2012 has come and gone, and what a year it’s been! Here are Apple’s top ten most memorable moments of the year.
10. Apple launches the digital textbook revolution.
The very first thing on Apple’s agenda for 2012 — and rightly so — was education, a topic that was near and dear to the heart of the late Steve Jobs. With the unprecedented adoption rate of the iPad touchscreen tablet, Apple quickly recognized the device’s unlimited potential as a tool for educators and students. So on January 6th, Tim Cook & Co. ventured to New York City to unveil a new initiative to bring digital textbooks into the classroom, via the iPad.
Launching a new section of the iTunes Store exclusively for textbooks and giving away for free a Mac app for easily creating digital textbooks (an app now being used to make interactive books of all kinds), Apple ushered in a revolution in education. Imagine a system where teachers and professors assign homework and track test scores through a dedicated iPad app, where students take notes, interact with textbooks that come to life, and progress academically, all through their iPads. Even more important, digital textbooks solve one of the biggest problems facing modern educators: how to teach students about the world of today using textbooks written ten years ago, twenty years ago, or even further back. With textbooks going digital, curriculum is no longer stuck in the past. Dynamic content becomes the norm, and we all benefit from education that can keep up with the most current data.
Granted, not every school has the budget or ability to purchase iPads for their students to use. But it’s a start.
9. Apple unveils the long-rumored iPad Mini.
Quite possibly the worst-kept secret in Apple’s history, the iPad Mini is the device Steve Jobs swore he’d never make. And yet, on October 23, it made its debut anyway. The reason for Apple’s (and reportedly Jobs’, before his death) about-face on 7″ tablets is simple. Just as the iPod Shuffle once filled a void in Apple’s MP3 player product lineup that competitors had begun to exploit, so too did Apple need a 7″ iPad to compete successfully against Google’s Nexus and Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
Apple went out of its way to quantify the iPad Mini as a tablet that was “every inch an iPad” despite its smaller size, and wisely kept the aspect ratio the same as the Mini’s big brother, which prevented app developers from having to make new versions of their apps that fit the smaller screen. Jony Ive waxed poetic about thinning out the bezel on the portrait view’s sides to allow for a device that fit the “seven-inch tablet” defining attribute (the ability to hold it in one hand), and many Apple fans were impressed by the Mini’s incredible thinness and unibody enclosure that featured an entirely new design standard for the iPad. (Rumors suggest that future iPads will also take advantage of this new type of enclosure.)
It wasn’t the revolution that the original iPad was, but it was a necessary one for Apple’s bottom line, proving once and for all that sometimes Apple does create products in direct response to the actions of its competitors. (Because they’d be crazy not to.)
8. Apple announces plan to issue stock dividends to investors.
In possibly his most anti-Jobsian move to date, Tim Cook on March 19 made public a plan to issue quarterly stock dividends back to investors at a rate of $2.65 per share. The last time Apple issued dividends to investors was in 1995 — around the same time Steve Jobs took over as CEO. Needless to say, he hit the brakes on that policy, preferring to shore up Apple’s income at a time when the company was nearly bankrupt. Yet in the unprecedentedly profitable years that followed, Jobs never changed his stance on the subject.
But when taking over as CEO, stock dividends seemed to make perfect sense to Tim Cook. His reasons for violating this longstanding Jobs philosophy? Inside reports stated that, put simply, Apple had more money than it knows what to do with. (As problems go, that’s one of the best to have.)
Another part of the announcement also took the wraps off a plan to buy back $10 billion in shares over the next three years.
7. AAPL stock peaks at its highest-ever mark — a staggering $720.10 a share.
Though Apple made arguably bigger news in the stock market earlier in the year (see #5), there’s no denying that $720.10/share was an incredibly high watermark in Apple’s — and the stock market’s — history.
It’s no coincidence that the iPhone 5 went on sale the very same day that Apple reached its pinnacle: September 21.
6. Apple unveils the iPhone 5.
Apple fans had hoped for an iPhone 5 back in 2011, but got the iPhone 4S instead. Apple needed an extra year to perfect the iPhone 5’s manufacturing process, because the device is so precisely engineered, discrepancies are measured not in millimeters but in microns. (Three months later, and I’m still trying to get my head around that.) The new iPhone featured a bigger/taller screen, “ultrafast” 4G wireless, redesigned earbuds (called “EarPods”), Apple’s fastest mobile processor to-date, the new Lightning connector, and it all came in a thinner and lighter-than-ever unibody enclosure. Even Apple haters had to admit that the elegant smartphone was an incredible achievement in precision engineering.
The iPhone 5 was memorable for one other fact: it went on sale the fastest after its announcement of any iPhone ever. It became available on September 21, just nine days after it was announced.
5. Apple becomes the most valuable publicly traded company in history.
On this historic day, Apple toppled all other publicly traded companies… ever. When AAPL peaked at $622 billion in market capitalization on August 20, it topped the previous record of $618.9 billion, a record set all the way back in 1999.
It was a particularly delicious win for the Apple faithful, because that prior record wasn’t held by just any old company. It was another tech company, a company in the computer business, and not just any computer-related company.
The record that Apple beat was set by Microsoft.
4. Tim Cook fires Scott Forstall and John Browett.
The big news was the forced departure of Forstall, who had long guided the design group that oversaw the look and feel of all Apple-made apps. Scuttlebutt has long pitted Forstall’s love of skeuomorphism (computer graphics that look like real-world objects, such as the torn pages in Apple’s Calendar app) against hardware designer Jony Ive’s appreciation for sleek, modern elegance.
