Six years ago, I mourned for the demise of the last good toaster. I could find lots of cheap toasters, but they didn't last long.
It wasn't just toasters. Between about 1999 and 2009 the quality of a lot of goods seemed to collapse -- even as consumer prices fell. I wrote cranky posts about the "occult inflation of shrinking quality", but I seemed to be a chorus of one. It wasn't just toasters that disappointed, we couldn't buy a decent DVD/VCR or pencil sharpener or window unit air conditioner. Similar quality problems emerged with drywall and heparin  and, notoriously, just about every computer manufacturer on earth save one.
For us it felt like a market failure. We were willing to pay more money for higher quality, but there didn't seem to be a relationship between price and quality. Brands like SONY and Panasonic didn't mean much any more.
I wonder if it was Apple's example that changed the picture. Because reading John Roberts , it seems we fell into Akerlof's quality trap (emphases mine) ...
... Trade may break down almost completely (Akerlof, 1970). If eliminating the asymmetry of information is not possible, then buyers will refuse to pay more than the expected value of goods, averaged across the different quality levels they expect to be offered. Then the best quality goods may not be offered at all, because they command only a middling price that does not reflect their true value. Consequently the distribution of qualities that are actually offered is worse than what is potentially available. Since the selection of products on offer is not representative of the underlying distribution of quality, but is instead an adverse selection, buyers will rationally lower their willingness to pay even further. Then, even more potential sellers of relatively high-quality items may no longer be willing to sell at the lower price. The overall result may be that nothing but very low quality items are available -- only lemons are on offer -- and markets fail to exist for high-quality products, although buyers are anxious to have such goods and would willingly pay enough for them to compensate the sellers if they were sure to get what they paid for. 
In a world where quality seemed to be unobtainable at any price, Apple offered relatively higher quality  products at a relatively higher price. I think they broke the cycle . It probably helped that after the debt/real estate bubble burst consumers paid more attention to the costs of unreliable goods.
It's quite a story - a textbook illustration of research that earned Askerlof a share of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics. So why haven't we read about this from anyone but a crankish blogger? Where are the economists?
 The investigation continues incidentally - More Suppliers Linked to Heparin Contamination - WSJ.com.
 I've been told that it's now very hard to buy a reliable dish washer
 Roberts, J. The Modern Firm. Oxford University Press 2004. p 82-83
 Apple, with a few exceptions, doesn't make very high quality products. Their software is notoriously buggy, and they made generations of laptops with flaky hinges. Compared to the competition though, they were sterling.
 The cycle-breaking alone brought them success, but the mind-blowing innovation of the iPhone and iPad took them to the top.
Update: Shortly after posting this, I discovered that in 2007 I made the same connection to asymmetric information theory that Roberts detailed in his text. Maybe I should have been an economist.