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Apple’s year in review
2014 was in many ways an epic year for Apple. Product-wise, the company finally delivered on a new product category. Business-wise, the company has never been in better shape. Overall, 2014 marked a continuance in what is arguably an unprecedented run of success in the tech world. So with 2015 just around the corner, here’s a look back at the top Apple news stories of 2014.
In September, Apple introduced the Apple Watch, the first major new product designed and released under CEO Tim Cook. A wrist-worn device that comes in an assortment of different styles, the Apple Watch is expected to launch sometime in spring of 2015. Apple Watch functionality will be heavily integrated with the iPhone and, among other things, will be able to track a user’s heart rate. Notably, Apple has touted the Apple Watch as the most complex piece of technology it’s ever come up with. It remains to be seen, though, whether or not Apple can bridge the gap between the world of fashion and the world of technology.
Apple buys Beats
In a deal that caught many off guard, Apple in May acquired Beats Music for $3.2 billion, making it Apple’s most expensive acquisition to date. While Beats has a popular line of headphones, it’s widely believed that the acquisition was fueled by Apple’s desire to get into the streaming music business via the Beats music app. Additionally, Apple was reportedly interested in bringing notable musical heavyweights Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in-house to help ensure that the rollout of Beats Music catches on more readily than iTunes Radio did. Rumor has it that Apple will get around to integrating Beats Music into iOS 8 sometime in early 2015.
iPhone 6, 6 Plus release
In 2014, Apple finally caught up to Android. Not in terms of performance, of course, but in terms of screen size. With the release of the iPhone 6 and the gargantuan 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, Apple this year finally entered the realm of large-screened smartphones. And so far, consumers are loving it. The iPhone 6 line is already on track to be the most successful iPhone release ever. Just as impressive, Apple is still struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand. Not too bad for a device that some pundits claimed had peaked years ago.
iCloud celebrity hack
In late August, the internet bore witness to a leaked photo scandal the likes of which few had seen before. In the span of a few hours, hackers released photos stolen from the iCloud accounts of more than 100 celebrities, including A-listers like Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence. The hack naturally sparked an outrage, with many blaming Apple’s security standards. In the aftermath, however, it was revealed that vulnerabilities in iCloud were not to blame. Rather, hackers relied upon social engineering tactics, which is to say that the hack was the result of weak passwords that were accessed via easy-to-guess security questions. Still, the entire episode left a black mark on Apple’s iCloud service.
Retina iMac 5k
Amidst a sea of new iPhones and iPads, the iMac has been somewhat neglected in recent years. Not so in 2014, when Apple unveiled a new 27-inch iMac featuring a 5K Retina Display. This bad boy comes with a 5210×2880 display, 14.7 million pixels in all. No wonder Apple has taken to calling it the “world’s highest-resolution display.” What’s more, the new 27-inch iMac is incredibly thin and more power-efficient than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the 5K treatment is only available on the 27-inch iMac, but rumor has it that a 21.5-inch model may be on the way next year. In any event, the Retina iMac 5K doesn’t come cheap, with the base model checking in at $2,499.
In conjunction with the release of the iPhone 6, Apple introduced a new mobile payments platform dubbed Apple Pay. Apple Pay enables users to quickly, intuitively, and safely make payments directly from their iPhone 6 or 6 Plus without having to use a physical credit card. Utilizing a payment scheme based on tokenization, no actual credit card data is ever transmitted to the merchant. It’s too early to tell, but Apple Pay certainly has the potential to upend the payments industry.
One big announcement at WWDC 2014 was the unveiling of Swift, a new programming language from Apple that promises to meld the power of Objective-C with the flexibility and ease of use of more modern-day programming languages. Even better, Swift code can co-exist right alongside Objective-C, meaning that developers don’t need to drop what they’re doing right away and pick up a new language. But if Apple has their way about things, iOS may eventually become a Swift-only platform. The release of Swift is significant because it underscores just how far Apple will go to control as much of the iOS ecosystem as possible, even if it means devoting four years to creating an entirely new programming language.
Patent war truces with Google and Samsung
After years of litigation, Apple in May settled all of its ongoing lawsuits with Google. A few months later, in August, Apple and Samsung agreed to drop all of their ongoing litigation in all jurisdictions outside of the U.S., meaning Australia, Japan, France, Italy, South Korea, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Germany. Notably, though, the settlement agreement did not include any provisions for the cross licensing of patents. In any event, the pair of settlement agreements hopefully signals that the bulk of Apple’s headline-catching litigation is now behind us.
Shares of Apple soar to new heights
It was a good year for Apple investors. Riding high on strong iPhone sales, not to mention a huge capital return program, shares of Apple in late 2014 rose to astronomical levels, hitting an all-time high of $119, a more than 50% bump from its 52-week low of $71.40 a share. If we adjust for Apple’s recent 7-1 split, shares were at $840/share levels.
Tim Cook comes out
In a heartfelt article written for BusinessWeek, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly came out of the closet in late October. Recognizing how his stature in the limelight might help others deal with their own struggles, Cook wrote, “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”
Apple fallout with GT Advanced Technologies
In the months leading up to the iPhone 6 unveiling, it was widely assumed that the iPhone 6 would feature a sapphire display, thereby making the device nearly impervious to scratches. However, the iPhone 6 event came and went with nary a mention of sapphire. A few weeks later, GT Advanced filed for bankruptcy, alleging that it fell prey to draconian contract terms from Apple that were impossible to fulfill. What followed was a deluge of court documents about a partnership that was embarrassing for all parties involved.
Apple signs deal with IBM
Apple signed a historic agreement with IBM in July. Once rivals back in the 1980s, the two tech behemoths partnered for a deal that will see each company leverage its own unique strengths in order to further entrench iOS within the enterprise.
As part of the deal, IBM will work with Apple to create tailor-made enterprise-focused apps for businesses that can readily tap into a multitude of IBM-based services. What’s more, IBM employees will be tasked with providing on-site support and service of Apple products within the enterprise, an endeavor for which Apple isn’t particularly well-suited.
New Mac Mini
In 2014, Apple finally gave its Mac Mini line a long-awaited upgrade. After two years without much significant news, Apple refreshed its Mac Mini line with 4th-gen Intel processors, faster Wi-Fi, much-improved graphics performance, and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. The pricing stayed the same, at $499. The Mac Mini may not be Apple’s most popular product, but the folks who love it really love it.
Wirelurker malware attacks Apple devices
In November, researchers at Palo Alto Networks released a report shedding light on a family of malware that had targeted both iOS and Mac devices used in China for at least six months. Dubbed Wirelurker, the malware was distributed through a third-party Mac app store used in China and reached iOS devices through the USB port that connected them to the originally infected Mac machine. The malicious apps were downloaded more than 350,000 times before Apple put a stop to it.