Now that 2011 has come to a close, we are able to look back at Apple’s greatest year. Not only did 2011 show record profits and important product updates, but new technologies were released, and brand new versions of all of Apple’s operating systems were unveiled. Customer’s experienced new ways of purchasing products, while taking advantage of innovative cloud-based storage solutions. Developers learned a new integrated development environment for coding applications across all of Apple’s state-of-the-art operating systems. Creatives explored new techniques for editing video, and creating music on Macs and mobile devices alike. And during the midst of it all, Apple became the world’s most valuable company while losing the greatest leader it has ever known. As we look back at the past 365 days it is easy to see why 2011 was Apple’s greatest year.
Mac App Store
The year started off on January 6th with the release of the Mac App Store, a new way to buy applications on any Mac running Snow Leopard. With more than 1,000 free and paid apps, over one million downloads were made during its first day of business alone.
Revealed during the Sneak Peak of Lion event in October 2010, Apple compared the Mac App Store to the ease of purchasing applications on iOS.
The Mac App Store brings the revolutionary App Store experience to OS X, making discovering, installing and updating Mac apps easier than ever. Like on iPad™, you purchase apps using your iTunes® account and they download and install in just one step. App updates are delivered directly through the Mac App Store, so it’s easy to keep all of your apps up to date.
By January 22nd the Mac App Store had received more than 10 million downloads, securing its future as the preferred method of buying applications on the Mac. One of the secrets of the Mac App Store’s success was its prominent position in the Mac OS X Dock. After updating to 10.6.6 users found the Mac App Store icon sitting right next to their favorite applications at the edge of their Macintosh’s screen. Never before had a software update placed a application in such a leading location for users to discover.
The release of Lion as a downloadable upgrade from the Mac App Store in early July only helped to solidify the Mac App Store’s success. Billed as a “tentpole” feature in Lion, the Mac App Store was promoted heavily leading up to Lion’s release. As Apple’s customers upgraded to Lion in record numbers many discovered the Mac App Store for the first time. Physical boxes of software at Apple Stores started to disappear overnight as more and more developers released their applications exclusively for the Mac App Store. By December 12th, Apple’s online strategy for software marketing and sales had become the dominant way to buy software on the Mac with over 100 million downloads.
Thunderbolt might be Apple’s most important hardware advancement in the last decade.
Developed by Intel with collaboration from Apple, Thunderbolt enables expandability never before possible on a notebook computer. Featuring two bi-directional channels with transfer speeds up to an amazing 10Gbps each, Thunderbolt delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters. Thunderbolt also supports DisplayPort for high resolution displays and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. Freely available for implementation on systems, cables and devices, Thunderbolt technology is expected to be widely adopted as a new standard for high performance I/O.
In the past significant hardware advances have always been implemented on desktop computers first. This was true for FireWire, USB 2.0 and the G5 processor. Starting on February 24th, Apple’s pro line of portable machines were the first to offer the high performance I/O and expandability of Thunderbolt.
On May 3rd Apple’s iMacs adopted Thunderbolt with their latest revision, marking the first time a consumer desktop has seen a major hardware advancement before its pro counterpart since the Bondi Blue iMac boldly adopted USB. No fact is more damming to the Mac Pro’s continued irrelevance than its lack of Thunderbolt support.
On July 20th, the world saw the release of Lion and with it came new MacBook Airs, Mac minis, and the Thunderbolt Display. No computer would benefit more from the addition of Thunderbolt than the MacBook Air. Combined with a Thunderbolt Display the new MacBook Air gains all of the ports of a full-featured MacBook Pro, while retaining all of the travel portability of a three pound notebook. Not since the age of the PowerBook Duo has Apple released a mobility minded portable with the expandability of a desktop computer. Thunderbolt made it possible.
On November 4th, Bare Feets performed a speed test of all shipping Macs comparing their ability to run pro applications against a Mac Pro. Bare Feets found that the performance gap between the Mac Pro and high-end Macs was narrowing towards the point of irrelevance thanks to the latest Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors shipping with every new Thunderbolt enabled Mac.
The iPad 2 may have been the most anticipated product of 2011. Steve Jobs made a surprise appearance during his second medical leave to reveal the iPad 2 on March 2nd.
iPad 2 features an entirely new design that is 33 percent thinner and up to 15 percent lighter than the original iPad, while maintaining the same stunning 9.7-inch LED-backlit LCD screen. iPad 2 features Apple’s new dual-core A5 processor for blazing fast performance and stunning graphics and now includes two cameras, a front-facing VGA camera for FaceTime® and Photo Booth®, and a rear-facing camera that captures 720p HD video, bringing the innovative FaceTime feature to iPad users for the first time.
