Apple’s 2021 Year in Review: The Highs and Lows

BY Rajesh

Published 29 Dec 2021

Apple pexels kartikey das

When you reminisce everything that panned out for Apple in 2021, the year appears to be a proverbial roller coaster ride for the company. From being embroiled in an ugly legal battle to unveiling ground-breaking products to being branded as anti-competitive to achieving record-shattering sales, the Cupertino giant’s fortune was in flux throughout the year. But what managed to leave out a blueprint or brought the entire metaverse on the edge? To recap everything that stood out, let’s take a look at Apple’s 2021 year in review!

January 2021: Apple Saw ‘Largest Number of Upgraders’ Following iPhone 12 Launch

While the entire smartphone industry was struggling to come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple turned this never-seen-before adversity into a remarkable opportunity to scale up. Thanks to the record-breaking sales of the iPhone 12 models, Apple saw the “largest number of upgraders” during Q1 2021.

For detractors who never miss any chance to claim that iPhones have already peaked and are past their heyday, it was like a bolt from the blue.

Having downplayed the unmatched efficiency of Apple M1 for months, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger finally admitted defeat over Apple silicon but with a catch. Gelsinger termed Apple “a lifestyle company”. No wonder, the tongue-in-cheek admission caught plenty of eyeballs. 

Talking about the rumor that put almost everyone on the edge, Apple said it was working on a 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. And guess what, ever-reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was pretty spot-on about this hot rumor (more on this later). 

However, not everything about January was sweet for Apple as the company’s stock price slumped more than 3 percent despite a record $111 billion revenue quarter.

iPhone 12 Series

February 2021: Apple Surpassed Samsung to Become the World’s Largest Smartphone Maker in Q4 2020

Not that Apple hadn’t occupied the numero-uno status before, the report about the Cupertino-giant surpassing Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone maker in Q4 2020 came as music to many ears.

According to Gartner, Apple reportedly sold 80 million iPhones in Q4 2020, a significant jump of over 10 million units from Q4 2019. It propelled the Cupertino giant to capture 20.8 percent of the global smartphone market share in the last quarter of 2020. 

In comparison, Samsung was able to sell 62.1 million smartphones in the same quarter against the 70.4 million a year ago — a sharp decline of 8 million which saw its market share shrink by 11.8 percent.

However, what set February 2021 on fire was Fortnite developer Epic Games’ antitrust filing against Apple in the EU. The game developer accused Apple of anti-competitive practices with the App Store, asserting that the iPhone maker has not only harmed the ecosystem but “completely eliminated competition in-app distribution and payment processes.”

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said, “What’s at stake here is the very future of mobile platforms. Consumers have the right to install apps from sources of their choosing and developers have the right to compete in a fair marketplace.”

Apple-versus-Epic-GamesMarch 2021: Apple Announced New Energy Storage Project, Aim to Make Supply Chain Carbon Neutral by 2030

Apple announced a highly efficient energy storage project and also shared efforts on making its supply chain carbon neutral by 2030. The company reported that over 110 of its manufacturing partners worldwide were getting ready to use 100 percent renewable energy. It further stated that these manufacturing partners will utilize nearly eight gigawatts of clean energy for making Apple devices.

Moving on to another news that proved to be a big attention grabber in March 2021 was Apple’s decision to make its independent repair provider program available globally in over 200 countries. The program ensures third-party repair stores have access to genuine Apple parts, tools, repair guides, and more so that they can deliver a proper repair job for their customers.

While many lambasted Apple for selling iPhones without a charger, few thought that the company would have to pay a heavy price for the radical decision. Procon-SP, the Brazilian consumer protection regulator in Sāo Paulo, fined Apple nearly 2 million for not including a charger in the iPhone box. The tech giant was accused of misleading advertising and selling devices with factory defects. 

Apple lost $2 trillion market capitalization for the first time in March 2021. For those uninitiated, the Cupertino giant was the first publicly traded U.S company to touch a $2 trillion market capitalization in August 2020.


