Apple (AAPL) had a very good 2009, despite a slowdown in the PC business and increased competition in smartphones.
Notably, the company survived a five-month absence by its iconic leader, Steve Jobs, who took medical leave from January through June after receiving a liver transplant.
Among Apple’s products, the iPhone rose to become the company’s growth story, thanks to increasing market share and the high-flying App Store.
A week after blaming his Macworld Expo absence on a 'hormone imbalance,' Jobs wrote a letter to Apple employees, saying, 'during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.'
Steve Jobs' absence let some of his lieutenants get more of the spotlight this year, including COO Tim Cook and marketing boss Phil Schiller.
But iPhone software god Scott Forstall deserves special praise for his work with the iPhone app platform -- which has truly, violently disrupted the mobile industry.
Apple repeatedly crushed the Street's sales and earnings estimates despite a global economic collapse. (The slowdown did take a big chunk out of the Mac business's growth momentum in 2009, but the iPhone excelled.)
Investors who bought shares early in 2009 got a good deal. Apple shares started the year under $91 and are currently trading around $195. That's a roughly 130% return, versus a roughly 20% year-to-date return for the S&P 500. Nice!
Apple continued to improve the iPhone this year. (Though the competition is catching up. Particularly, Google Android.)
People stood in line and bought 1 million iPhone 3GSs in its first weekend of sales in late June, and the $99 iPhone 3G opened the device to even more markets. Sales started (slowly) in China later in the year.
Apple managed to properly approve tens of thousands of iPhone apps this year, and it passed the 1 billion and 2 billion apps-downloaded marks. But the approval process also received plenty of public humiliation as angry developers found their apps rejected for stupid reasons.
For example: Bobble Rep, which included caricatures of U.S. politicians, was initially rejected 'because it contains content that ridicules public figures.' After a public lashing, Apple realised it was being dumb and now the app is available for purchase.
After years of enjoying one of Silicon Valley's closest relationships, Apple and Google grew more distant in 2009.
The companies began to compete more directly as Google announced a desktop operating system and as Android began to take off. There was an embarrassing spat when the FCC bugged Apple about why it hadn't approved the Google Voice app for the iPhone. (It still hasn't.)
And Google CEO Eric Schmidt stepped down from Apple's board over the increased conflicts of interest.
Steve Jobs has to be frustrated with the Apple TV set-top box, which is still Apple's lamest product.
The company's next move seems to be structuring some sort of iTunes TV subscription. But that's not Apple TV's problem. The problem is the big picture.
Apple needs to swallow its pride here and give up some control. If Apple TV -- or any Web TV box -- is going to have a fighting chance against cable, it needs to be able to play every video that's on the Web, paid or free -- not just iTunes and YouTube videos. Perhaps it needs an App Store, too.
Apple's best new product this year was probably the 27-inch iMac. (The 13-inch MacBook Pro, a top seller, comes in a close second.)
We snapped up a quad-core model a few weeks ago. In addition to being the fastest computer we've ever used, with a ridiculously awesome display, it makes a cool bedroom TV at night (for falling asleep to Hulu and Boxee shows).
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