Forstall’s critics cite skeuomorphism as a design philosophy of yesteryear — even though tech design icon Steve Jobs loved it — and likewise, most modern designers cry “outdated eyesore!” at the very mention of skeuomorphism. Think “retro kitsch” in the fashion world vs. the more modern and appealing “fashion forward.” Unconfirmed reports suggest that the two Apple execs clashed repeatedly over how Forstall’s ideology conflicted with Ive’s aesthetic sensibilities. Apparently it got to the point where one of them had to go, and since there’s no way Apple would ever ditch Ive (arguably, no one has contributed more to Apple’s successes, aside from Steve Jobs), Forstall got the axe. Ive subsequently took over Forstall’s responsibilities in addition to his own.
But it was huge moment because Forstall, like Ive and Cook, were among the handpicked elite who rose to dominance inside Apple under Jobs’ guidance.
John Browett’s ouster was far less significant, as he had been in his position for less than a year as head of Apple’s retail division. Browett’s time with the company was marred by controversial (nay, career-suicidal) decisions regarding treatment of retail employees and facilities. His dismissal was inevitable, in retrospect.
3. Apple Maps launches, is universally criticized and/or rejected.
With the arrival of iOS 6, which coincided with the release date of the iPhone 5, Apple dropped its built-in support for Google Maps, opting to use new mapping software and data it had created internally. The screenshots and demos Apple displayed ahead of release were impressive, showing off vector-based map images, gorgeous turn-by-turn directions, and the incredible-looking “Flyover” mode which provided realistic, 360°, 3D views of major cities.
Then it arrived, and iPhone users went ballistic. While the software worked perfectly fine for a vocal minority (including yours truly), the majority of users found data errors and laughable graphical mistakes that made the app unusable. Users had a long laundry list of issues with Apple Maps, but the bottom line was that it was released long before it was ready. Tim Cook wisely issued a personal apology, along with directing the iTunes division to recommend alternative mapping software on a special page in the App Store.
Also, there was this “yeah, duh” moment: the exec who oversaw Apple Maps‘ creation was fired. Apple has since promised to improve its map data, with a full-time crew dedicated to cleaning up the Maps mess. Many users have recently noticed a number of improvements. Google, meanwhile, took its sweet time creating a dedicated maps app of its own to bring Google’s map data back to iPhone users. But when it arrived, it was totally worth the wait.
Apple Maps‘ premature release was a whopper of a misstep — one that never would have happened under Jobs’ reign. But thankfully, it was a rare misstep.
2. Mike Daisey broadcasts fictional report about conditions at Foxconn factories in China — and gets caught.
Around the beginning of the year, This American Life radio personality Mike Daisey aired part of his stage monologue/performance, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The piece — which served as a scathing commentary on Apple’s business practice of overseas manufacturing — purportedly explored the plight of Chinese workers and “the human price we are willing to pay for our technology.” Daisey spoke of devastating, inhumane working conditions, which he asserted led to the suicides of several Foxconn employees. He was said to have based the monologue on observations of things he saw while visiting China. The episode became an instant viral hit, breaking all records for the radio show, and saw downloads in the hundreds of thousands.
There was just one little problem: He made a lot of it up. On March 16, This American Life retracted the entire episode because they had evidence that Daisey had exaggerated, embellished, or dramatized many of his supposed first-hand observations about Foxconn. Specifically, he didn’t visit as many manufacturing plants in China as he claimed to, he lied about the plant guards carrying guns (supposedly to instill fear in workers), he exaggerated about how many underaged workers he spoke to personally, and he completely fabricated a story about a worker with a crippled hand using an iPad for the first time. He even attempted to keep his employers at This American Life from contacting his Chinese translator to verify his claims.
In the court of public opinion, Apple was found guilty. Apple asked the Fair Labor Association to audit Foxconn’s facilities, and the results of their 35,000 employee interviews found two problem areas: workplace accidents were more common than they should be, and workers didn’t receive the overtime pay they deserved. They found no evidence of Daisey’s (and others’) most serious allegations, such as child labor. Tim Cook personally visited the Foxconn facilities to inspect them for himself in May. Since the audit, conditions have reportedly improved, though some workers continue to claim inhumane treatment of Foxconn employees.
Incidentally, This American Life‘s retraction episode — not to mention the findings of the Fair Labor Association — didn’t generate as many headlines as the accusatory episode did. But such is the nature of the media.
1. Apple awarded $1.05 billion in patent lawsuit against Samsung.
In litigation-happy America, every major corporation is in eternal legal battles against its competitors, and Apple is no different. Apple claims that Samsung (among others) has a bad habit of copying Apple’s technological ideas. Samsung’s defense is to then fire back with the same allegations against Apple. (Personally, I think Apple’s right, but the never-ending lawsuits are a serious turnoff.) While many of these cases never seem to get anywhere, this one was different. Very different.
In a historic, precedent-setting decision, a U.S. federal jury definitively sided with Apple, ruling that Samsung unlawfully cribbed off of Cupertino’s playbook. While the jury didn’t verify every single one of Apple’s claims, they refuted all of Samsung’s claims, and ultimately decided that Samsung had to pay Apple a jaw-dropping $1.049 billion in damages.
Call it the gavel heard ’round the world, because for tech-heads everywhere, there were few stories bigger in 2012 than Apple’s resounding defeat of Samsung in court. The ruling’s ramifications have yet to fully shake out, particularly since there have already been injunctions, appeals, repeals, and lots of other legalese actions that are keeping the case far from closed. There’s also been a controversy surrounding the jury, who returned with their verdict in this highly complex case just three days after being sent to deliberate, and which may have counted biased lay persons among their numbers.
But regardless of how (or when) this story ends, it reached its gasp-inducing climax with a verdict that shook the foundations of the federal court system, Wall Street, and technology owners everywhere.