April 2021: Apple Unveils New iMac, iPad Pro, AirTag, and Apple TV 4K

Apple lit up the Spring event with a series of notable announcements including the redesigned iMac, all-new iPad Pro, smart item tracker “AirTag” and the new Apple TV 4K.

After months of beta testing, Apple released iOS 14.5 with the privacy-centric yet controversial App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Despite the all-out resistance from Facebook, the Cupertino giant launched ATT that is designed to prevent apps from collecting users’ data without permission.

Even as Epic Games’ anti-trust filing against Apple was threatening to break the internet, the European Commission found the iPhone maker in breach of competition law after Spotify complained. It stated that Apple has an unfair advantage over its rivals by charging them high commission fees and preventing them from using alternative subscription methods.

Turning the focus away from the legal battles, iOS 14 adoption reached 90 percent less than seven months after launch, according to data collected by Mixpanel’s iOS 14 adoption tracker. Comparatively, iOS 14 managed to go past the 90 percent adoption mark much faster than iOS 13 and 12.

iMac 2021

May 2021: Apple CEO Tim Cook Testifies in Epic Games Trial

May 2021 was like the climax of the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic. Tim Cook testified in the Epic Games trial. Expectedly, Cook was on the offensive stressing that Apple could no longer make the promise of privacy, safety, and security if Epic Games prevails. He went so far ahead to say that App Store would be a “toxic mess” without Apple’s rules and policies that Epic is fighting against in court.

Just a week after releasing iOS 14.5, Apple rolled out iOS 14.5.1 with security updates. Besides, the company also released a companion watchOS 7.4.1 update and iOS 12.5.3 update for older iPhone and iPad models.

June 2021: Apple Announces iOS 15, macOS Monterey at WWDC; Acknowledges Health Risks of Certain Products

At a much-awaited WWDC 2021, Apple showcased iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, macOS Monterey, and tvOS 15. While the latest iterations of iOS 15 are nowhere near as feature-rich as the predecessor, it has come up with some notable features including Focus Mode, Digital Legacy, iCloud Account Recovery, and more. 

However, what set many tongues wagging was Apple’s legal warning to reliable leakers like “Kang” and others for sharing information about upcoming Apple products. Apple’s legal team warned leakers not to share information about upcoming Apple devices as it could not only “mislead customers,” but also give competitors an advantage.

Apple acknowledged that a lot of its devices such as the iPhone 12, AirPods Max, and iPad Pro, pose a threat to heart devices. The tech giant stated that these devices’ magnetic fields might interfere with pacemakers and defibrillators “under certain conditions.”

WWDC 2021

July 2021: Apple Makes Controversial Safari Redesign Optional in iPadOS 15 Beta 4

Against the backdrop of incessant backlash and negative feedback from users, Apple was forced to make the controversial Safari redesign optional in iPadOS 15 beta 4. The tech giant introduced a new Safari tab layout design with a dedicated tab bar replacing the previous layout. Many appreciated the move stating that the company has listened to the feedback and implemented the needed changes. Read this post for the best Safari tips and tricks on iOS 15

Hours after several reports claimed that the Pegasus hack resulted in the data leak of thousands of journalists and human rights activists. The devices were allegedly infected through the zero-click exploit in iOS 14.6’s iMessage app. Apple came out swinging with a detailed statement, saying that the exploit is “not a threat to most.”

By the end of July, Apple announced financial results for the fiscal 2021 third quarter ended June 26, 2021. It posted a record quarterly revenue of $81.4 billion, up 36 percent year on year. 

August 2021: Child Safety Features Drew Intense Criticism, App Store Small Business Program Launched

In what could have a significant impact on the way Apple handles the App Store, South Korea became the first country in the world to pass a bill to force Apple to allow for an alternate App Store payment system. The bill also asked Google to make way for third-party payment systems. It’s worth noting that Apple and Google take a 15 to 30 percent commission for every in-app purchase by forcing app developers to exclusively use their payment systems. 

