Most important Apple and technology stories of 2013

As much as the year is made up for small moments, of hours and days and weeks that record a steady beat of news from one to the next, it's also punctuated by canons, by shots that shake us, challenge us, and forever change our awareness. Sometimes they're the result of great achievements, of remarkable new products or discoveries. Other times they're the result of tragedy, of terrible acts or revelations. 2013, like all years, had its share of both. These are, in our opinion, the most important of them.

iOS 7 and Apple's new direction

Tim Cook's shakeup of Apple's leadership was the biggest Apple story of 2012. It should come as no surprise, then, that the results of that shake up led to the biggest Apple story of 2013. Scott Forstall, previously head of iOS, had become the best person in the world at implementing the software vision of Steve Jobs. For years the two had formed an almost perfect harmony. Absent Steve Jobs, however, that singular skill no longer had its place, and harmony became dissonance. Software was unified under Craig Federighi, and design under Jony Ive.

In a meeting in very late 2012, Ive laid out a new vision for iOS. It was cleaner and clearer, sure - everything his hardware designs had ever been - but it was also incredibly ambitious. Replete with parallax scrolling, gaussian blur, physics and particle animations, it required ditching every pixel that had come before, redesigning everything interface element, and getting Federighi's engineering team to figure out how to make it work. And that was on top of already scheduled new features like just-in-time backgrounding.

Previous versions of iOS had enjoyed a year between launches. iOS 5 had 16 months. The incredibly ambitious iOS 7 found itself with barely over half a year to make beta and only 9 months to release. It landed hot and incomplete, but that it landed, that a company as big as Apple, with as large an install base as iOS, could and would still turn so fast and so furiously, and do something so audacious, was beyond remarkable.

That not everyone likes the new direction is par for the course. Opinions, strongly held, are just as strongly disagreed with. Yet iOS 7 teleported Apple from having the oldest - and arguably oldest looking - operating system in mobile to being once again the freshest interface on the planet in a matter of months. Argue icons and palettes and borders and contrasts all you want (and in some cases rightly so), but it's almost impossible to argue that iOS 7 isn't one of the biggest stories for Apple this year, if not the last several years. More so because it sets the stage for one of next year's biggest stories - iBeacons, sensors, and the coming internet of things.

  • iOS 7

Apple is doomed

If you sit by the feed long enough, an iPhone-is-delayed rumor will float by

The biggest failure of the year belongs to the media which allowed itself to be manipulated by market makers and debased by attention seeking into misreporting about Apple to a stock destroying, faith-shaking degree. Apple bites man, a play on the old "man bites dog" cliche, was the only way to describe it. Delays and downturns were fabricated, metrics were misrepresented, capability to innovate was questioned, panic was promoted, and Apple was otherwise shoved down and doom-sayed in every way imaginable. Yet every product launched when Apple said it would and, for the most part, sold in numbers as record-setting numbers as usual.

Perhaps Apple doesn't play "the game" as well as other companies. Perhaps they don't lobby Washington as effectively, don't engage with the media as much, and are basically the technology equivalent of a passionate, socially awkward geek. Perhaps they figure if they make the best products they can, everything else will fall into place. Often that works out just fine for them. Sometimes, however, the politicians they're not cozying up to, the press they're not fawning over, and the traders who think they can make a quick, short buck at their expense, find ways to exploit that naiveté.

It's almost impossible to feel sorry for a company with hundreds of billions of dollars in the bank - that makes profits otherwise unseen beyond those with oligopoly control over fossil fuel resources. But when you consider the human beings that make up that company, the ones that pour that passion, and the many more human beings who make up their customer base, it's very possible.

Government surveillance

There was no bigger nor more important story this year than revelations about the scope of government spying on their own citizens. It had long been the contention of fiction and conspiracy theorists that the internet would signal the death of privacy, yet many of us found it comforting and convenient to pretend our rights and freedoms were being respected by those entrusted and empowered to protect them. No longer.

Bad enough that most of us loudly proclaimed our willingness to sign away our privacy in exchange for free products and services of good-enough quality, but even those of us who'd done all we could to protect what privacy we felt we had left discovered it had been taken from us.

We now live in a state where we don't know who and what we can trust. Are our microphones on? Are our webcams? Are our touchscreens and biometric-readers? When you don't know who you can trust, the only rational course of action is to trust no one. When you don't know if and when you're being monitored, the only sane response is to act as if you're always being monitored. And that is, in and of itself, an irrational and insane way to live.

The scope of the violation committed against us is so horrific, the feeling of powerlessness that comes with it so profound, that it's difficult to frame. It's something that, if we're very, very lucky, we'll look back on, not comprehending how we could have been, at one time, so inhuman.

Social network horror stories

When an earthquake hits or a plane comes down or a celebrity takes the stage, nothing is faster for spreading the news and sharing the moment than Twitter and, to some degree, other social networks. Yet that speed has let fallible human beings fail more publicly and speedily than ever before as well. Before the advent of social networks it would take days for stories to circulate and, unless famous people were involved, few if any of our screw ups got any attention at all. Now, whether it represents long and secretly held beliefs found repugnant by the community, or a poor turn of phrase and miscommunication taken as same, reputations can be ruined, careers lost, and lives shattered in the time it takes to hit "retweet". Sometimes deservedly, sometimes mistakenly. And there but for the grace of a send button goes any one of us.

Because, like any massive group of people, the mob mentality can take over on social networks. as much as it can anywhere else. Virtual pitchforks and torches might not seem as dangerous as real ones, but they can stab and burn just as deeply and brutally. Outrage, envy, conformity, righteousness, self-righteousness, arrogance, care, and a bevy of other emotions, good, bad, and ugly, result. Through their power, bad policies can be reversed, bad people can be exposed, and bad situations can be rectified. Through their terror, bad policies can be put in place, bad people can be enabled, and bad situations can be made truly horrible. And again, there but for our better angels could go any of us.

The world is dangerous. No one should have any expectation otherwise. Predators have always stalked it. Nature has always upheaved it. It should be no surprise that the virtual world is the same. For good and for ill, it's a reflection warped only by speed and accessibility, and we'd all do well to remember that.

  • Talk Mobile 2013: Social

Top iMore stories of 2013

Rounding things out, here are the most popular news stories and editorials from iMore over the last 12 months.

Your most important stories?

The benefit of community is diversity. What each of us considers important and noteworthy can and will vary. So here's the part where we ask you what you consider to the be the most important stories of 2013?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.