Setting the stage for 2015
Apple had a blockbuster year. New iPhones, new iPads, a mobile payment solution that might actually change the way we pay, and an entirely new product category in Apple Watch.
That’s not to say there weren’t missteps: iOS 8.0.1, anyone?
We recap the year in Apple, from the high of record-breaking iPhone orders to the low of legal battles, and all the heartwarming and hilarious moments in between.
Apple goes big
Few were surprised when Apple introduced a bigger iPhone this fall, but not many expected the company to have two super-sized devices on hand. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch 6 Plus were immediate hits, selling more than 10 million units in one weekend and then selling out across the country. CEO Tim Cook said the phones broke records for most orders taken—and by a high margin. “We’re selling everything that we’re making,” he said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.
Other smartphone manufacturers have been making supersized phones for awhile now, so it was unclear whether Apple’s attempt to go big so late in the game would be a success. It’s pretty clear now.
Don't call it a smartwatch
Apple never uses the term “smartwatch” to describe the forthcoming Apple Watch, due this spring, a purposeful decision that separates the company’s wearable from its rivals. Just like Apple wasn’t the first to launch a mobile payments solution or release a supersized smartphone, the company is far from the first to debut a smartwatch, but from what we’ve seen so far, Apple Watch won’t be like other wearables.
There’s the digital crown that helps you navigate, haptic feedback for notifications, Apple Pay, and hopefully some amazing apps built just for your wrist, not to mention the variety of editions designed for every lifestyle. Apple isn’t competing against other smartwatches with Apple Watch—it’s taking aim at other watches.
You're bending it wrong
When a few users reported their brand new iPhone 6 Plus units had bent under the pressure of being in a pants pocket, the ensuing controversy spiraled so far out of control that Apple called in reporters to see the rigorous testing its phones endure before being released.
Bendgate wasn’t as serious an issue as Antennagate (we might run out of words to affix -gate to), which prompted Steve Jobs to cut short a family vacation to return and do right by the slew of iPhone 4 buyers whose cellular connectivity was compromised by the phone’s metal band. Apple said only nine people officially complained to the company about their new devices being bent. It’s unclear how many people exchanged a bent phone for a new one, but the dust quickly settled.
Photo credit: Devin Pitcher
The botched update
iOS 8 rolled out with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but it was missing something: all the HealthKit-integrated apps that were one of the new operating system’s calling cards. Apple quickly pushed out an iOS update the following week to add HealthKit support, but within minutes of iOS 8.0.1’s release, users reported problems. Serious problems. The update rendered cellular connectivity and Touch ID on the iPhone 6 Plus completely unusable. Apple pulled the update and offered an iTunes workaround for people whose phones were turned into mini iPads. The bad press from #Bendgate and the botched iOS update culminated in one very bad week for Apple, but, as usual, the company easily rebounded.
Apple's ebook battle
This year, Apple finally nailed down a settlement agreement to pay out ebook users affected by its pricing agreements with the country’s five largest book publishers. A New York judge ruled last year that Apple conspired with publishers to raise ebook prices and this year approved a $450 million settlement. This was a big hit for Apple, which maintained throughout the legal proceedings that Amazon had a monopoly on ebook pricing until Apple entered the market.
But now the company is getting another chance to make its case in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and according to a recent Reuters report, the company’s claims appear to be falling on more sympathetic ears. If Apple wins the appeal, the company won’t have to pay the settlement.
iTunes on trial
Apple is no stranger to legal tangles—between patent wars with Samsung and an ebook pricing battle, the company’s executives have seen plenty of courtroom intrigue over the last few years. But Apple’s latest legal fight was also one of its weirdest: A class-action suit that accused the company of violating antitrust laws by blocking rival music services’ songs from playing on iPods. The class-action status covered people who purchased iPods between September 2006 and March 2009, a definition that covered 8 million people. But in the end, the case fell apart after attorneys discovered that the suit’s two plaintiffs weren’t members of the class—they didn’t buy iPods during the covered time period. A last-minute plaintiff was found, but didn’t have time to take the stand, and the jury ruled in Apple’s favor.
Photo credit: Triller/Flickr Creative Commons
Pay by phone
Apple’s game-changing product of the year wasn’t a bigger iPhone, or even the biggest iPhone—it was Apple Pay. The ability to wave an iPhone near a terminal to pay for stuff is an example of the kind of seamlessness and ease of use Apple strives for, and in a 10-day bicoastal test, we discovered Apple Pay is the easiest way to pay for just about anything.
Of course, there are limitations: If you don’t have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus with built-in NFC capability, you can’t use Apple Pay in stores. The company also needs more retailers on board to give Apple Pay more compelling use cases beyond Whole Foods and Walgreens (although those are great, too).
When rumors that Apple was making a play for Dr. Dre’s headphone company, Beats Audio, first began swirling last May, it was kind of a head-scratcher. Apple has long been in the music business, but it was unclear why the company needed to add headphones to its accessories lineup. But the deal turned out to be legit: Apple shelled out $3 billion for Jimmy Iovine and Dre’s company, and the two joined Apple.
More than four months after the acquisition was finalized, the reason for Apple’s interest is still fuzzy, but becoming more clear. Apple revolutionized the music industry with iTunes, but now downloads are dwindling and streaming is on the rise. Apple might have been after the headphone maker’s other product: Beats Music, a unique streaming app that Apple can marry to iTunes to create a Spotify challenger.
So long, iPod classic
2014 was a year chock full of new Apple products, but it will also be remembered as the end of an era for the iPod classic. It wasn’t really a surprise when the company quietly removed the classic click-wheel MP3 player from the Apple Store. Apple had sold the device for years without updates, but it was rarely mentioned and lacked the bells and whistles of new-model iPods. (Though with 160GB of storage, music collectors could care less about bells and whistles.)
“We couldn’t get the parts anymore,” Apple CEO Tim Cook explained at October’s WSJD Live conference.
Now that the classic has vanished from store shelves, it’s become incredibly popular on eBay. One “vintage” 160GB classic sold for $900 on the popular reselling site, and thousands of others are up for sale.
Tim Cook speaks out
One morning toward the end of October, after the usual fall blitz of Apple news coverage had died down, Apple CEO Tim Cook published a deeply personal essay in which he publicly said for the first time that he is gay.
Many Apple fans greeted the news with a resounding, “Meh. Who cares?” Sure, Cook is still the same CEO tasked with the same responsibilities. But as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, as The Verge reporter Casey Newton noted in his own personal essay, Cook’s high-profile announcement means a great deal to young gay people looking for a role model.
Photo credit: Martyn Williams