2010 in review: Rise of iOS

2010 year in review

Here, in no particular order, are some of the top stories we saw in 2010. The year was packed with Apple announcements, some planned and one unplanned. The real standout this year was iOS coming into its own. This year's WWDC was all about iOS, for example. The Apple TV now runs iOS. iOS 4.2 breathed new life into the already-new iPad, another major story of the year (a wildly successful one at that).

Even OS X 10.7 "Lion" has some iOS-inspired elements from what little we've seen. But it's looking like 2011 will be a return to the Mac side. In 2010 we saw the new MacBook Air, which Steve Jobs called the "future of notebooks." What surprises does Apple have for us on the Macintosh side of the house? 2011 will be an interesting year (again) to watch!


In 2010, the iPad was revealed and the netbook industry felt the impact. The tablet industry has awakened. We expect 2011's CES to have an enormous range of tablet computers. iOS 4.2 was released months later, giving the iPad features like multitasking, which should have been there to begin with. Still, with paltry RAM, no front-facing camera and still not enough storage, the iPad has plenty of room to grow in 2011.

Apps on the iPad made news in themselves, with some apps being available for both iPads and iPhones, some costing more for "HD" versions (a term Apple doesn't endorse, by the way) and some only available for iPad. The new realm of a tablet format opened up possibilities for developers, and we continue to see innovation from them on Apple's latest product.

Still, the publishing world was a little dismayed to see the iPad not take off as an e-reader on its own. Digital magazines are falling flat (in part due to Apple's lack of a proper subscription model), and the iBookstore has had its own problems.

iPhone 4

We all knew the iPhone 4 was coming thanks to a forgetful Apple employee and some poorly executed shenanigans from Gizmodo. If only they had tested the antenna!

The iPhone 4 introduced the high-resolution Retina Display, plus a sleek new form factor that brought about "antennagate" and a subsequent press conference to address the issue. iPhone 4 cases were given away, and the problem was mitigated by a clever Apple marketing/communications team.

The iPhone 4 also heralded FaceTime as a video calling service (and potential open standard, although we hear inside Apple there is little impetus to release the open portions needed to bring the service to other platforms). The iPhone 4 introduced a front-facing camera to facilitate video calling.

The iPhone 4's addition of an LED flash introduced another wrinkle into the app approval process in that developers quickly started writing flashlight apps that took advantage of the powerful (but battery-killing) light source. Guess what? Apple finally woke up and wrote some clear but open-ended app approval guidelines that addressed many of the previously-unknown guidelines surrounding app approvals.

Focus on consumer products

Apple killed the Xserve, but bolstered the consumer product lineup by introducing a new Apple TV, one which runs iOS -- although Apple never mentions this to consumers. This opens up the idea of apps on Apple TV in 2011. We'll just have to see when (or if) this happens! In any event, the $99 price point made the Apple TV more competitive with offerings from Roku and Boxee, not to mention established living room players like the Microsoft. Still, the introduction has had issues. Not all media companies agreed to offer rentals on Apple TV, thus we're starting to see more fragmentation in media distribution (as opposed to the iTunes Music Store, which carries almost every label).

A new iPod nano was introduced, spawning a cottage industry of wristbands. The previous nanos were not as friendly to the wrist, apparently. Also, the nano is running a flavor of iOS an OS that hackers are still trying to jailbreak. Will the nano ever run third-party apps? Maybe 2011 is the year.

The iPod touch saw a front-facing camera for FaceTime action, 3-axis gyro, Apple's custom A4 chip and Retina Display but little else. Apple's increasing use of the A4 chip is a stealth story from 2010 we feel will play out even more in the coming years as they ramp up production and expand the lineup.

The new MacBook Air is aimed squarely at consumers, with the cheapest model entering the fray at a tempting $999. As a sexy consumer notebook, the Air has finally come into its own and will likely continue to make inroads in the sub-notebook market as prices drop and speeds increase.

And while we still don't know what the North Carolina datacenter will do, exactly, we feel it will be integral to Apple's consumer offerings. We'll keep a close eye on this one in 2011.

