2014 — The Year the Sky Didn’t Fall for Apple

December 31st, 2014

At the start of 2014, even the most diehard Apple fanatic might have wondered about the future prospects of their favorite fruit company. Sales didn’t always meet Wall Street projections, and profits were flattening. The stock price was way down from historic highs.

To no surprise, some members of the mainstream media were calling for CEO Tim Cook to take a hike. Could it be that Steve Jobs’ handpicked successor was a monumental screw up, or was there a long-term plan in place that would set things right before long?

Questions, questions.

Many of the particulars are ably recorded in a no-holds barred editorial from Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, over at AppleInsider. So I will be brief about some of the details.

Now understand that the perception that Apple was on the rocks was largely manufactured. When Steve Jobs introduced iterative upgrades to Apple gear, that was part of the standard upgrade cycle. When Tim Cook did the same, there must be something terribly wrong with Apple’s mojo, and the company clearly lost its power to innovate. After all, Cook was the supply chain expert. What right did he have to operate a company known for its amazing innovation?

You’d think that Apple was supposed to upend a market every year. The critics forget the years that passed between the first iPod, the first iPhone and the first iPad. Miracles don’t come every day, but where were the trendsetting products from Tim Cook’s Apple?

This didn’t stop iPhone sales from climbing, at a time when Samsung’s sales began to falter. The claim that Samsung had it all over Apple when it came to high sales and meeting the needs of a variety of customers was shown to be shaky. Yes, Samsung still sold loads of mobile handsets, but far too many were cheap, with little profit. While Apple continued to make huge profits from iPhones, Samsung’s margins continued to shrink. Tepid response to the latest Galaxy series didn’t help. Apple moved far more iPhones.

Amid rising sales, Apple’s first maneuvers for 2014 were financial. Stock buybacks and the seven-to-one stock split pleased Wall Street. But was Apple just stalling, avoiding the question of what innovative products were in the pipeline? Yes, Apple made promises, but when were they going to deliver?

WWDC came, as usual, in June. The critics said it was all about the software, but Apple added an amazing number of new features to iOS and OS X. The bill of particulars was far larger than what Google and Microsoft were promising. True, some suggested Apple bit off a little too much this time, but the bugs are being vanquished, and the end result presents many new opportunities for developers to make a profit and to benefit customers.

For regular people, the real significant event came in September, with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, a phablet with a 5.5-inch display. The critics had been long clamoring for Apple to enter the larger smartphone space, but Apple, as usual, took its sweet time about developing the right product. Certainly the public embraced the new gear, with record sales the very first weekend and chronic shortages through most of the holiday season.

But some people realized that the romantic ideal of the larger smartphone wasn’t quite so compelling after you spent a little time with one. One-handed operation meant something, and the larger handsets could be difficult to fit in a smaller pocket or purse.

And don’t forget Apple Watch. An early production model was demonstrated, and delivery was promised in early 2015.

October brought new iPads, but the flagship model, the iPad Air 2, thinner than its predecessor, was the lone compelling upgrade. The iPad mini 3 was little different from its predecessor aside from Touch ID, and it still cost $100 more. It wasn’t such a great deal, and the jury is out how well tablets sold this holiday season. But the iPad Air 2 is, as my friends across the Atlantic are apt to say, a marvelous piece of kit. It will be hard for my wife to give up the one she is using when the Apple editorial loan expires in February.

The other product intro in October, the iMac 5K, was simply stunning, particularly the picture and the technology that makes it happen for a price that even Dell couldn’t match. Last I checked, Dell’s 5K display is just about the same price as the 5K iMac, but Apple gives you the computer as part of the package.

None of this means everything went perfect for Apple. Don’t forget the missteps — or alleged missteps — depending on your point of view. So those celebrities whose nude photos, stored in iCloud, were hacked and circulated online have only themselves to blame for poor password choices. Why did they have those pictures there in the first place? But the iOS 8.0.1 update was the worst sort of failure, fixing most iPhones, but causing some to lose their cellular connections and Touch ID capability. Apple pulled the update in little over an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day, but the publicity fallout continues. Yes, Microsoft has done worse, far worse, but this is Apple.

Please don’t get me started about iTunes 12. The complaints haven’t been stilled, and I wonder whether Apple needs to get back to the drawing board to sort things out.

Some alleged scandals were just nonsense. An iPhone 6 Plus was no more prone to bending than other large mobile handsets. No, Apple didn’t suddenly out of the blue sneak a security update onto Macs with OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite. That particular update came using the App Store update mechanism, the successor to Software Update. Where there’s an automatic install option, as there is in Yosemite, you can switch it off. Besides, the NTP security flaw, impacting the time syncing feature of OS X, Unix and even Linux distributions, could allow a remote attacker to gain control of your computer. Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got in the act to report the danger, so was it wrong for Apple to protect you in a way that did no harm?

For 2015, we know the Apple Watch is coming, but there is no consistency on how well it’ll do. And what about the fate of Apple TV? Is there an Apple TV set on the horizon? An iPad Pro, a version with a display that’s 12 inches or more? Is there something out of the blue in store? And what will Apple do to flesh out the features for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11? And I will not speculate on the code name for the next Mac OS.

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