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Apple’s 2011: The calm before the storm?

Apple may well have started the year on a high, launching both the iPad 2 and OS X Lion to huge success, but it'd be wrong to say that the latter half of the year has been lacklustre, here's why.

Tim Cook at the Let's Talk iPhone Event - October 2011

Tim Cook at the Let's Talk iPhone Event - October 2011
Tim Cook's first ever keynote was met with a lukewarm response, but is everyone jumping the gun?

If nothing else, Apple’s 2011 can definitely be described as ‘eventful’ not least because of the sad passing of its former co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, but also because of its product launches. In the early half of the year we saw the iPad 2 released to an unprecedented demand and the launch of OS X Lion, Apple’s biggest move towards iOS and OS X integration yet. But as 2011 draws to a close, and we take a look back, the latter half of this year has seen a somewhat slower-paced attack from Cupertino. Is this a sign of the company slowing down? Maybe, but only because it’s the calm before the storm.

Apple always has a gameplan and more often than not, rather than being subjected to market forces, they are the market force. So there’s naturally going to be ripple of disappointment when all the latter half of 2011 brings in terms of hardware is a speed bump to the iPhone and MacBook Pro lines. But any disappoint is a knee-jerk reaction, here’s why:

Software is ignored
Okay, so Apple may well have not delivered on the much-hyped iPhone 5 at this month’s Let’s Talk iPhone event, and perhaps what they delivered instead was a little disappointing to some. But let’s not forget that off the back of the 4S, Apple took on what was most probably its most ambitious software roll-out to date. iOS 5, iCloud, OS X Lion 10.7.2, iWork for iOS and iPhoto updates all dropped on the same day, and whilst they didn’t go without hiccups, the overall process was incredibly smooth. How many other companies can boast an infrastructure so solid that they can roll-out multiple updates across multiple devices to millions of people at the same time with the minimum of fuss? Some network providers still have issues serving emails.

Not every product launch should be a major one
There’s already a sense of frustration shared amongst Apple affectionados when a major update to any product springs out of Cupertino at a moment’s notice, rendering the model they’ve just bought old and inferior. If Apple made every update a major one then that frustration would soon turn into dissatisfaction. Anyone who bought an early-2011 MacBook Pro isn’t going to feel hugely annoyed at the latest speed bumps made to the line-up, but if a major change in form factor dropped about now, then the situation would probably be different. Apple have a balancing act on their hands – they need to make sure that older machines retain their value by not pushing out updates at a rate of knots, but at the same time they need to keep their customers (and shareholders) happy with some incredibly updates. They seem to strike the balance right at the moment, but the constant hype surrounding announcements really does pile on the pressure and set unrealistic expectations.

This is the calm before the storm
All the signs are point towards 2012 being a big year for Apple. The rumours of an iPhone 5 may have died down, but they were strong, and they must have come from somehwhere. There’s been plenty of speculation as to why an entirely new form factor wasn’t unveiled earlier this month, and it’s all fairly logical. Needless to say, my money is on it happening next Summer. Even with so many mock-ups, renders and blurry, if questionable, photos, whatever new form factor the iPhone 5 takes on will be revolutionary, and with a few more months to get things right, who knows how much things might change? That’s just the iPhone though, and there’s no denying that almost every other product in Apple’s range is due for a change in form factor too. I can’t imagine for one second that Jony Ive is resting on his laurels.

Apple can do whatever they want
Case in point: The 10th anniversary of the iPod. “Surely Apple need to do something great to celebrate it?” Apple responded with a resounding “No”. For whatever reason, the iPod Touch and iPod Nano updated at the Let’s Talk iPhone event were extremely subtle. In fact, the vast majority of the changes involved software and not hardware. Apple neither feels or recognises the weight of expectation that fanboys, journalists and their shareholders put on them. The logical explanation for this is that they have a roadmap and they’re sticking to it. If there’s one thing we can be sure of though, it’s that they wont be sharing that roadmap with us any time soon.