Under fire from all quarters for the anti-competitive App Store rules, Apple made several changes to the App Store after settling a lawsuit filed against it by US App Store developers. As part of the settlement, the company paid $100 million and agreed to run the App Store Small Business program with the existing set of rules and regulations. 

Despite having a noble intention about protecting children from sexually explicit photos, Apple’s new child-safety feature came under the scanner due to enormous privacy concerns. What invoked concerns was the surreptitious iCloud Photo Library scanning as part of the enhanced detection of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). 

Just when the widespread concerns seemed to completely derail the child-safety feature even before it could see the light of the day, Apple came forth with a detailed explanation asserting that the feature uses on-device machine learning to analyze image attachments and then decides if the photos are sexually explicit or not. The tech giant reiterated that the iMessage is end-to-end encrypted and it doesn’t gain access to any message or photo.

Following complaints from a handful of iPhone 12 users about the no sound issue, Apple launched a “No Sound” service program for the iPhone 12. The company determined a small percentage of iPhone 12 and 12 Pro units could experience sound issues due to a component that might fail on the receiver module. 

Wait for a moment before you think that Apple’s tryst with the woeful August is over!

What seemed to dampen the excitement around the upcoming Apple Watch Series 7 was a report claiming that its production had been delayed due to a complicated design. The report stated that employees “encountered critical challenges in reaching satisfactory production performance” which temporarily halted the production of the Apple Watch 7.

child-safety feature for iOS

September 2021: Apple Unveils iPhone 13 Series, Apple Watch Series 7, iPad 9, and iPad mini 6

At the “California Streaming” event on September 14, Apple unpacked iPhone 13 Series with improved cameras and A15 Bionic chip. Besides, the company also revealed the modern-looking Apple Watch Series 7iPad mini 6, and the iPad 9.

As expected, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8 were released on September 20. If iOS 15 opened a can of bugs, the fate of iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 was not too different either.

The ongoing Apple vs. Epic Games trial got yet another fascinating twist when Apple refused to reinstate Fortnite back on the App Store until final court order. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found Epic Games guilty of breaching the contract and left it up to Apple whether it wanted to reinstate Epic’s App Store account or not. 


iPhone 13 Series

October 2021: Apple Showcases Game-Changing MacBook Pro with M1 Pro and M1 Max and AirPods 3

At the virtual “Unleashed” event held on October 18, Apple announced the redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the next-generation M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. Besides, the company took wrap off AirPods 3 that has a striking similarity with AirPods Pro.

Sporting a notch, squared-off design, and equipped with a wider selection of ports along with the standard Thunderbolt ones, the all-new MacBook Pros are pretty much in line with what pros have long been asking for. As for M1 Pro and M1 Max, they are absolute beasts in terms of power and efficiency. On the flip side, Apple’s latest silicon chips are like a final nail in the coffin of Intel Macs.

Following months of developer and public beta testing, macOS Monterey eventually launches on October 25. ‌Though macOS Monterey‌ maintains the same design as macOS Big Sur, it features several noteworthy enhancements.

Despite being unveiled alongside iPhone 13 Series that launched in September, Apple Watch 7 saw a delayed release. Besides, the smartwatch was initially available in limited quantities. 

MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and M1 Max

November 2021: Apple Became the Largest Smartphone Brand in China in October Again After Six Years

After six years of the dismal show, Apple returned to the top spot in China as the number one smartphone OEM in the country, thereby beating all the major indigenous brands including Xiaomi, Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus, and more. According to market research firm Counterpoint, the Cupertino giant was able to reclaim the number one position thanks to a robust showing from the iPhone 13 Series that helped drive sales up 46 percent month-on-month in October. 

In the wake of the sensational revelation that Pegasus spyware compromised the privacy of many iPhone and Mac users, Apple filed a lawsuit against the Israeli firm NSO Group and its parent group for targeting and surveillance of iDevice users. The company sought a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any of its products and services.

