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Apple busts out new products in 2015, but iPhone still dominates

The tech titan entered new realms this year, with a smartwatch and a subscription music service. Consumer reaction to the new products is still up in the air.

People gravitated toward the iPhone 6S, but Apple released several other new products and services this year too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple has long been known for simplicity. Then came this year.

The tech titan's 2015 was punctuated by high-risk, big-ticket launches that have taken it into entirely new areas. It's no longer just that iPhone company, even if its revenue suggests otherwise. Apple this year introduced a smartwatch, a subscription music service, an updated streaming-TV box and a larger tablet aimed at the workplace.

For consumers, and particularly for Apple fans, all the activity may have been dizzying. The array of new products and services came on top of the annual upgrade to the iPhone franchise, which still accounts for roughly two-thirds of total sales for the Cupertino, California-based company.

The September release of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus helped push Apple to its "most successful year yet," CEO Tim Cook said on a call with analysts in October.

It could also be called Apple's most complicated year yet, with a growing sprawl of product lines and variations.

The biggest question at the start of 2015 focused on the Apple Watch. The wearable, initially teased in the latter half of 2014, marked the first new device category to emerge under Cook. It arrived after other tech companies had tried, and failed, to make wearables the next hot thing.

The Apple Watch hit the market in April with no shortage of hype, complete with celebrity endorsements and in-store appointments for fittings. Despite a dominant market share and reassuring comments from executives, the gadget has yet to prove itself essential to consumers.

Apple fans, meanwhile, had been patiently waiting for the company to show off something thrilling in the home entertainment department ever since Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs teased back in 2011 that Apple's co-founder had "cracked TV."

Though it didn't produce a full television, the world's most valuable company finally unveiled in September an updated Apple TV streaming box, its first revamp of the product in three years. The company sees iPhone-like promise in the new Apple TV, fueled by its push to get developers to build apps for the device.

Then there was Beats, which Apple acquired last year for $3 billion. Apple morphed the music service into a $9.99-a-month subscription offering called Apple Music that includes a fresh angle, with former BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe heading up the dedicated Beats Radio channel. After the initial three-month free trial, Cook said, 6.5 million customers opted to become paying subscribers. It isn't exclusive to iOS users either. Apple launched an Android version of the service last month.

Apple wants to get you excited about tablets again with the iPad Pro.

Apple also got into the jumbo-tablet business with its 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the option of an attachable keyboard and a stylus that Apple dubs the Pencil. The iPad Pro is Apple's take on an area already carved out by Microsoft's Surface Pro, which itself got an update this year. The jury is still out on whether the new entry will reinvigorate interest in tablets, which has waned over the past several years.

Perhaps Apple's biggest achievement in 2015 wasn't what it did, but the eco-minded way it went about its business. Environmental nonprofit Greenpeace independently praised the company for its green credentials, putting Apple at the top of the list of tech industry giants doing their bit for the planet. Among the actions that earned Apple the accolade were its use of renewable energy and sustainable power and its decision to buy up forests to protect them.

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Of course, there were the customary updates to its core smartphone, tablet and computer lineups. Apple's iPhone 6S offered more internal upgrades and a new marquee feature called 3D Touch, a pressure-sensitive display that performs different tasks depending on how hard you press on the screen. The new 12-inch MacBook, meanwhile, was all minimalism and nifty engineering but suffered from underwhelming battery life and performance.

And so a year of experimentation has come and gone. Apple's next challenge: showing us why we need all these new products and services.

Apple declined to comment.