For a company slagged for not having had a hit since the iPad in 2010, Apple had a notable 2017: Its wireless AirPods became ubiquitous around the country; the Apple Watch Series 3 is a bestseller; developers embraced ARKit, its AR framework; and even skeptics were blown away by the iPhone X. Apple became the world’s most valuable company by being its preeminent maker of computing devices, from those you stick on a desk (Macs) to ones you strap to your wrist (the Apple Watch). So when people talk about the company as a creative force, they tend to assess its newest devices and judge how strikingly they improve on their predecessors.
But creativity is more than skin deep—and Apple’s approach to the hardware and software engineering that creates its experiences has never been more ambitious. Other makers of phones and tablets buy the same off-the-shelf chips as their competitors. Apple, by contrast, designs its own chips—so an iPhone packs a processor designed specifically optimized for Apple’s operating system, apps, display, camera, and touch sensor. The company has gotten so good at chip design that the A10 Fusion inside the iPhone 7 trounces rival processors in independent speed benchmarks.
Apple has also made major inroads in artificial intelligence, an area where the competition from companies such as Google couldn’t be any more daunting. For instance, it uses AI techniques to wring as much life as possible out of the iPhone’s battery. Because of Apple’s privacy-driven decision to limit the amount of information it aggregates and analyzes in the cloud, it also does much of its AI right on the devices rather than using massive server farms. When it calls machines such as the iPad Pro “supercomputers,” it isn’t exaggerating.
The company has been expanding beyond its traditional consumer electronics roots and is growing an entertainment business with Apple Music and Apple TV. In March 2016, Apple announced CareKit, an open-source platform that makes it easier for developers to aggregate and share patients' medical information with their caregivers—all with consent. Since its launch, CareKit has already been used to make apps to help patients manage diabetes (One Drop), monitor depression (Iodine), track reproductive health (Glow), and record asthma symptoms (Cleveland Clinic). Apple's approach to health is to operate behind the scenes by helping researchers, patients, and developers to make use of the health data they're collecting via a smartphone.
Cofounded in 1976 by the revered tech entrepreneur and inventor Steve Jobs and engineer Steve Wozniak in Cupertino, California, Apple has continually revolutionized the consumer electronics industry. The company helped usher in the age of the personal computer in the 1980s with the sleek, affordable Macintosh; bolstered the age of digital-music listening with the iPod and iTunes in 2001; and laid the groundwork for the current smartphone landscape with 2007's iPhone and iOS operating system. Under Jobs's purview as Apple's CEO from 1997 until shortly before his death in 2011, the company became known for its intense focus on design. The British designer Jony Ive, who was hired in 1992 and later became Apple's chief design officer, is largely responsible for much of the company's iconic visual appeal: sleek (often white) minimalism and an emphasis on unparalleled user experience.