Apple was a busy company in 2008. Over the past 12 months, the number of Apple-branded products on the street has become so broad and ubiquitous that it's hard to go a day without seeing evidence of it, even if you're not a Mac, iPhone or iPod owner.
And while it doesn't appear that Apple plans to slow down any in 2009 -- despite the seemingly endless supply of rumors about the health of CEO Steve Jobs -- it's worth reflecting on some of the most notable innovations from Apple in a year that easily ranks as one of the most significant in its 31-year-history.
At last, the iPhone 3G
Without a doubt, the iPhone 3G was the biggest Apple product release in years -- if not the biggest in the company's history. Although the original iPhone had been on the market for a year, the launch of the iPhone 3G in July offered more than a simple upgrade to the handset.
In addition to new features like 3G network support and GPS capabilities, the iPhone 3G launch also bundled in a major update to the iPhone's operating system. Thousands of applications from independent developers soon followed, turning the iPhone from a way-cool phone/PDA into a device that offered an amazing breadth of features.
In particular, it seemed as if the iPhone 3G was aimed squarely at business and enterprise environments -- even if Apple did little to advance that case. The iPhone 2.0 software update, for the first time, allowed businesses to enable push notification of e-mails, contacts and calendar items with a Microsoft Exchange server. It also allowed Exchange security policies to be enforced and all data on a lost or stolen phone to be remotely wiped. And Apple included configuration profiles that let IT departments preconfigure settings, including security policies and digital certificates for secure network connectivity, on one or more iPhones before rolling them out to employees.
Without those changes, many IT managers would remain reluctant to even consider the iPhone for business use. With those features in place, Apple was able to begin building market share for the iPhone, both at home and at work.
Another key move: The iPhone 3G was launched in 22 countries on one day, marking its worldwide emergence before a much broader audience than the original iPhone. Unfortunately, the weight of all those global iPhone activations had a downside: Apple's iTunes Store servers couldn't handle the sustained load of activations, causing problems for first-day buyers. Even so, millions of iPhones were sold in a single day around the world, making the launch an unprecedented success.
Even as Apple has pushed the iPhone out into more countries, rivals have scrambled to keep up. They're still scrambling, and yes, I'm looking at you, BlackBerry Storm.
The iPhone SDK and App Store: Apps, apps, apps
An integral part of the iPhone 2.0 software announcement was the creation of an iPhone developer program. Designed by Apple, it empowered anyone who wanted to download the iPhone software development kit (SDK) to try his hand at creating his own iPhone application. This was a major advance for the iPhone that, like its new enterprise features, enabled it to compete with other mobile systems, most of which already supported third-party app development.
Building on the iPhone SDK, Apple came up with a smart solution for distributing and installing iPhone apps. Modeling the success of its iTunes Store, Apple created the App Store -- a one-stop shopping location for all iPhone applications.