Following the iPhone 13’s launch, it was revealed that Apple was deliberately blocking third-party screen repair by disabling Face ID on such units. The company would smartly make Face ID ineffective by pairing the display to a microfiber on the specific iPhone 13 unit. After receiving a lot of hammering for the dubious act, Apple had to not only admit the ill-fated intention but also roll out a software update to ensure Face ID continues to work on iPhone 13 units which display is repaired from a third-party independent store. 

In a bid to accelerate iPhone 13 shipments, Apple decides to cut back iPad production. Considering the strong demand for the latest iteration of the iPhone, it was apt to clear the deck for arguably the most sought-after smartphone. 

Putting an end to the long-standing speculation that Apple may invest in cryptocurrency, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that the company doesn’t plan to accept cryptocurrency as payment for products or through Apple Pay in the “immediate future.” Though Cook said that he has invested in cryptocurrency personally. 

Without undermining the seamless integration between hardware and software that iDevices boast, Apple is one of those tech companies that have throttled Right to Repair – slowly but steadily. Ask anyone who accidentally damaged their iPhone, Apple Watch, or other iDevice and you would know the excruciating pain that has gotten severe with every passing year.

So, when Apple announced Self Service Repair to let users complete their own repairs with genuine parts and tools, it came as a surprise for most. Even though the repair program is currently limited to iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, the company has confirmed that it will support more devices.

Apple Files Lawsuit Against ‘Pegasus’ Spyware Creator NSO Group for Targeting iPhone Users

December 2021: Apple Granted Stay to Link to Third-Party IAPs; Sues Ericsson for ‘Strong-Arm Tactics’

In a bid to mitigate fears from experts worried that AirTags can be used to secretly track the location of individuals, Apple released a new app called “Tracker Detect” on the Google Play Store. The app is designed to enable Android users to locate AirTags that might be nearby. 

Apple and Ericsson have been at loggerheads over the pricing for patent licensing related to mobile telecommunications for several years. The iPhone maker reportedly filed a lawsuit against Ericsson accusing that it employed “strong-arm tactics” in the negotiations pertaining to telecommunication patent licensing. The lawsuit further alleges that Ericsson is unreasonable demands and “violating its obligations to license patents essential to industry standards on fair rates.” 

Another twist in the tale of the Apple vs Epic trial that managed to get a fair amount of attention came when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted Apple a stay on the implementation to allow developers to link to the third-party payment system for in-app purchases (IAPs) by December 9. The iPhone maker had sought for a stay on the injunction stating that it would require “substantial engineering” to implement the necessary changes. 

French news channel TF1 got exclusive access to Apple Park, the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. After interviewing top Apple executives such as senior VP of worldwide marketing Greg Joswiak, the channel called Apple Park “one of the most secret places on the planet.” Those wondering how Apple is able to keep big fishes under wraps so efficiently would now have a fair idea about where the much-awaited innovations are concealed. 

As is usually the case at the end of every year, App Store awards the best apps and games of 2021. While Toca Life World grabbed the best iPhone App of the Year award, LumaFusion (a multitrack video editor) won the title of the best iPad App of the Year. In the game category, League of Legends: Wild Rift has been crowned the best iPhone Game of the Year, whereas Marvel Future Revolution has been adjudged the best iPad Game of the Year.

With a view to wrapping up the year on a good note, Apple has offered customers a second chance at AppleCare+ for iPhone or Mac after expensive repair. As per the report, if a customer gets an iPhone or Mac repaired at an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service provider, they will continue to be eligible to buy AppleCare+ for the repaired iDevice.


What a year it has been for Apple! Huge setbacks in the legal battlegrounds aside, the iPhone maker would more or less happily sail into 2022 on the back of the strong showing on other fronts. Whether it’s the scintillating return to the top in China, posting record iPhone sales, or the amazing response to the newly-launched MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and M1 Max, the company has plenty of positive takeaways to say goodbye to 2021 with broad smiles and welcome the new year with a better frame of mind.