App Store economy

The App Store economy is only going to grow in 2011, as Apple's 10.7 announcement included the Mac App Store. It'll be interesting to see what restrictions, successes and conundrums evolve from this attempt.

The iOS app economy meant a number of high-profile deals went down in 2010. To us, some of the bigger ones were the DeNA/Ngmoco and Ngmoco/Freeverse buyouts, the Zynga/Newtoy acquisition, and Disney/Tapulous acquisition. Lots of other companies were absorbed or emboldened by the App Store overall. Then again, some developers found there was not gold in them thar hills, but perhaps a modest income in line with a good product and proper marketing. In other words: the App Store is a real business and requires real business skills to succeed. We think the days of one-hit success stories are likely over.

Angry Birds made more news than one would ever imagine about a game where you sling birds (perfectly capable of flight otherwise) at pigs. We expect to see a 5.7 percent rise in Angry Birds reporting in 2011.

iOS updated

I mentioned the 4.2 update, but if you recall, iOS 4 in itself was a big deal. Finally iOS users who were able to upgrade their devices with custom wallpapers, backgrounds and do more useful things like access a unified inbox and multitask with apps.

The iOS update also meant developers had to add new features (like multitasking support) to their apps. We're still seeing some older apps getting those updates.

iOS 4.2 came along and added iOS 4 features to the iPad, then added AirPrint and AirPlay. The OS is still evolving, and products (like printers) are still being introduced to take advantage of the new wireless services. We'll track down some AirPlay-compatible docks at CES if we can.

There's still no Flash support in iOS, and we don't expect to see it any time soon.

Apple stumbles

Not everything Apple did was a resounding success this year.

iOS 4 on older hardware. Either your device was capable of upgrading to iOS 4, or it could only access a few features or (until 4.2) it performed poorly. Our own Chris Rawson detailed his experience with iOS 4 on his 3G. It was not pretty. iOS 4.2 seems to have helped.

Antennagate, while now a distant memory, was the first time in recent history Apple has had to call a press conference as a response to media and consumer tales of woe. Typically the company issues a kb article or press release or says nothing. But this issue of signal precipitously dropping when the phone was held a certain way (and Steve Jobs' own flippant responses to it) made for a PR disaster. Apple got in front of the message eventually, offering free cases to anyone who wanted them -- for a while. Now the free cases are done, but an iOS update appears to have diminished the effect (or its reporting) and the iPhone 4 is selling like crazy.

iTunes 10 heralded Ping as a social network within iTunes. For about an hour it seemed to have Facebook integration, which was yanked. This seriously diminished usefulness for some, but for others the fact that you couldn't "like" music that you had ripped from CD but was in the iTunes Store was a bigger issue. Several weird features and lack of useful features in Ping hampered its use beyond the novelty of the early adopters. Later integration with Twitter has done little to increase the use of Ping, but we don't know how big a failure it has been in numbers. Based on anecdotal evidence, however, it has seen little pickup by the general populace, who prefer to gab on Twitter, Facebook or privately via email.

We'll add FaceTime to the stumbles in 2010, if only for the fact that video calling has been available on desktops for a while now, and video calls have been a concept for ages. Still, Apple's implementation is a good one, but FaceTime was hampered by being limited to Wi-Fi. The desktop beta was later released with a bit of a security issue, and we still haven't seen the open standard released for others to use.

Looking back, looking ahead

2010 was undoubtedly a huge year for Apple with the introduction of a completely new product line and substantial upgrades to existing ones. iOS has taken huge leaps since its introduction a mere three years ago, and we think we're only seeing the beginning. We'll probably see an update to hardware this year, with a new iPad almost a lock. iPhone on Verizon? Quite possibly. A seven-inch iPad? Don't bet your life on it.

On the Mac side there's plenty to look forward to in 2011, with Lion and the Mac App Store on the horizon. We have little idea what the hardware side will bring, but the Mac Pro and iMac form factors have been with us for a while now.

Will the Apple TV or even the nano get apps? Will iWork on disc go the way of the dodo?

No matter what happens we know this: Apple will continue to innovate and provide incredibly well designed gear and software for consumers as it has for over three decades.