2010 was a huge year for Apple news. As we close out the year, we look back at some of the year’s biggest stories and what they might mean for 2011.
Gizmodo and the iPhone 4
An Apple field tester walks into a bar with a prototype iPhone 4 disguised as an iPhone 3GS. An entirely different man entirely walks out with it, then sells the “found” phone to tech blog Gizmodo, which promptly proceeds to leak the hardware of Apple’s next iPhone to the entire world months before its official unveiling. There was a lot of madness besides — including the FBI raiding the house of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen, despite his standing as a journalist — but at the end of the day, this wasn’t just the biggest Apple story of the year… it was the biggest tech scoop in history, albeit a scoop with such legal (let alone ethical) questionability that it will be debated well into next year by both pundits and lawyers alike
What else do we need to say? Cupertino finally made good in 2010 with the long rumored tablet and while it was, as some artistic types feared, really just a big iPhone, it turns out that a touch-driven slate with incredible battery life and a contract-free 3G option was the “magical” device what almost everyone but stylus dorks wanted. The iPad was the most important gadget of the year.
When users started noticing that touching the side of their iPhone 4s in a certain way caused the signal to drop, the drama got so out of control that Apple had to call an emergency press conference to downplay the issue, during which a testy Steve Jobs all but called everyone an idiot for making a big deal out of an issue which was common across all cell phones. That was true as far as it went, but the iPhone 4’s external antenna and iOS’s rather generous method of calculating its own cellular signal strength didn’t help matters. At the end of the day, Apple handed out free iPhone 4 cases for a few months, and the problem went away… strongly suggesting it wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with. We’d be surprised to see the iPhone 5 keep the same antenna design, though.
14 tragic suicides at two Foxconn facilities in Shenzhen helped put the management and working conditions at Apple’s biggest manufacturing partner under intense international scrutiny in 2010. It’s never entirely been clear whether these suicides were caused by work conditions at Foxconn, or unrelated tragedies statistically in line with what you can expect in the ranks of a company of nearly a million employees. Either way, in response to the suicides, Foxconn steeply raised salaries of their assemly line workers, undertook steps to alleviate stressful working working conditions and barred windows at employee barracks so that workers couldn’t leap out of them. Either way, the PR damage has been done, and the plight of workers at Foxconn’s so-called “iPhone Cities” will continue to be a story in 2011.
Apple Becomes The Biggest Company In Tech
A decade ago, it would have seemed completely impossible, but Apple’s incredible transformation from a fading computer maker Michael Dell openly claimed should “close up shop” to a computer and media juggernaut from which the rest of the industry took its lead was finally complete this year, when Apple’s market cap passed Microsoft’s, making it the biggest company in tech in late May, 2010… and the stock’s only kept rising from there.
iOS (nee iPhone OS) 4 was the most radical revision of Apple’s mobile operating system yet, adding multitask support, backgrounding, Game Center, folders, wallpapers and more to an already robust OS. It was also the first time Apple left legacy iOS devices behind: the original iPhone and iPod Touch were deemed to puny to handle iOS 4, and even the iPhone 3G could barely run the OS… even after major features like background apps, multitasking and even wallpapers were stripped out of it. Apple rounded off iOS 4 by consolidating the two main branches of the operating system — the iPad branch and the iPod Touch branch — with iOS 4.2. In doing so, iOS 4 became not only the most full featured mobile operating system around… it also became the only leapfrogged ahead of the competition by the only one suited to both pocket devices and tablets, a trick even Android isn’t really set to manage until Google releases Honeycomb next year.
Besides consolidating the iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad branches of the iOS code base, one of the most anticipated new features of iOS 4.2 was meant to be AirPrint — a way to print wirelessly to any networked printer using any iOS 4.2 device. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when AirPrint launched only supporting six or seven printers. According to Steve Jobs, full printer support will take a while because making the “giant leap” to wireless printing is hard, but despite this, numerous software applications have already been written that enable AirPrint for pretty much every networked printer under the sun. Either way, AirPrint is one of the year’s biggest disappointments, and 2011 will either see Apple finally get AirPrint up to their own rigorous standards… or go into the business of selling AirPrint certification to printer makers, which is the more cynical interpretation of AirPrint’s last-minute neutering.
iTunes 10 Logo
Ever since the very first version of iTunes came out nearly ten years ago, the iTunes icon has been a CD overlaid with a musical note… but all that changed this year for iTunes 10, when Apple dropped the CD from the icon. The new icon was widely decried by many for its perceived soullessness and hideousness, but by removing the CD from the iTunes icon, Apple was making a point: “Physical sales and optical media are no longer the driving force behind the music industry. We are.”
Apple’s always had a hands-on approach with its so-called “hobby,” the AppleTV, but this year saw the device relaunch as a sleek, iOS-driven, streaming-only set-top box that costs just $99. The new AppleTV isn’t a perfect device by any means — it can’t do 1080p and much of the competition still has a better feature-set — but the new AppleTV is still the clearest example yet of where Apple’s going in the future: the cloud.
Every year since the iPhone launched as an AT&T exclusive back in 2007, we’ve been hearing whispers about the imminent arrival of a Verizon iPhone… but 2010 was the first year these rumors actually seemed like they had a chance of coming true. Not only is AT&T’s exclusivity deal up at the end of the year, but even venerable publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times, have said that it’s a virtual fact that a Verizon iPhone will launch, if not by the end of this year, then early next year for sure. All eyes are upon Verizon’s showing at CES next week, where it’s speculated that the CDMA carrier will finally unveil their own iPhone. We’re not so sure, but for the first time in three years, we wouldn’t be surprised if we were proven wrong.