The 2019 Apple Report Card

Last January, I sort of weaselled myself onto the list of people Jason Snell asked to grade Apple’s 2019. I’m glad he did end up including me in that list because it was a hell of a year for the company. A few notable excerpts; first, on the Mac in hardware terms:

The Mac’s score rose over last year, and you’d think that our panel would have given Apple credit for introducing the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a scissor-switch keyboard. But its praise for that move was coupled with a whole lot of reservation and a sense that the job’s far from done.

I thought this change was a mixed bag in my submitted remarks:

However, the butterfly keyboard, the most glaring Mac hardware problem in modern Apple’s history, is still built into what are likely the company’s two most popular Macs: the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. And they are still sold, new, with all the confidence communicated by an extended and unprecedented — for Apple — service program.

On the iPad:

In 2019 Apple decided to call the variant of iOS running on the iPad “iPadOS,” which received praise from some panelists.

Casey Liss said, “iPadOS is definitely a step in the right direction.” David Sparks said, “We just need Apple to keep the gas down on iPadOS improvements.” Federico Viticci said, “Time will tell whether having a separate iPadOS will pay off for iPad aficionados craving annual updates to the tablet’s OS.” Lory Gil said, “iPadOS made 2019 the year of the iPad.”

Viticci’s thoughts are similar to my own: iPadOS is its own operating system mostly in name only. Let’s see what that means for the future.

On software quality, a category that had the biggest year-over-year shift in its average score:

This category took an ugly swing — just as it did between 2016 and 2017. Is this what is meant by a tick-tock development cycle? One year you anger anyone, the next year you make amends. In any event, the iOS 13 and macOS Catalina release cycles… were not appreciated by the panel. If this survey measures general sentiment, the general sentiment is that Apple needs to turn around its flailing software process in 2020.

I gave Apple a two out of five for software quality; here’s what I wrote:

Apple kicked off this year with a FaceTime bug, and that kind of set a tone for the rest of 2019. We can speculate all we want about the causes of bugs — is it the annual schedule of major version updates? Is the company trying to do too much? Is there a secret project that the best software engineers are working on? — but we have evidence of the results. That’s not to say that there were no improvements. But for every step forward, there were serious software bugs, regressions, and unreliability across all of Apple’s platforms in a way that previous years haven’t seen. And Catalyst still bites.

I can only hope that 2020 is a better year. The alternative is that it is just as bad as 2019 was, and that — combined with questionable hardware decisions in years past from which the company is still recovering — will certainly compromise trust in Apple’s lineup to a long-term detriment for the company and its customers.

The Six Colors report card is one of my favourite annual traditions and I’m thankful that I was asked to participate. I look forward to reading it every year.