Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple’s 2016 Report Card

Thirty of Jason Snell’s closest friends graded Apple’s 2016, and it went about as well as you can expect:

Judging by my panel’s responses, Apple had a rough year — which I think most close observers of the company would probably agree with. While opinions on the Apple Watch, Apple’s cloud services, and developer relations were improved, there were strong negative trends for the Mac and Apple TV.

On the Mac:

“The Mac was almost entirely neglected this year,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast’s John Siracusa, who called the never-updated Mac Pro “an embarrassment.” Many Tricks co-founder Rob Griffiths called it “a horrid year,” and most of our panelists had similar bad things to say.

The iPad was seen as generally positive in 2016, which surprised me. I tend to align more with Engst and Ritchie’s feelings here:

“It doesn’t feel as though Apple has followed through on the iPad’s promise by driving its evolution more quickly,” said Adam Engst.

“While Apple is finding its groove with technology like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Case, they’re still not telling a compelling story,” said Rene Ritchie.

The Apple TV didn’t have a terrific year either:

“Apple just can’t seem to bring the content deals together to make the Apple TV my primary box,” said Mac Power Users podcaster Katie Floyd. “Unfortunately, if you’re a cord cutter (like I am) there’s still not a whole lot of traditional network content accessible on the Apple TV unless you buy it show-by-show through iTunes.”

And the remote still sucks.

Cloud services, software quality, and HomeKit were also on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments, though not consistently. However, highlights in Apple’s year included the Apple Watch, iPhone, and social issues — Tim Cook’s handling of the FBI incident was a standout moment for this panel.

From my perspective, Apple’s 2016 was uneven, at best. Unlike the panel, I thought the iPad had a pretty poor 2016: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was introduced in the spring, and then it seemed like they forgot all about the iPad’s hardware and software for the rest of the year. My Apple TV gets lots of use, but mostly as a Netflix and YouTube box; very few streaming services are available in Canada. The Mac story is frustrating, and software quality is still rough. Over the course of many of the products and updates introduced this year, I’ve also felt that Apple has struggled to establish clear narratives and compelling rationales.

On a positive note, the reliability of Apple’s cloud services have noticeably improved, iOS 10 fixes many of my biggest complaints — while introducing some new ones — developer relations seem improved, and the company’s commitment to privacy is a particular highlight.

I don’t think that 2016 is the new normal, and I’m sure the internal dialogue in Apple’s executive offices would echo many of the panel’s observations. It seems like a year in flux, and I think the fruits of it may start to be seen as soon as March. I’m not expecting a lot this year, but new Macs and a stronger commitment to the iPad as the future of computing ought to be high priorities.

For me, the critical question is how different is Apple’s lineup at the end of 2016 compared to the end of 2015?, and the answer is “not much”.

Be sure to read the panelists’ unedited comments.