The end of one year and the beginning of another usually lends itself to list making. That goes double when the second-to-last digit in a calendar year flips over to a new number. That's when every writer worth his or her salt breaks out a pad of paper, an almanac, and a top 10 list to signify the most important, most memorable, or best things of a particular decade.
I'm as prone to nostalgia as the next writer, so I couldn't let this New Year's weekend pass without throwing my own decade retrospective into the mix. Here's my look back at the last 10 years, focusing specifically on the most significant things to come out of Cupertino in the Naughties.
How successful a decade was it for Apple? Consider that in the last 10 years, Apple introduced the Mac mini, which offered users a low-cost desktop option; Safari, which took the pain out of Mac-based browsing; and iChat, which changed the way we communicated with others—and none of those made my Top 10 list. That's the sign of a company that had a lot going on from 2000 to 2009.
10. Apple introduces iPhoto (2002)
What happened: At the 2002 Macworld Expo, Apple showcased iPhoto, a free program for managing digital photos. That original release was missing a few features—it’s certainly a far cry from the latest version of iPhoto and its ability to organize images through facial recognition technology. But at the time, it brought a level of simplicity and organization to the increasingly popular world of digital photography.
Why it matters: Digital imaging boomed in the past 10 years, to the point where even novice shutterbugs tote around multi-megapixel monstrosities. Apple recognized the growing interest in digital cameras early on and gave users a tool that helped them get more out of their images.
9. Apple opens its first retail stores (2001)
What happened: In May 2001, Apple launched retail stores in Tysons Corner, Va., and Glendale, Calif., with the idea of opening 25 retail outlets by the end of the year. By the end of the decade, Apple would have 273 stores around the globe, including outposts in London, Paris, and Beijing.
Why it matters: Apple's goal in launching a brick-and-mortar retail effort was to reach customers who might not otherwise consider buying a Mac. "We want to convince the other 95 percent that Apple offers good products," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said back in 2001. "If only 5 of 95 people in this group become Mac users, we'll double our market share." It would be hard to dispute that the Apple Stores helped the company build its customer base. Consider the third quarter of Apple's 2009 fiscal year: the company sold 492,000 Macs at its retail stores, with half of those computers bought by new Mac customers.
8. The iTunes Music Store debuts (2003)
What happened: Apple opened the doors to its online music retail service in April 2008, launching the iTunes Music Store with 200,000 songs that users could download for 99 cents each. The store is slightly larger now—in 2008, it became the top music retailer in the country. And it now offers TV shows, movie purchases and rentals, and DRM-free music.
Why it matters: There wasn't much to online music retail before the iTunes Store came along—why buy a song when you can find it on a file-swapping site for free? But the quality of iTunes music and the ease with which you could download them helped popularize buying music online. And all that digital content didn't exactly hurt iPod sales either.
7. Apple opens up the iPhone to third-party developers (2008)
What happened: Software makers who wanted to build something that could run on the iPhone had one Apple-approved option in the first year after the iPhone's release—make their application Web-based. That changed in 2008 with the iPhone software development kit, which gave developers the tools to make native mobile apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. The App Store opened that June with 552 apps. These days, that number tops 100,000.
Why it matters: The iPhone has a lot of things going for it, as we'll see below. But one of the things that sets the iPhone apart in a crowded smartphone market is the depth and quality of the third-party apps that support it. Apple has some kinks to work out of its approval process and App Store organization, but the company absolutely made the right decision in opening its mobile platform to developers.
6. Apple introduces the Aluminum PowerBook G4 (2003)
What happened: Apple kicked off 2003 by declaring it the ”Year of the Laptop”—and the company wasn't kidding around. It introduced 12-inch and 17-inch versions of the PowerBook G4 that year, with both configurations housed in a new anodized aluminum enclosure; 15-inch models would follow by year’s end. With a few minor modifications, that design would remain in place for the rest of the decade—even the justly-praised unibody design that houses Apple’s portables these days maintains the elements of those aluminum PowerBooks. What's more, Apple continues to offer the small, medium, and large options in its laptop line.
Why it matters: The Naughties turned out to be the decade we went portable. Performance improvements made laptops every bit as appealing as their desktop counterparts. And this 2001 release from Apple helped set the tone. The company reaped the rewards of our newfound appreciation for mobile computing—laptops now represent more than two-thirds of the Macs Apple sells and have helped the company routinely smash its own quarterly sales records.