Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm.

10 Things We Learned About Apple In 2011

Steve Jobs

  1. Apple did have a succession plan — an obvious one. There were a lot of big Apple stories this year, but Steve Jobs’ retirement and death was the biggest. For years, especially around Jobs’ previous medical leave in 2009, there was a lot of blabbing about how Apple needed a succession plan, whether anyone could ever replace Steve Jobs, etc. Well of course Apple had a succession plan, and of course Tim Cook was going to become Apple’s new CEO. (And, one thing we learned about Tim Cook this year: He throws the best founder memorial service you’ll ever see.)
  2. Apple is happy to go a whole year without a major hardware design revision. The iPad 2 wasn’t that much different than the first iPad. The iPhone 4S was, famously, “just a 4S”. (Still no LTE, NFC, etc. — for good reasons.) The iPod, Mac, and Apple TV lineups didn’t change much this year, either. And Apple still grew at a crazy rate, setting new sales records in every line. It’s now set up for a big 2012, with opportunities to significantly update a few product lines — or, maybe even not change them that much.
  3. Apple isn’t tied to its once-a-year, at-the-same-time-every-year product cycles at all costs. It was a surprise to learn that Apple’s WWDC conference wouldn’t be used as a platform to launch its new iPhone for the first time since 2007. But, as it became clear, it wasn’t ready. And it’s better to wait than to launch something that isn’t ready.
  4. The iPhone is apparently enough of a mainstream news story that lots of people stop buying them when they hear a new one is coming out. Apple missed Wall Street’s mark for its September quarter earnings because iPhone sales were below expectations. Apple blamed that on rumors of an upcoming iPhone 5. Perhaps there’s more to the story, but it makes sense — I told everyone I knew to wait and see what was going to come out before buying, and I doubt I’m alone.
  5. Even the best supply chain in the business isn’t perfect. It took months before iPad 2 supply met demand. You still can’t reliably walk into an Apple store and buy any iPhone 4S you want. (Apple’s online store still lists a 1-2 week waiting period.) Give Apple credit for building a mostly reliable supply chain that delivers excellent products at surprisingly low prices and great profit margins. But ramping up supply is still obviously a challenge.
  6. The iPad really is special. Even if it’s “just a big iPhone” or whatever. It’s been more than a year and a half since it launched, it looks more like the future of computing every day, and still no competitor has come close to matching it. Sure, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are approaching from the cheap-simple-media-tablet angle, but they’re still too basic for many of the things you’d do on an iPad. There are still many questions over what exactly the tablet market will become, whether Microsoft will be a serious competitor with Windows 8, if proper Android tablets will ever matter, etc. But Apple really looks good here.
  7. Apple will deeply integrate a startup-y third-party Internet service if it’s the right one. In this case, I’m thinking about Twitter, whose system-level integration was one of the big new features in iOS 5. Sure, Apple has used Google and Yahoo services in its core system apps since iPhone OS version 1, and it has discussed this sort of stuff with Facebook, but iOS 5′s Twitter integration feels different. Maybe it ultimately says more about Twitter’s maturation from the “fail whale” days than it says about Apple. But I’d love to see what sort of right-of-first-refusal-esque language (if any) Apple has in its contract with Twitter.
  8. Apple has more ambitions for the living room than it’s letting on. There’s too much smoke around this Apple television stuff to be just part of the Apple TV “hobby”. Maybe products like a proper Apple HDTV set won’t ever materialize — who knows. But it seems like too big of an opportunity — and too much of a natural extension of its existing focus — for Apple to punt on.
  9. Surprise! Apple’s ad biz was rocky. A lot of people saw this coming, though, and it started in 2010, so I kept this low on the list. Plenty of challenges — cultural, control-wise, product-wise, pricing-wise, etc. — to tweak, but still a good opportunity, especially if Apple wants to dominate the digital living room.
  10. Apple is planning to get much, much bigger. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Apple is how fast it’s still growing. And that growth doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. So Apple has to plan new everything again for a company that could be selling twice as much stuff again in a few years. That’s no more evident than in its plans for a new, spaceship-looking campus, which Steve Jobs unveiled earlier this year.

Also… 10 SplatF Apple stories from 2011 worth reading again:

  1. Analyzing Apple’s product cycles: Why the iPhone 4S shouldn’t surprise you (Oct. 6)
  2. Apple’s future, as predicted 15 years ago (Oct. 20)
  3. 10 new industries Apple could go into (but probably won’t) (Sept. 6)
  4. The Apple-fication of everything (Oct. 25)
  5. If you’re disappointed by the iPhone 4S, you’re nuts (Oct. 4)
  6. How does Apple make money? (Sept. 7)
  7. The new Apple: The best gadgets, but also the best prices (Sept. 6)
  8. Apple: The next chapter (Aug. 29)
  9. The amazing Steve Jobs effect: Apple’s performance before and after Steve’s comeback (Aug. 25)
  10. 500 days with the iPad (Sept. 12)