12 years of big-time Apple innovations

From the iMac to the anticipated Apple tablet, here are the biggest releases of the second Steve Jobs era

Ever since CEO Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1998, his company has developed several watershed products and innovations that have reshaped the consumer personal computing and gadget markets. Some innovations, such as the MacBook, have merely been improvements to existing Apple products. But others, such as the iPod and the iPhone, have been truly revolutionary in the way they've reshaped consumer expectations for portable music devices and cellular phones. In this slideshow we'll take you through the past 12 years of major Apple innovations, all in anticipation of the expected debut of Apple's new "tablet" computer on Jan. 27.

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iMac (1998):

iMac (1998): As the first big product in Apple's makeover, the iMac computer series was distinctive for its brightly colored, translucent monitors and keyboards. But while the iMac didn't succeed in killing off Windows-based PCs, it did induce several welcome changes to the computing industry, including the elimination of floppy disk drives and the introduction of USB ports to the mass market. More importantly, the iMac marked the turning point for a company that was about to refocus all of its creative energies on innovation.

iPod (2001):

iPod (2001): And this is where Apple cemented its status as this decade's comeback kid. Capitalizing on consumers' desire to have their MP3 files on portable device, Apple scored a smash hit when the iPod landed. The device's original version allowed users to have roughly 1,000 digital songs on their device that they could shuffle through at their pleasure. Of course, as the years progressed the iPod has only become more expansive as the latest version of the iPod Classic lets users store a whopping 40,000 songs on 160GB of storage.

Xserve (2002):

Xserve (2002): This was Apple's first major attempt at cracking the enterprise server market. When Steve Jobs debuted the Xserve eight years ago, it was generally seen as more for companies or institutions that had smaller needs than most large-scale enterprises. Even so, the Xserve served notice that Apple wasn't only a consumer computer and electronics company, but rather one that wanted to expand its brand aggressively across the IT market.

MacBook Pro, MacBook, MacPro (2006):

MacBook Pro, MacBook, MacPro (2006): The big draw here was that Apple was integrating Intel processors into its computers for the first time. The MacBook Pro was the first product released in Apple's Intel transition and was a 15-inch laptop that featured an Intel Core Duo processor and up to 1GB of memory. A couple of months later, Apple released the first MacBook, which had many of the same specs as the MacBook Pro but was slightly smaller at 13 inches. And finally, Apple completed its big trio of Intel products by releasing the MacPro, its first desktop computer featuring an Intel processor.

iPhone, iPod Touch (2007):

iPhone, iPod Touch (2007): 2007 will long be remembered as the year that Apple turned the wireless phone market permanently on its head with the release of the iPhone. Apple's hugely popular iPhone smartphone has become the prototype for all of today's feature-rich touchscreen smartphones and has consistently earned high marks from users for the simplicity of its operating system and its overall ease of use. The iPod Touch, which looks much like the iPhone but only provides Internet connection and not a dedicated cellular voice service, was also released in the same year.

MacBook Air (2008):

MacBook Air (2008): The MacBook Air wasn't a revolutionary innovation like the iPod or the iPhone, but it did serve as a nice new product for Apple to show off while it worked on its upcoming tablet. The Air's big appeal was that it was Apple's thinnest and lightest laptop to date, checking in at three-quarters of an inch thick and weighing in at 3 pounds.

The Tablet (2010):

The iPad (2010): This year's big item will undoubtedly be the iPad tablet computer, which is rumored to be a 10-inch touchscreen computer that will basically fall into a category between a laptop and a smartphone. Unlike the iPhone, however, the tablet is likely to be available on both Verizon and AT&T and will also support Wi-Fi connectivity for both carriers. The question is, will it change the tech industry in the same way that the iPhone did, or will it simply be another MacBook Air-style innovation that people appreciate but don't go crazy over? We'll certainly find out in the coming months.

What do you think has been Apple's crowning achievement? Which Apple innovation has permanently changed the tech world? Let us know in the comments!

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