Why 2015 was Apple’s most important year since original iPhone’s unveiling

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Apple raked in the cash last quarter.
2015 was a crucial year for Apple, and it looks like it's paying off.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

‘Tis the season to be jolly — or, if you’re a tech writer hoping to score enough clicks to help pay off the post-Christmas credit card, ’tis the season to label this the worst year for Apple since records began.

From Gizmodo’s restrained “Everything Apple Introduced This Year Kinda Sucked,” to The Verge calling this the year Apple spent in beta, to Bloomberg banging the “lemon of the year” gong for the Apple Watch, pundits aren’t exactly being kind to Cupertino as 2015 draws to a close.

But, you know what? They’re dead wrong. This was the most important year for Apple since 2007, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

Ever since Tim Cook officially took over Apple in 2011, people have demanded new product lines — and year after year we came away disappointed. Sure, we got new iPhones and iPads, each one incrementally better than the one that came before, but it felt like Cook was applying his undisputed operations wizardry to Apple’s existing products — making sure we got new versions of everything rather than having to choose between a new product category and an update of OS X, as happened with Jobs stealing Leopard engineers to work on the original iPhone.

Not this year. In 2015, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus continued to rocket upward in sales, before the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus debuted with the much-praised 3D Touch feature, which has the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with our phones.

On top of this, Apple shook up its iPad lineup with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, whose Apple Pencil was dismissed as disastrous — until people actually tried it and labeled it a “must have” accessory.

But we also got whole new product lines with the debut of the long-awaited Apple Watch, which has received sterling customer-satisfaction responses and was one of the biggest sellers on Black Friday. We additionally heard intoxicating rumors of an Apple car hovering round the corner, and Apple continued its focus on growing its business in China.

The fact that the company was able to go in new directions without temporarily losing sight of its existing products, as it has in both 1984 (when the Mac debuted) and 2007 (when the iPhone debuted), is nothing short of miraculous.

On the strategy front, 2015 saw Cook maneuvering the chess pieces inside Apple. He brought his possible successor Jeff Williams forward. Jony Ive moved into a new “blue sky thinking” post similar to the creative role Jobs enjoyed. And Apple focused on enterprise, thanks to an IBM partnership and expansion into new markets like India.

Did all this innovation come without problems? Certainly 2015 wasn’t a perfect year for Apple. iPad sales declined further and that awful iPhone battery case caused us all to cringe, but there was so, so much more good than bad.

2015 saw Apple plant many seeds that promise to flower into things that will be become much, much more important in coming years. Dismissing 2015 as a disastrous year for Apple, when the company continued to innovate while smashing records in quarterly earnings, is like Steve Ballmer failing to see the potential of the original iPhone — which, incidentally, sold worse than the Apple Watch in its first year.

As we move into the futuristic wonderland of 2016, let me leave you with a few words from no less a sci-fi futurist than Douglas Adams, writing in 1984. “What I (and I think everyone else who bought [the original Macintosh]) fell in love with was not the machine itself, which was ridiculously slow and underpowered, but a romantic idea of the machine [and what it could become.]”

Dismiss Apple’s whole body of work for 2015 if you wish, but don’t come crying to me when you’re proven wrong in the long haul. And, while we’re at it, check the hordes of financial analysts predicting doom for Apple. There’s plenty of apocalyptic talk, but few have the courage to recommend selling your AAPL stock right this moment.

Whether you’re a blogger or a stock picker, it’s certainly easy and convenient to play the “Apple is doomed” game at the end of every year. It makes for sexy headlines, but you’d need a reality distortion field stronger than Steve Jobs’ to make me believe them.