- After reporting strong earnings this week, Apple is on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar company.
- Much of its success is due to its string of successful product launches this year.
- Thanks to those new and updated products, Apple's lineup has never looked stronger.
The year isn't over yet, but it's already clear Apple has had an incredible 2017.
After a standout earnings report, the company's market capitalization this week topped $900 billion for the first time ever. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't think Apple will soon become the world's first trillion-dollar company.
There's a reason why the company is doing so well financially and its stock is booming - its product lineup is the strongest it's had in years, with a breakthrough new iPhone, a refreshed Mac computer line, and a soon-to-launch smart speaker.
Here's a look at some of the reasons why Apple's 2017 has been so great:
Apple CEO Tim Cook can't stop talking about augmented reality (AR) and its future potential. AR is the technology that layers digital images on top of views of the real world.
Apple took a big step toward promoting and popularizing AR with the latest version of its iOS mobile operating system, which for the first time includes software tools that help developers build augmented-reality apps. The move made Apple's iPads and iPhones collectively the world's largest AR platform. It also set Apple up for the future.
It's still early days for the technology, but many tech experts believe AR-powered smart glasses or other eyewear will eventually replace smartphones. Apple itself has some AR smart glasses in the works and recently ramped up their development, Bloomberg reported this week.
By building AR technology into the software underlying the iPhone and iPad, Apple is getting its developers working on AR apps long before those smart glasses debut - and putting itself in a great position to be a leader in the AR market when they do.
Helping the pros
But Apple went a long way toward reassuring such customers, long the core of its business and fan base, in June when it announced that it had two new pro-quality computers for them in the works. The first of those, the $5,000 iMac Pro, is set to debut next month.
The new machines are Apple's way of signaling that it isn't going to concede the creative professional computing market, even amid falling overall computer sales and growing competition from the likes of Microsoft.
Artificial intelligence and voice control
When Apple debuted Siri on the iPhone 4S, it famously took an early lead in bringing artificial intelligence technology to the masses. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to pay a lot of attention to Siri after that. And Apple arguably lost its lead when Amazon launched its Echo smart speaker, which has Siri rival Alexa at its core.
As Amazon has broadened its Echo line and licensed Alexa out to other companies, and as Google jumped into the market with its own intelligent assistant-powered smart speakers, Apple has risked falling far behind.
But the company showed this year that it's going to fight for this market too. It's been steadily improving Siri, and next month it will launch the HomePod, its own version of a smart speaker, which will be built around its intelligent assistant.
HomePod looks like it will be a credible contender. It will do much of what Echo and Google Assistant do - give you news and weather updates, sports scores, and, of course play music, all in response to voice commands. But Apple's is promising HomePod will sound better than its rivals and do a better job of protecting users' privacy.
Regardless, Apple's entry into the market is a sign that the company is finally taking the intelligent assistant and fast-growing smart speaker markets seriously.
A new life for the iPad
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
When it comes to figuring out where to go with the iPad, Apple has seemed lost in recent years. While the company introduced some new, more power models of its tablet computers, it had left the software on them languishing.
Until recently, using an iPad felt much the same as it had back in 2010, when Apple launched its tablet line. Despite the company's vision that the iPad represented the future of computing, the product wasn't living up to that promise.
But the company seems to have turned things around with its tablet line. The latest version of iOS gave the iPad lots of new capabilities, including a new file browser and an improved multitasking interface, and turned it into a more credible replacement for a traditional laptop computer. Additionally, Apple released the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which is the best iPad the company has ever made.
The moves appear to be paying off. The company's iPad sales were up the last two quarters compared to the same period a year ago, marking the first time Apple's tablet line has posted consecutive sales gains since 2013.
The future of the iPhone
Before the iPhone X hit store shelves earlier this month, there were lots of concerns about how well the device would work, how many Apple would be able to make in time for its release, and whether consumers would pay its $1,000 price.
Despite those concerns, Apple's new flagship phone has turned out to be a resounding success. The reviews were stellar. On launch day, the lines of people waiting to buy the new phone were out of control. And it turns out that the price wasn't too high to turn people away.
Even more importantly, the new device has laid the groundwork for Apple's future iPhones. Like the iPhone X, those gadgets will likely have facial recognition systems, processors that approach the power of laptop computers, wireless charging capabilities, and gorgeous screens that almost completely cover their fronts.
The future of Apple's most important product line looks pretty bright.
But there were some misses
For all its triumphs, Apple didn't have an unblemished 2017. Instead, the company made a few notable stumbles.
Its effort to break into the streaming video market got off to a bad start. The company launched this year its first original TV shows. Those shows, including "Planet of the Apps," debuted to disappointing reviews and seeming disinterest from consumers.
The company also fumbled the launch of the latest Apple Watch. The Series 3 Apple Watch is the first designed to be able to access the internet over cellular networks. But some early reviewers discovered that key feature didn't work, forcing Apple to rush out a software update.
But that wasn't the only embarrassing bug Apple battled this year. The company's iOS 11 software, which Apple initially released in September, has been riddled with glitches affecting the phone's battery life and other things.
A later update to the software caused the keyboard on certain iPhones to replace the letter "I" with a couple of jumbled characters. Meanwhile, some owners of the new iPhone X have reported their devices stop working in cold weather.
Apple has corrected or promised to fix many of these software problems. But overall its stumbles this year were often obvious and preventable.
Still, even those setbacks did little to mar Apple's really strong year.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.