Half way through 2013, it looked like a lost year for Apple (AAPL).
Apple had no product announcements. Its stock was cratering. As the stock fell, the media started writing stories about Apple losing its innovative spirit.
But now that 2013 is over, it’s clear this was not a lost year for Apple. In fact, it was really big year, one that set the table for the next 2-3 years of innovation from Apple.
It’s very likely we’re going to look back at this year as the first one in which Apple fully entered the post-Steve Jobs era.
There’s one event that really stands out: The introduction of iOS 7. Apple expert John Gruber writing about iOS 7, said, “it shows that the company is not afraid to boldly move forward from the Steve Jobs era.”
Jobs loved the bubbly, glitzy, faux-realistic icons and design in iOS 6. His partner Jony Ive killed all of that in iOS 7, which had simpler icons and design with a brighter color palate.
Breaking from Jobs’ flavor for iOS 7 was a statement. “I’m not going to pretend to know Jobs’s taste — no one could, that’s what made Steve Jobs Steve Jobs — but I can certainly make a guess, and my guess is that he would not have supported this direction,” said Gruber in October, adding, “I do think it’s a tangible sign that Tim Cook means it when he says that Jobs’s advice to him was never to ask ‘What would Steve have done?’ but instead to simply ask ‘What is best for Apple?’ and judge for himself.”
Beyond iOS 7, which was the boldest, most in-your-face move by Apple in 2013, there were a number of other, somewhat smaller moves that point to what it’s planning for 2014:
- Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, formerly CEO of Burberry (BBRYF) to run its retail operations. (Some people are so high on Ahrendts they think she’ll be CEO one day. I’d like to see her work a day at Apple before making proclamations.)
- It bought 15 (!) companies this year. Apple has been criticized for not being aggressive on M&A. Seems like it got aggressive this year.
- It poached Adobe (ADBE) CTO Kevin Lynch to run a special project. At Adobe, Lynch talked trash about Apple, so this hire was surprising. He’s supposedly leading a team of ex-iPod engineers on something.
- Yves St. Laurent CEO Paul Deneve joined Apple as a VP working on special projects reporting to Tim Cook. Think Apple is going to go down market? It hired people from Burberry and YSL.
- Apple scooped up a lot of the people that developed Nike’s (NKE) FuelBand. Cough *iWatch* Cough.
- It released iOS 7, a total remake of Apple’s mobile software. (We just talked about this.)
- The iPad Air is an incredible product, and the iPad Mini with Retina ain’t too bad. Two new iPads that keep it ahead of the competition.
- It added a fingerprint scanner to the iPhone in a simple elegant way that no other company has done for smartphones.
- It added 64-bit, or desktop computing-level, architecture to the iPhone and iPad. This seems like one of those things that will be massive in the next year or two. Tablets as powerful as laptops are coming.
That’s a lot of stuff, but because Apple didn’t produce a brand new category of products, some people think Apple blew it this year.
Apple used 2013 as an opportunity to reset itself. It reorganized the company with Ive taking the lead on design. It staffed up for big opportunities, and now it’s ready to attack.
CEO Tim Cook has been promising that 2014 will be a big year. On the company’s most recent earnings call, he said, “We continue to be very confident in Apple’s future and we see significant opportunities ahead of us in both current product categories and new ones.”
In a memo to employees, Cook said, “We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as bluster from the CEO. What else would he say to employees: Hey guys, great year, let’s take 2014 off to recharge?