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Thursday, December 29, 2011, 01:04 pm PT (04:04 pm ET)

Inside Apple's 2011: iPod, iPhone & iPad

This year, Apple's mobile iOS platform reached its fifth annual release, adding new support for subscription content, iCloud, and new devices including the iPad 2, a CDMA iPhone 4 and the global iPhone 4S with Siri voice assistance. Meanwhile, the iPod line got no major updates for the first time in its history, as Apple continues to convert its iPod business into iOS device sales.

Record sales of iOS devices

In 2011, Apple's sales of iOS devices surged so dramatically during the launch cycles of new iPad 2 and iPhone 4S models that the company's demolishing of its previous year's quarterly records—and its annihilation of all competitors' sales—in prelaunch quarters wasn't enough to prevent critics from voicing their disappointment.

During the company's fiscal Q2 launch of iPad 2, Apple sold "only" 4.69 million tablets as it scrambled to build enough devices to meet demand for the new model. In the year ago quarter of 2010, Apple wasn't selling any iPads because it hadn't even introduced the product yet.

In contrast, Microsoft's decade old Tablet PC business, recycled last year under "Slate PC" branding with partner HP, completely collapsed, sending the company back to the drawing board to revamp its Windows 7 tablet platform for a second try expected to appear possibly as soon as the end of 2012, leaving it missing in action throughout the entire launch year of iPad 2 (and its next successor).

Despite desperate efforts by Samsung to portray its 2010 winter Galaxy Tab sales as "quite smooth," and Motorola's Xoom ads portraying Apple's iPad first as a museum relic and then as a tool for propagating a dreary dystopian world, neither companys' tablet products had any impact on Apple's sales in 2011, failing completely on their own with dismal sales.

Google's rushed release of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, focused exclusively on producing tablets that could challenge the iPad this year, itself collapsed alongside Slate PC after waves of failed attempts by its licensees to deliver tablet devices capable of gaining a healthy fraction of Apple's "disappointing" Q2 iPad sales.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb more like Tablet PC than iPad


RIM and HP similarly attempted to jump on the tablet bandwagon driven by Apple's iPad, but even after ditching Microsoft's Windows 7 for Palm's webOS, HP couldn't manage to effectively launch even an initial foundation for its own tablet platform. After many delays, RIM finally launched an actual product in 2011, but its PlayBook failed miserably as well. The design ended up being resold by Amazon in a scaled down version with a year old, customized version of Android 2.x tied to Amazon's store and sold as a loss leader under the Kindle Fire brand.

Similarly, in its fall fiscal Q4, Apple "only" sold 17.07 million iPhones, sending analysts into confused disappointment for not reaching their forecasts of 20 million smartphones in a quarter where the company had delayed the launch of its new iPhone 4S while it continued outselling every other smartphone on the US market with its year old iPhone 4 and the second place, two year old iPhone 3GS.

Apple's iOS sales grew tremendously in 2011 even as the sales of leading smartphone makers Nokia and RIM collapsed. Efforts by Microsoft to sell Windows Phone 7 and by HP to ship webOS smartphones both failed to gain any traction this year, leaving Apple's mobile platform to be compared solely against the communal efforts of the rest of the entire industry working with an open source project.

Even so, all the efforts of every vendor globally using some aspect of Google's Android software still couldn't match the unit sales of Apple's iOS platform, and were not even remotely comparable to the revenues and profits Apple's iOS generated in 2011. Conversely, however, Apple was not regularly lavished with praise for having collected overwhelming "market share" among web browsers just for being the central repository for the maintenance of its WebKit open source project used within the majority of mobile browsers and, in 2011, the majority of desktop browsers as well.

iPod iced, reanimated as an iOS app

Apple's iPod dynasty, which ruled over the past decade in the field of portable media players, contracted significantly in fiscal 2011, dropping from last year's sales plateau of 50.3 million down to 42.6 million units this year. That didn't offer any hope for competitors however, because Apple essentially had just converted many of its iPod sales to even higher margin iOS devices running the iPod app.

Over half of the iPods Apple now sells are the iOS-based iPod touch, and Apple now sells far more iPhones and iPads per quarter than all iPods combined. Had Apple simply branded its other iOS devices as "iPod phone" and "iPod tablet," it could have reported sales of 34.8 million "iPod" devices in its most recent "disappointing" quarter, a unit increase of more than 27 percent over its previous quarterly record sales of 27.34 million devices in the year ago quarter, rather than the 27 percent decline in in the sales of "iPod branded devices" when excluding the iPhone and iPad.

This year, Microsoft finally threw in the towel on its Zune brand of media players. But Apple itself also ended the reign of its "iPod classic" using a conventional hard drive and click wheel navigation, the original design that had propelled Apple Computer into consumer devices and ultimately erased the "computer" designation from its corporate name. While not officially discontinued and still on sale though out the 2011 holiday season, the iPod classic wasn't even mentioned during Apple's October iPod event.

iPod lineup


Even more tellingly, in 2011 Apple for the first time failed to significantly overhaul any its iPod-branded lineup, leaving in place its 2010, sixth generation iPod nano with only minor software adjustments, giving its fourth generation iPod touch just a new white option and leaving its iPod shuffle completely unchanged, apart from lower prices.

Apple also noted that it has now sold over 300 million iPods worldwide over the past decade, but it has also revealed in the same month that 250 million iOS devices have been sold since the iPhone first appeared in 2007, highlighting the remarkable sales growth Apple has experienced, and the tremendous shift it has made from selling simple hard drive music players to building advanced mobile computers capable of powering a ecosystem of apps.

On page 2 of 2: A new generation of iOS devices