The iPad 2 was later released on March 11th, but Apple has never reported its sales numbers. Analysts put sales of the new iPad in the range of 400,000 to 600,000 units during its first three days on the market, about the same range as the original model sold in its first week. In the most recent quarter Apple reported the iPad 2 contributed 17% of Apple’s $26.7 billion in revenue, or an estimated 7.5 million units sold from late June to September 24th.
Alongside the iPad 2 came new versions of iMovie and Garageband for iOS. These mobile applications would help creative professionals and curious amateurs create movies and music on the go thanks to the iPad 2’s improved processing power and multitouch interface.
The most unheralded feature of the iPad 2 might be the introduction of AirPlay, a wireless technology that allows you to stream what is on your iPad 2 to your HDTV via an Apple TV. AirPlay would quickly make it to all of Apple’s iOS devices running iOS 5.
Xcode 4 was a major update to Apple’s integrated development environment, and a mixed blessing for developers who had become accustomed to previous versions. Apple released the final code for Xcode 4.0 on March 9th over the Mac App Store, but many developers were weary to adopt it, citing poor performance and a steep learning curve.
Some of Xcode 4’s biggest changes were in its user interface. For the first time many of the windows and auxiliary applications used to perform development tasks were consolidated into a single application window. This was most likely done to make Xcode 4 more compatible with Lion, which encourages the use of full screen, single window apps. The addition of Navigators and the Jump Bar help Xcode 4 developers navigate the new interface, while the Assistant feature keeps track of what code is being edited across multiple files.
The new Apple LLVM Compiler 2.0 in Xcode 4 means software is compiled quicker and the resulting applications run faster. It also means many existing applications had to be tweaked as new bugs were discovered and compatibility changes had to be made. The new Apple LLVM engine helps by constantly working in the background to understand a developers code. It alerts developers to coding mistakes as they type, and highlights common mishaps and potential fixes without the need to click the build button.
Xcode 4 was a sore spot for many developers who had become accustomed to the previous way of building applications, but thanks to a new versioning system, steady performance improvements, and continued Xcode 3 backwards compatibility many developers were able to make the jump to Apple’s latest IDE on their own schedule.
Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut Pro was another professional Apple application that received a major update last year. Like Xcode 4, Final Cut Pro received both a major upgrade to its underlying architecture as well as a completely new user interface. Creative professionals were stunned to learn that Final Cut Pro X would not open their previous Final Cut Pro Projects. Many snubbed the new iMovie inspired user interface that required them to relearn basic editing skills. And although several reviews confirmed Final Cut Pro to be the fastest nonlinear editor in existence, professional editors were shocked by the absence of so many professional features including support for third-party hardware, tape media importing, and the import or export of content to other editors or finishing systems.
It helps to think of FCP X as not an upgrade of Final Cut Studio, but rather an entirely new application that shares the same name. 64-bit support, a Cocoa foundation, GPU acceleration, and a new rendering engine were all long awaited features that will give Final Cut Pro a solid foundation into the next decade. Many of the FPC X’s deficiency’s can be summed up as the result of 1.0 release, and if you think of it as an entirely new application the results are very impressive.
No one forced creative professionals to upgrade to Final Cut X, but when Apple released FCP X on the Mac App Store they stopped selling the previous boxed version of Final Cut Studio. The lack of professional features, and the abrupt change in workflow caused enough of an outcry that Apple began selling the remaining copies of Final Cut Studio in early September. Update 10.0.1 followed twenty days later, and helped fix some of superficial deficiencies plaguing Final Cut Pro X. Version 10.1 has been promised for early 2012, and I am confident that future updates will only make Final Cut Pro X more compelling as tape-less editing becomes the norm.
Mac OS X Lion was the most anticipated software upgrade of 2011. Announced during the Sneak Peak of Lion event in October 2010, Apple revealed several new features like the Mac App Store, Launchpad, Full Screen Apps, Multi-touch gestures, and a newly designed Mail application that would be making their way back to the Mac from iOS.
Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac, plus some fresh new ones like Mission Control that Mac users will really like,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Lion has a ton of new features, and we hope the few we had time to preview today will give users a good idea of where we are headed.
