were sad. We knew this meant that Steve was really sick. Super sick. We hoped we were wrong, and we hoped for miracles. Maybe some of us really cared about a man we didn't really know, but all of us cared for the magical changes he had brought to our lives through Apple technology. The last thing I touch before I fall asleep? More often than not, it's my iPhone -- which also wakes me up come morning.
On Oct. 4, Apple launched the iPhone 4S, iOS 5 and iCloud. Apple fans were generally pleased, though many had hoped for an iPhone 5. Siri seemed cool, but no one yet really understood how amazing Siri, the voice-activated genius iPhone 4S assistant, really was.
And then the news broke on Oct. 5 that Jobs had died.
A couple weeks later, the authorized biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, started its journey toward becoming a runaway bestseller. For a moment, I wasn't sure whether to buy the physical book, buy an Amazon Kindle edition, or buy it via iBooks. As a final nod, I bought the iBook version.
It was a revealing biography, to say the least. I'm still irritated that Jobs had hundreds of millions of dollars, was super smart, and yet he was also a travesty of a father in his early years. I know a lot of good men who, given the choice between making a dent in the universe and rocking their daughters in their arms while they are sick with the flu, would consistently choose love. And yet the drive of Steve Jobs is a rare thing, and I respect it, too. Jobs was a reality-distorting oxymoron, no doubt about it, and I'm sure that many Apple fans were both inspired and confused by his biography.
Five days after his death, iPhone 4S pre-orders topped 1 million in the first 24 hours of availability. Within a dozen days of his death, the iPhone 4S first weekend sales topped 4 million. And the 4S? It was mostly an iterative improvement, right? Not exactly. It's been selling just as fast as, if not faster than, predecessor models. And Siri has iPhone 4S owners are gushing about their iPhones again. Gushing. I ask, "How's Siri, really?"
The most recent answer? "She's aaamaaaazing!"
I say, "Where do you want to eat?"
Siri owners say, "I don't know, but Siri does!"
I have an iPhone 4. I'm unwilling to shell out extra to break my contract with AT&T or overpay for an iPhone 4S when I know that I'll get an iPhone 5 sometime in 2012. But when people tell me that Siri somehow learned, over the course of four or five mentions, that "Don" was really "Dawn" from their contacts list, I wonder if I ought to make the leap anyway.
Bustling Holidays, No Visible Innovation
Of course, come late October and early November, Apple freezes the introduction of major new products to let the holiday selling season proceed without any confusion. For Apple lovers, it's a time to let anticipation rest. Apple, of course, is still busy at work. The company opened up a new high-profile retail store overlooking Grand Central Terminal in New York.
And the Mac App Store? On December 12, Apple announced that it had delivered more than 100 million app downloads.
Did I say momentum? I see momentum.
If 2011 demonstrates one thing, it's that Apple is big and moving fast all over the globe. For Apple lovers who mourn the loss of Jobs, this momentum still feels crazy strong. It'll carry us well into 2012, we're sure. Into 2013, 2014, and beyond? Hopeful. We're optimistic and hopeful. To know more about Jobs and Apple than ever before -- thanks to the Isaacson biography and resulting chatter -- we're hopeful that Apple, not the iPhone or iPad, will become his greatest invention.