2008 in review: The year's Top 10 stories

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5. Apple’s ongoing financial success

Even as the economy was beginning to crumble, Apple continued to enjoy strong sales and profits. In its fiscal fourth quarter ending in September, for example, the company reported quarterly record sales of both Macs and iPhones. Can Apple keep it up now that the recession is in full swing? Steve Jobs outlined the company’s plan for weathering an economic downturn during an October conference call with Wall Street analysts. We’ll see how well that plan is going in January, when Apple unveils its fiscal first quarter numbers.

4. Snow Leopard

It seems odd to give so high a ranking to a yet-to-be-released OS update that merited just a brief comment from Jobs during his WWDC keynote and a terse press release sketching out some of the features. But Snow Leopard, the code-name for the next major update to OS X, figures to have a heavy influence on Mac users in 2009. Apple says to expect the update, which is focusing on performance enhancements as opposed to the marquee features that Leopard delivered, by the middle of the year.

3. Rumors about Steve Jobs’ health

It’s nothing but gossip—and particularly distasteful gossip at that—but there’s no denying the impact that ongoing Internet chatter about Steve Jobs and his future at Apple have had on the company. Whenever he appeared at an Apple press event this year, Jobs was subject to the kind of scrutiny about his appearance that an American Kennel Club judge would find intrusive. Every decision Apple makes—its Expo opt-out is just the latest—is now viewed through the prism of speculation about the CEO’s health. And there’s a more immediate impact too—a false report of a Steve Jobs heart attack posted in a CNN user-generated content site caused Apple’s stock to tumble 10 percent in October, raising the specter of stock manipulation.

2. iPhone 3G goes global

Yes, Apple rolled out a second version of its popular smart phone, adding 3G networking capabilities and built-in GPS to the iPhone. But the real story was the worldwide spread of the iPhone prompted by the 3G’s release. At this time last year, the iPhone was available in four countries; now, you can buy one in more than 70. And the big target—China—is still in Apple’s sights.

1. The App Store

I can hear the “What is this, iPhoneworld” e-mails being typed now. But it’s undeniable that mobile apps were where the action was in 2008. Developers flocked to build iPhone apps—10,000 of them by Apple’s count—and consumers rushed to download them, passing the 300 million mark in early December. Were there complaints about how the App store was organized and the confusing rules Apple set up to approve native iPhone programs. Sure? But there was also a sense of excitement about establishing a new market, exploiting a new platform, and pushing the iPhone in new directions. Look for that excitement to carry us into 2009.

Honorable mentions: CS4 ships, Goodbye Bill Gates, the Microsoft-Yahoo merger that wasn’t, iTunes movie rentals, Google makes a phone.

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