The first developer preview for Lion was released on [February 24th](apple.com/pr/library/2011/02/24Apple-Releases-Developer-Preview-of-Mac-OS-X-Lion.html, 2011). Many non-developers participated in the preview because the annual entry fee to the Mac Developer Program had recently been lowered to $100.
Lion was released on the Mac App Store on July 20th, 2011. It offered users 250 new features and sold over 1 million copies on its first day. Reviews for Lion were positive, but many long time Mac fans found issues with Lion’s Resume and Autosave features which took control away from the user. With the release of Lion Apple has made it clear that the future of the Mac is headed towards a convergence with iOS. No one knows when that convergence will take place, but as the two platforms align ease-of-use and reliability will triumph over the customization and extended capabilities of the former Mac OS.
Apple Campus 2
On June 7th, Steve Jobs addressed the Cupertino City Council to present his ideas for a new Apple Campus. If the proposal goes through Apple will be relying heavily on its experience building futuristic retail stores to produce a 2.8 million square foot circular building made out of curved glass. The new campus will be four stories tall, have a diameter of about 1615 feet, and house 12,000 employees on a 175 acre plot down the street from Apple’s current headquarters. Amenities will include…
- an enclosed courtyard
- a cafeteria capable of feeding 3,000 employees in one sitting
- a auditorium capable of seating 1,000 people
- an on campus fitness center
- a 60% increase in landscaping
- underground parking
- 300,000 square feet of research facilities
- and a natural gas power plant capable of producing all of the campuses power
Apple plans on a 40% increase in Apple corporate employees going from 9,500 today to 13,000 in 2015 when the new campus is scheduled to be completed. Even though the new campus was not built in 2011, its announcement was a significant milestone for Apple, a company that continues to grow far past anyones expectations.
On August 10th, under Steve Jobs guidance, Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil to seize the title of world’s most valuable company.
On August 24th, Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple.
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.
He asked to remain as Apple’s Chairman of the board, director, and Apple employee.
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.
As planned Tim Cook took the reigns as Apple’s CEO. He successfully launched the iPhone 4S, iOS 5, and iCloud before a packed crowd at Apple’s Town Hall auditorium on October 4th, 2011. There was one reserved seat left unfilled in the audience.
On October 5th, Steve Jobs passed away.
Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.
After hearing the news Apple’s shares fell less than a dollar.
On October 18th, Apple reported their forth quarter results showing an all-time record for Mac and iPad sales, and the highest September quarter revenue and earnings to date.
On October 19th, Apple closed all of its retail stores for several hours as Apple employees gathered at Apple’s headquarters to celebrate Steve’s life. Memorials were erected on the windows and sidewalks outside of every Apple Store, and at Steve’s home in Palo Alto.
On November 15th, Arthur D. Levinson became Chairman of the Board.
Steve Jobs will always be missed, but his vision will live on in the company he founded. Apple will forever be his greatest product.
iOS 5 was first announced at Apple’s annual WWDC keynote address on June 6th. iOS 5 includes more than 200 new features, but the highlights of the keynote were Notification Center, iMessage, Newsstand, and PC Free Activation.
Notifications Center was a long-awaited feature that replaced the stacked dialog box notifications found in previous version of iOS with a pull down sheet that resembles the notifications on Android.
The introduction of iMessage was unexpected by customers and carriers alike. With it Apple hopes to reproduce the popularity of the BlackBerry Messenger service by creating a cost free communication network Apple customers can enjoy across all of their iOS devices.
Subscriptions made it onto the App Store early last year on February 15th, but iOS lacked a centralized place to browse, purchase, and collect periodicals. Newsstand brought the bookshelf interface and integrated store of iBooks to newspapers and magazines, and allowed the delivery of new content overnight as a background process. Apple may not have the same selection of Amazon’s Kindle service, but starting with Newsstand they have all of the pieces they need to build a powerful competing readership.
PC free activation is the most important feature from iOS 5. It sets the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apart as independent devices free from the cables of personal computers. Android has long benefitted from PC free activation, and the abundance of Google cloud services. Now with the introduction of iOS 5, and iCloud Apple’s users will benefit from a similar liberation. The Post-PC era has begun.
The improvements in iOS 5 were significant, because they matched the long heralded strengths of competing platforms with an attention to detail and polish only Apple could provide.
iOS 5 was released alongside iCloud on October 12th.
iCloud was introduced on June 6th by Steve Jobs. It was the last product presentation he would ever make, and arguably one of the most important for Apple’s future success. iCloud is a collection of free and paid services that aim to preserve a single set of data across all of a user’s Macs, PCs, and iOS devices.
“Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up-to-date across all your devices,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it—it all just works.”
As a replacement to MobileMe, iCloud includes all of the basic personal information services a user might expect from an online platform including contacts, calendar, and email. These free services directly compete with the online offerings of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! without subjecting the user to unsightly ads.
iCloud include the automatic downloading of media, books, and apps to all of your iOS devices and computers running iTunes.
The automatic backup of iOS devices including purchased music, apps, books, photos, videos, device settings and app data is the iCloud feature that makes the PC Free Activation in iOS 5 possible.
iCloud Storage seamlessly stores all documents created using iCloud Storage APIs, and automatically pushes them to all of a users’s devices. When a user changes a document on any device, iCloud automatically pushes the changes to all of their devices. The iCloud Storage API will become iCloud’s most powerful feature as soon as more developers start taking advantage of it. We are already starting to see cross platform applications that are replacing the filesystem with iCloud’s Storage API, but more applications are needed if iCloud is to be considered a success.
The Photo Stream service automatically uploads the photos users take on their iOS devices to iCloud so they can be streamed or imported to any iOS device or computer. Photo Stream might be the best example of iCloud’s ability to keep a single set of data across all of a user’s devices.
For $25 a year iTunes Match scans the songs a user’s music library, including music not purchased on iTunes, and matches it to the more than 20 million songs available on the iTunes Store, offering them high-quality, DRM-free 256 kbps AAC encoding. Any unmatched songs are uploaded to iCloud so users can play any song, album or playlist from their music library on any of their iOS devices without syncing. iTunes Match may not replace the convenience, or low cost of tethered syncing, but geeks love it for the upgrade in quality it gives their music.
iCloud is more ambitious than services like Dropbox that rely on comparing files in the filesystem to synchronize data. With iCloud, Apple wants to replace the filesystem with a single destination for user’s data that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. For iCloud to be successful more developers need to take advantage of its services. Apple is doing everything they can to make iCloud popular by releasing it as a free service, but developers are proceeding with the same caution they used to support iCloud’s inconsistent predecessor MobileMe. Only time will tell if iCloud can overcome developers fears and become the future of data storage, or another just entry in Apple’s long list of online failures.
The iPhone 4S was unveiled by Phil Schiller on October 4th just one day before Steve’s death.
Apple today announced iPhone 4S, the most amazing iPhone yet, packed with incredible new features including Apple’s dual-core A5 chip for blazing fast performance and stunning graphics; an all new camera with advanced optics; full 1080p HD resolution video recording; and Siri, an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking.
At the time of its announcement many people on the internet were expecting the new iPhone 5 case design they saw on rumor sites. When the rumors failed to materialize these same people felt disappointment regardless of the new iPhone’s dual-core A5 processor, advanced optics, or intelligent voice enabled assistant Siri. The disappointment didn’t stop the iPhone 4S from selling over one million pre-orders in the first 24 hours, or over 4 million units during the first weekend. The success surrounding the iPhone 4S shows that Apple no longer needs to impress people with flashy new form factors to sell products. Gone are the days of the candy colored iMac. Apple’s new approach is a timeless elegance that does not need to be updated every year. Not a single Apple hardware product saw a significant redesign this year, and yet Apple still showed record profits. Today’s Apple relies less on being seen, and more on being heard.
One way Apple is being heard is with Siri. Siri is the new voice enabled digital assistant that ships with the iPhone 4S. It listens to a user’s natural language and performs simple tasks based upon their instructions. Siri was released in beta, a rare move for Apple, because it needs to learn from a large sample size of users speech patterns. As Siri improves and changes the way we control our computers it might prove to be the most important advancement in 2011. The introduction of the mouse changed personal computing in 1984, The scroll wheel change portable music in 2001, and multitouch changed the mobile phone in 2007. What will Siri change in 2012?
The Mac App Store, Thunderbolt, iPad 2, Xcode 4, Final Cut Pro X, Lion, Apple’s New Campus, Steve Job’s Life, iOS 5, iCloud, and the iPhone 4S all helped make 2011 Apple’s greatest year. And even though we will probably not see the record number of amazing advancements in 2012 I am still looking forward to it just the same.
I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. — Steve Jobs (August 24, 2011)