Apple popularized many aspects of personal computing that are sometimes taken for granted. It’s responsible for the ubiquitous USB port, high-speed FireWire ports. One could also argue that its products had an integral role in the birth of the World Wide Web.
For loyal Apple users, 2011 started out with a clap of thunder, and ended with a sustained moment of silence. Consumers were treated to a parade of ever-enticing new products and services; we watched as Apple soared to unthinkable heights, and we suffered a loss that, however removed, still felt personal and close to home. Here’s a look back at some of the significant Apple releases B&H offered its customers last year.
On February 24, 2011, Apple introduced Thunderbolt connectivity. The announcement came at the unveiling of its long-anticipated, quad core MacBook Pros. Along with improved graphics and a FaceTime HD camera, an innocuous little port on the side of the machine was suddenly equipped with unheard-of power. Thunderbolt technology was developed by Intel in partnership with Apple, and it’s 20 times faster than USB 2.0. It has a throughput that’s twice as fast as USB 3.0. There were no products on the market with true Thunderbolt connectivity for a while, but by the end of the year a sizable and growing list of Thunderbolt-ready peripherals and adapters became available.
There were over thirty different tablets on the market by the end of 2011, but the one that would enjoy the lion’s share of sales and adoration came out on March 11. Mimicking the runaway success of Apple’s iPod media players, a slew of iPad competitors emerged in a very short period of time, but none of them threatened Apple’s responsive and intuitive device. Ultimately, the story of 2011 is the iPad 2. Along with the iPod, iPhone and the original iPad, the iPad 2 helped radically change how people interact with computers, the Internet and media. Not too shabby for a 9.5-inch slab of glass and aluminum—and the new iPad 2 was 33% thinner and 15% lighter than the original iPad. It also had a new dual-core A5 processor and two cameras, which is two cameras more than the original iPad. The iPad 2 had a front-facing VGA camera and a rear-facing camera capable of capturing 720p HD video. These cameras also brought the innovative FaceTime feature to iPad users for the first time.
The iMac line of desktop computers received a noteworthy update in May of 2011. Quad core processors became standard in all iMac models, and the power of their AMD Radeon HD graphics cards was tripled. The iMacs also became the second line of computers on the planet to receive the new Thunderbolt port (and the 27" iMac got two of them). Like the previous generation, they still came with an included Wireless Keyboard and a choice of either a Magic Mouse or a Magic Trackpad.
June was a busy month for Apple. On June 6, it announced iCloud, a new cloud computing service that would, among other things, enable users to effortlessly sync photos, notes and other content to all of their various Apple computers and devices. The service didn’t launch until later in the year and the jury is still out on how popular it will be.
Plans for Apple’s new corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, were made public on June 7. It was generally thought to resemble a circular spaceship that had landed in a wooded area, but to me it looked more like the click wheel on an iPod Classic, with the surrounding grounds making up the body of the iPod.
On June 21, Apple released Final Cut Pro X, a new take on its market leading video-editing software. The application was a complete redesign, radically changing its operation and functionality. New users were typically pleased with the $299 download-only application, but many veteran editors were upset about the numerous features that had been omitted. A free update came in September that addressed some of the issues concerning pro users.
The Apple Time Capsule also received an update in June. The prices remained the same, but the 1TB version was discontinued and replaced by a 2TB version, and a 3TB version was introduced at the same price as the old 2TB version. Not earth-shattering news by any stretch, but more memory for the same money is always a welcome thing.
The fledgling Thunderbolt port started finding its way into more Apple products in July, 2011. On the 20th, Apple announced new Mac mini computers, updated MacBook Air notebooks, and debut of the 27-inch Thunderbolt Display; all of which touted Thunderbolt ports. The new Mac mini had lost its optical drive, but gained Intel’s Sandy Bridge i5 and i7 processors. The MacBook Airs were endowed with snazzy backlit keyboards and were also bumped up to Intel’s i5 and i7 processors. The new 27" Thunderbolt Display came equipped with an HD FaceTime camera, a 2.1 speaker system, three USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire 800 port. Another huge announcement in July was the release of Lion, OS X 10.7, which was intended to bridge the gap between Apple’s popular mobile devices and its Mac computers. Mac OS X Lion topped one million downloads on its release day.
For a company that nearly went out of business in the late 1990s, Apple was on an unrivaled tear. For a few hours on August 9, 2011, Apple briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company on the stock market. After a lengthy string of hit products and the sale of Macintosh computers gaining major traction as PC sales slipped, it was hard to imagine how Apple could ever outdo itself.
Sadly, the man largely responsible for taking the Apple from the jaws of bankruptcy to its stratospheric heights of success was forced to leave his position that same month. On August 24, co-founder Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of the company, but remained an Apple employee in his new role as Chairman of the Board until his untimely demise, fewer than six weeks later.
Tim Cook, the newly named CEO of Apple, debuted the new iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011. The device was armed with a faster processor, an improved camera with a five-element lens, dual antennas and a powerful virtual assistant named Siri who responded to complex voice commands. A white iPod touch was also announced, along with a new iPod nano, which was designed to be easier to use as a watch (complete with 16 different watch faces). The new nano was equipped with fitness features that enabled the user to time, pace and track the distance of their runs or walks, without needing additional sensors.
The day following these announcements, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died. October 5, 2011, is a date that will remain seared into the memories of Apple fans worldwide. To the vast multitudes, Steve Jobs wasn’t a friend or even an acquaintance, and his legacy is just as fraught with controversy as it is with success and leadership. But it was still heartbreaking to see a man die who clearly wanted nothing more than to have more time to spend with his loving family, and to continue working, helping to make the products that so many people enjoy.
Despite suffering the loss of their visionary leader, the world moved on, and Apple continued to forge ahead. Its powerful new mobile operating system, iOS 5, was released to the public on October 12. iCloud was officially launched the same day.
On October 24, the entire line of MacBook Pro notebook computers quietly received a power boost. The prices remained unchanged, but every model from the entry-level 13-inch all the way up to the 17-inch MacBook Pro got faster processors, and some models got their stock hard drives bumped up a couple hundred gigabytes.
What’s in store for Apple in 2012 and beyond? We’ll let the rest of the blogosphere speculate about tear-drop telephones, user-friendly televisions and paper-thin iPads that fold up like a map. Whatever Apple decides to do in 2012, it’s sure to be interesting, and you can bet there will be gaggle of technology nerds here at B&H watching and analyzing their every move.
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