10 of the biggest Apple stories of 2019

Apple ran a product blitz and introduced a whole bunch of new services in 2019. We take a look at what else mattered for the company.

Apple, iOS, macOS, MacBook Pro, Siri, Apple Card, iPhone 11, iPad
Apple / IDG

These are the stories that defined Apple in 2019.

Apple delivered a product blitz

Apple CEO Tim Cook kept his commitment to “major launches” across the year, including hardware, software and services. 2019 saw the company introduce (or upgrade):

The iPhone 11, Apple Watch Series 5 (and ECG app), Apple Card, AirPods, AirPods Pro, the seventh-generation iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, Mac Pro, Pro Display XDR, 16-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, Research app, Apple TV+, Apple News+, Apple Arcade, macOS Catalina, iOS 13, iPad OS, tvOS 13, watchOS 6, Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X, iPod touch, Siri Shortcuts.

It also opened multiple stores, installed megawatts of solar power facilities and tweaked every app it had.

To me, that sure looks like a promise kept.

The iPhone 11 and the U1 chip

OK, for all the hype about the U1 chip inside iPhone 11, all it does so far is let you accurately target document sharing with nearby AirDrop users. But everything I know about the Ultra Wideband tech used in the U1 tells me this is the beginning of another of the company’s multi-year incremental plays that will eventually enable it to evolve new products and services – not the least os which is a better Find My service.

Think iPhone 11 and you should also think "Machine Learning," as Apple crams more intelligence inside of these devi es, most ably evidenced by their sophisticated photography tools.

Add a little Voice Control and we’re moving inexorably toward voice-first, AI-predictive user interfaces.

Services, services, services

While Apple has certainly built a buzz around the launch of its unique TV streaming service, Apple TV+, it looks like interest in some of its shows has stalled. But the company will learn as it goes on this.

TV+ isn’t the only new service, with Arcade, News+ and the company’s existing services also seeing good traction.

Cook promised to build services up to a $50 billion/year business, and seems on target to achieve this, as consumer acceptance grows for high-value, digital-only products.

iPad gets even more productive

I’ve been using iPads since the first one arrived in 2010. The last two years have seen Apple pour a great deal of innovation into the line. With iPadOS, an iPad Pro (even relatively cheap older models you can find "renewed" on Amazon) becomes a highly effective productivity tool; I’ve taken to using it as my only machine when I travel.

Integration between Macs and iPads also saw a boost with Sidecar mode, while the extension of Apple Pencil support across the range makes the product even more attractive.

At this stage, there’s little argument that for many of the tasks we once relied on computers to do, the iPad has become an effective – and sometimes better – replacement. Of course, right now there’s some speculation the company may eventually pump its own A-series processors inside of Macs, in which case we’ll be seeing a brand-new game plan.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Catalyst project positions the iPad as the first port of call for new app development, enabling relatively easy tweaks to make apps that run on its other devices.

Jony Ive quits

In a challenge that could become a huge opportunity, Apple’s acclaimed Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, quit in 2019. He will still work on a freelance basis for Cupertino, but seems set on a trajectory that will likely see him design some of the world’s most expensive luxury solutions for the rich, rather than the computers "for the rest of us" on which he built his career.

His departure is certainly a big shock to the Apple universe, but not necessarily a bad thing, as it also opens up an opportunity for the company to define fresh design decisions and new directions in hardware.

With luck, we may even get black AirPods, which would please some of us – particularly for the many who don’t want to be recognized as using $1,000 smartphones on their daily commute.

Apple buys Intel's modem team

A huge settlement with Qualcomm and a billion-dollar purchase of Intel’s modem development arm show just how important it is that future Apple iPhones play their part in the 5G evolution that’s taking place.

Some might say the need to engage in both the purchase and the peace deal reflect the challenges Apple found developing unique technologies to support 5G on its devices in the face of what have been longstanding patent and royalty disputes.

Intel now has its own litigation against Qualcomm.

Apple is expected to introduce its first 5G iPhones equipped with Qualcomm modems in 2020, (with perhaps as many as four models, including some form of iPhone SE replacement). But it's also expected to introduce its own proprietary 5G modem designs in the 2021-22 time frame.

Apple Card

With a continuously improving series of customer benefits, unique app controls and more, Apple Card may not always provide the very best credit card deal you’ll find. But it’s not so far off the mark – and Apple’s recent move to offer iPhones to Apple Card users on a zero interest deal with monthly payments is a step toward future "Apple as a Service" models.

There’s lots of legs to the Apple Card story. Expect international expansion, additional integrations around Apple Pay Cash and continued usage expansion models around Apple Pay.

What happens next? That’s hard to say, but it seems reasonable to expect the company to continue to seek out ways to expand its disruptive financial services push.

Siri & privacy

Apple always says it prioritizes user privacy, and I believe it does – certainly in contrast to competitors. This is why I and so many others were upset to learn that Apple had been quietly recording snippets of conversations we make with Siri.

The company responded really well to criticisms and has now brought the grading process in-house, made it more secure and given users a (not especially) clear way to opt out of the Siri snooping for quality process. But what’s far more important is the depth of the response has also forced others in the smart assistant space to think again about the need for user privacy.

Now, we aren’t in a perfect state in which consumer privacy is seen as sacrosanct yet, but we do seem to be headed toward legislation that will define what privacy standards should exist.

While this will at least give all parties a level playing field, we may end up with a scenario in which privacy becomes a luxury item.

That butterfly keyboard

Apple’s 16-in. MacBook Pro is a fantastic machine.

It was a delight to use one, and in a perfect world I’d own one. Sadly, this is not a perfect world and I don’t. But most Mac users will be pleased to see Apple’s move to abandon the reputation-damaging butterfly keyboard design and its replacement by a quieter and more robust new tech.

The truth is that the butterfly keyboard was a real disappointment to Apple’s pro Mac users, who felt they’d spent a lot of money on kit that just didn’t meet the grade.

That chapter in Apple’s history is almost over, and its commitment to the pro market is ably articulated by its powerful Mac Pro system and brilliant Pro Display XDR – but it’s going to have to keep prioritizing pro users for a while yet to limit the damage that butterfly keyboard had. Meanwhile, consumer users no doubt look forward to new Macs in spring.

Trouble in China

Caught between the hard place of Trumpian protectionism and the rock of Chinese manufacturing, Apple’s had a pretty difficult time this year.

There are some who note that Tim Cook has managed to become a relatively trusted voice in the current White House, while the company’s huge contribution to the U.S. economy has given the company some weight in negotiations around trade sanctions and surcharges.

However, the dance is not without its complexity, and while most rational people understand that you can’t realistically expect any company to defy government demands in any country, Apple’s attempts to identify its corporate identity around the push for democratic values hit hurdles this year, not least around cobalt supplymaps in Crimea and Chinese demands around censorship.

What other Apple stories mattered in 2019?

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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