Top Five Apple Stories of the Year

Back when I was doing MacFixIt, I posted a “year in review” each December, highlighting the top Apple-related events of the previous twelve months. With this past year being such a busy news-filled one for Apple, it seemed a good time to resurrect the review – but with a twist:

Today’s column lists the Top Five Apple Stories of the Year (where “top” implies “good for Apple”). Next week, I’ll look at the Bottom Five (stories where Apple did not look so good).

What were the criteria in determining who made today’s “top” list? First, I gave the broadest possible latitude in defining the word “story.” It could be anything from a new product announcement to coverage of an email from Steve Jobs. A story was awarded points to the extent that:

• It was indicative of the financial success and/or popularity of Apple and its products.

• It received positive attention in the mainstream media, beyond Apple-centric sites and blogs.

• It seemed likely to have a long-term effect on the future of Apple and technology in general.

The more that a story matched these criteria, the higher the story scored.


And now, without further ado (drum roll, please), the Top Five Apple Stories of the Year 2010:

5. Mac App Store. On October 20, Apple announced plans for a Mac App Store, bringing to the Mac OS X platform the same App Store concept that has been so successful with iOS devices. While the store will not officially open until January 6, the story made this year’s list primarily because of its long-term implications. It represents the most dramatic move thus far in a potential (and sure-to-be-controversial, if it occurs) transition of the Mac to an iOS-like device (as I explored in my Point-and-Shoot Mac column).

While I am sure the Store will be an explosive success (which is another reason why it is included here), it could also be a candidate for the Bottom Five (for reasons noted in my just-cited column and more recently in a posting by Jon Gotow).

4. MacBook Air / Apple TV 2. This one’s a bit of a fudge, as it includes two stories: (1) the totally overhauled, much smaller, $99 second-generation Apple TV and (2) the much-improved all-SSD MacBook Air. What ties them together is that many pundits had written off both of these products as dead-in-the-water. Until the release of the update, even Apple continued to describe the Apple TV as only a hobby. As for the MacBook Air, it had not been updated for around 18 months and was almost certainly Apple’s least popular laptop. Now both products are poised for success (Apple just announced that the new Apple TV will top the millions sales mark this week).

If I had to limit this item to only one of these two products, it would be the MacBook Air. And the Air model that has generated by far the most buzz is the 11-inch version. It is the smallest, lightest laptop Apple has ever made. However, as I’ve previously written, my preference is for the still very light and compact 13” Air. With its larger screen, faster speed, and greater storage capacity, it works much better for me as a replacement for an old 15” MacBook Pro. Even the cost can work out in favor of the 13-inch model: If you’re considering a fully-loaded $1399 11-inch Air, you can get a 13-inch Air for the same exact price — with equal or better specs in every category.

For people disappointed that the iPad didn’t live up to their hopes for a mobile workhorse, the MacBook Air is their “iPad Pro.” For those who wanted an Apple “netbook,” the (11-inch) MacBook Air is it. For Apple, it is the joyous marriage of the iPad and the MacBook — the vanguard of Apple’s direction for all its future laptops, replacing “mechanical hard disks and optical drives with Internet services and solid state flash storage.”

As for the Apple TV, while it lost the prior model’s ability to store media locally, it compensates by offering a much lower price and smaller size. By my testing, it also streams media with significantly greater reliability than its predecessor. Speaking of streaming, the ability to send video from an iPad to an Apple TV, via AirPlay, is a game-changing feature that sets the Apple TV apart from competing devices. Lastly, as Apple TV is based on iOS, we can look forward to a future of third-party Apple TV apps, infinitely adding to the device’s capabilities.

3. iOS 4. With the release of iOS 4 (and the more recent iOS 4.2.1 update, extending the OS to iPads), Apple has set a new standard for mobile device software. Major new features significantly expand what iOS devices can do: Multitasking, Folders, AirPlayAirPrint, iBooks, GameCenter, and FaceTime (which works with the front-facing camera on the iPhone and iPod touch and now with the Mac as well). ‘Nuff said.

2. Apple stock. Over the course of the year, Apple passed Microsoft in market capitalization and passed IBM in profits. Throughout the latter half of the year, Apple set all-time highs in its stock value on several occasions. Analysts are predicting further increases in 2011, with Apple’s stock value anticipated to break 400.

When you consider that Apple was on life-support and expected to die back in the 1990’s, this has to be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) turn-around in corporate history. No doubt, this is a consequence of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple’s helm. Steve has now won almost every award available to a CEO (including recently being named Fortune’s CEO of the Decade). 

1. iPad. The iPad: the obvious, inevitable, and overwhelming choice. You don’t need me to justify what makes the iPad such a winning product. You already know — which (in a circular reasoning sort of way) is what makes it number one.

This was the year of the iPad. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the device first went on sale back in April. It has so quickly become a part of our culture that it seems as if it’s been around for years. iPads not only show up in Apple’s ads (of course!) but as a prop in ads for unrelated products (such as cars). And I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s been favorably mentioned in the media. It is Oprah’s “favorite thing” of all-time, Time magazine’s Gadget of the Year, and the number #1 item on kids’ Christmas lists.

At a personal level, I have written nine (9) Observer columns about the iPad this year, much more than any other topic. The iPad is my (and millions of others’) preferred device for casual computer use, from Web browsing to playing games.

No other company managed to even release a serious iPad competitor in 2010. We’ll have to wait till next year to see if anyone can give the iPad a run for its money. 

P.S. Despite Apple’s assertion that November 16 would be a day we would “never forget,” the Beatles on iTunes did not make the Top Five.