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2011 - Apple Hits and Misses

January 3, 2012 - Dave Hecei
Apple as a company can do no wrong, most of the time. They make premium products that sell at a premium price. This is sort of true, but when you look at things equally, the prices are higher but not outrageous. The desktops are higher but still competitive. The MacBook Pros are higher than say a basic Dell or HP laptop. With the upcoming onslaught of MacBook Air clones it looks like prices are going to be pretty comparable. But then hardware is only the tip of the Apple iceberg. There are the retail stores, the online store, two App stores (one for iOS and another for Mac OS), music, TV, movies, books, and recently, magazines. It’s an Apple world out there.

2011 was the year of the iPad. Even with several major players entering the fray, they all fell well short of what the iPad is and can do. Android tried to hit the market running with new tablet models from Samsung, Acer, Toshiba, and Motorola. HP tried to start something with their WebOS they acquired when they bought Palm. RIM, the makes of Blackberry phones, tried their own tablet running their own mobile OS called QNX. Both HP and RIM didn’t sell and both ended up slashing prices just to get rid of store stock.

Big Hits for 2011.

Apple iPad 2 was released back in March and was not just a faster iPad but was a whole new design. The 2 was thinner and a bit lighter. It still had great battery life, while boasting a faster dual-core processor. The biggest changes were the much faster graphics engine and two cameras, one in the front for conferencing and one in the back to shoot stills and/or video.

Apple also made improvements to the very popular MacBook Air. This is Apple’s smallest and lowest priced laptop model. Apple took the Air from last fall and added the new Thunderbolt port and switched to the faster Core i5 processor (a Core i7 is a custom order option). With the white plastic MacBook now gone, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air at $999 is the low-end machine.

The rest of the Mac lineup, except the Mac Pro tower (and I’ll get to that a little later), got bumps in speed with Intel’s new Sandy Bridge line of processors. This year we say the first quad-core laptops from Apple. Sandy Bridge brought better performance with the same low power consumption. Part of the Sandy Bridge processor is a new integrated graphics chip, the Intel 3000HD. Going with Sandy Bridge meant that Apple had to switch the dedicated graphics chips from nVidia’s GeForce series to AMD’s Radeon. While the switch to AMD can be seen as an improvement, the models that rely on integrated graphics lost out. The previous chip, the GeForce 320M, was slightly faster. The Intel might have a slight power advantage.

The latecomer in 2011 was the next iPhone. Rumors were flying throughout the spring and summer about the next iPhone – mainly what it was going to be called 4S or 5. It finally arrived and was the 4S and looked just like the 4. Inside the phone there were some nice upgrades, but not nearly enough to make iPhone 4 owners overly jealous.

The iPhone 4S had the same dual-core processor found in the iPad 2. The screen hadn’t changed, but the cameras did. The front facing camera was the new FaceTime model and the rear camera jumped to 8MP with better HD video. What really got people excited was Siri. Apple took (bought) an existing App and service and created an amazing voice controlled assistant. Siri could tell you directions, read your text and emails, change your music, and according the all the videos on YouTube, give smart and funny replies to your silly requests.

The iPhone also got a new carrier. The big four are Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The iPhone is now available on all of these except T-Mobile. Sprint is definitely not as big as AT&T or Verizon, but if you are in a coverage area where Sprint has high-speed data, you will be delighted to know that Sprint has totally unlimited data on the iPhone. The problem is that Sprint’s coverage is far less than AT&T, who has less than Verizon.

Of course the year wouldn’t be complete without new operating systems. Mac OS jumped to 10.7 with the introduction of Lion. The mobile line jumped to iOS 5. Both of these new OSes brought new features, with Lion getting some of the look and feel of iOS. Lion brought some nice new features – Launch Pad and Mission Control. Together with some new gestures started to make the mouse seem antiquated and a track pad more desirable.

The new mobile OS, iOS 5, brought some needed changes, and fixes, to Apple’s mobile platform. Many of the included Apps were revamped – Mail, Calendar, Safari (a big improvement), etc. Plus there were some new features added. A much improved notification system, Newsstand, wireless syncing, computerless activation, iMessage, and Airplay mirroring.

2011 also brought two new services from Apple – iCloud and Music Match. Apple announced their aging, and never quite right, MobileMe service would end sometime in 2012. To replace it, Apple came up with iCloud. Not just a new MobileMe, iCloud can do some of the things that MobileMe tried to do, like syncing bookmarks, mail, calendars, etc., but then added a bit more to the mix. The big thing that iCloud brings to the table is the ability to run an iPad without having to own a computer.

Before iCloud you had to activate an iPad/iPhone/Touch with iTunes on a Mac, or PC. While many iPhone/Touch owners are also Mac or PC users, this wasn’t too big of a deal. But the iPad created a whole new category of Internet devices. People who don’t own, or don’t want to own, a computer wanted an iPad. With iCloud and the new iOS 5, this is now possible. It can also be used to back up an iOS device, for those without computers.

The Mac App Store really took off in 2011. Apple modeled this after the App Store for the iPhone/iPad. The Mac App Store was the only place to get the new OS X Lion, along with some other Apple titles. The Mac App Store made it easy to find, buy, install, and update software.

Misses in 2011.

The biggest miss in 2011 also topped most of the news stories. This was the passing of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. In the beginning of the year, Jobs took another medial leave from Apple. In August he actually resigned as CEO of Apple opting to be chairman of the board. He passed away at the age of 56 on October 5. He will be deeply missed at Apple and in the tech/movie/music industry as a whole.

So on with our misses. Some of these are actually hits and misses. This means that so far they haven’t shown themselves to be a hit, yet. The first is ThunderBolt. This is a new interface created in conjunction with Intel. It was originally named Light Peak, since it was to be based on fiber optics. When Apple updated their desktops and laptops with the new Sandy Bridge processors, they also included new Thunderbolt ports. This version replaced the mini DisplayPort connection. On the new Macs, Thunderbolt is said to have a throughput of 10Gb/s and can have multiple channels. While most Macs have only one port, the new27-inch iMac has two. The miss is that there are not really any peripherals that take advantage of this new super high-speed port. Hopefully 2012 will be the year of ‘thunder’.

Another miss is iCloud. It does have some benefits – its free, similar functionality to MobileMe, unties iOS devices from a computer, etc. The problem is that Apple really didn’t make it clear exactly how iCloud works and what you can and cannot do with it. While some Apple Apps work with the new iCloud, most third party Apps do not, but could if rewritten. So it’s up to these other App makers to adopt iCloud. If they make it, they will come. Let’s see if anyone comes. Most iOS Apps take full advantage to other cloud services. The most popular is Drop Box, which is the one that Apple is really competing with here.

Another miss, at least in my book and others I bet, is the new Mac mini. I love the mini and this year the mini got the new Sandy Bridge processors, but it lost its slot load SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-RW/DVD-DL burner). This move might be smart for Apple sometime in the future, but I think it’s just a bit to premature. Yes, we are buying our media online. Yes, we can now buy our software through the Mac App Store, which I love. Yes the price dropped 100 bucks even though it’s faster than last years model. But really, no DVD burner included. Swing and a big miss.

This last year was pretty amazing for Apple. They became the most valuable company, in the stock market, in the world. They have hit products with music players, smart phones, and tablets. The Mac is stronger than ever. The big news – next year looks to be even more interesting.


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