My 2021 Report card for Apple

Taking inspiration from Matt over at Birchtree I’ve also been mulling over the report card from Jason Snell at Six Colors (@Jason I’m available if you want some different voices on your report card). I thought it would be fun to write down my own thoughts on how I would have voted if I had been invited.

Mac

Score: 4

If I look at where we are with mac hardware now and how much I love my M1 Air I have to give this a 4. I know not all of the Mac line has been updated yet but Apple have and are moving in a great direction. I have as much power as I need, battery for days and all in a cool and small package.

macOS was a little underwhelming for me this year and I still come across issues almost daily in their own apps like Reminders or Notes where the attention to detail isn’t up to their usual high standards. I’m starting to think maybe a macOS update every two years might be to the way to go moving forward.

iPhone

Score: 3

As you might know I’ve been using a few different iPhone models over the last couple of months (7, X, 11, 13 Mini and Pro). Using these older models I’m struck with how great they still hold up and there’s no real need to upgrade unless you’re an enthusiast with money to spare or break your current device in a way that makes it unrepairable.

On using the 13 Pro I didn’t feel like I was getting a massive jump from my 11. Yes the camera is a little better (Macro is a novelty and soon wears off in my experience) but nothing that really matters in day to day use. Performance is obviously better on these newer models but using an iPhone 7 recently and I’m reminded how good the Apple silicone is and how efficient iOS is with older hardware. I’m not a huge fan of the redesign. For me the rounded sides are just more comfortable. Yes, flat edges look amazing but I’ve especially found the heavier 13 Pro digs into my hand. 

The standout for me this year is the 13 Mini. I loved the size and battery but ultimately the screen size didn’t like my ageing eye sight. 

iPad

Score: 3

I love, love, love my iPad Mini. It’s my favourite iOS device for years and is being used daily. When I look at the rest of the iPad line up it’s great. The keyboard and pencil support is amazing too. There’s an iPad at all price points that stand out above the competition in terms of performance and value for your money. You really can’t go wrong with an iPad for most of your computing needs.

Where it’s let down is iPadOS. Putting the M series of processor in the Pro sent a signal that never paid off. 

Home Screen widgets are a mess, changing position when you go from landscape to portrait. There’s no innovation happening on iPadOS as far as I can make out. It works great but there isn’t anything exciting for me and it’s more of a tool now, gets the job done but there’s no joy (for me at least). I’ve reset my expectations on the iPad and use it for what the iPad is great at, an amazing little portable screen that does 80% of my computing needs. I don’t try to customise or use tools to workaround its shortcomings anymore – I have a MacBook Air for that.

Wearables

Score: 3

I love my AirPods Pro and use them almost continuously. The noise cancelling is also better than what I’ve seen from other manufacturers and I have no complaints. The standard AirPod range is also good and I see them everywhere these days.

Where the score takes a hit is on the lack of a meaningful Apple Watch update and a too expensive AirPods Max model. Comparing them to Bose or Sony I don’t feel it’s the sound quality pushing people to them but the ease of use. Pairing to an Apple device is so easy and for a lot of people worth the premium price over say Sony where you’re manually pairing each time. 

Apple Watch

Score: 2

I’ll preface this by letting you know that I don’t wear an Apple Watch daily, my G-Shock is what’s on me most of the time. I have recently owned a series 6 and 7 though and yes the slightly bigger screen is nice but this year felt like they pushed out an update because they had to. There’s no meaningful difference from a series 6 and you have all of the same sensors. 

Save money and if you’re into Apple Watch stick with your existing model. 

Apple TV

Score: 4

You might be surprised I’m giving it a 4 but I use my Apple TV all day and love it. The main reason is connectivity to my two HomePods and its ARC connector meaning now all of my game consoles also get routed through it. 

The new remote is really nice, although I don’t like the Siri button on the side and seem to hit it accidentally multiple times a day. 

The interface is a breeze to use and it’s fast. 

It is expensive compared to competition though. 

Services

Score: 3

This is a mixed bag for me. I love Apple Music and pay for iCloud storage but cancelled by Apple One plan. Adding private relay has also been good and I’ve been using it since came out. 

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good some of the shows on Apple TV+ have been (For all mankind, tiny world and Foundation in particular). Nothing else kept me paying for the service. 

Apple News is pretty poor in my opinion. I did try to read magazines again but I either get overwhelmed with in magazine ads or the formatting makes it difficult to read. The selection also hasn’t changed for months and I find that I run out of subjects that interest me. 

Apple Arcade showed promise but has fallen off. We’ve played a lot of the games in our household but aside from Lego Star Wars there’s nothing that gets me coming back. At £4.99 a month I think it needs to do more, especially when you see what Microsoft are doing with game pass at £10 and you get a boat load of games and cloud gaming. 

Fitness+ is great for the right person, I’ve tried and tried but can’t get into it. The presentation is amazing and the integration with Apple Watch superb but I feel if they unhooked this dependency they’d sell more subscriptions. I’d dip in and out if I didn’t need an Apple Watch to use it. 

HomeKit/Home Automation

Score: 1

I’ve tried and been unimpressed with a lot of what Apple does on this front. We use and love our now discontinued HomePods and I wonder what I’ll do should they break. I want a new larger version of the HomePod Mini or a sound bar. Quite often we’ll try to setup some automation but when Siri can’t even get songs we ask for correctly it leaves me with little confidence. 

Software Quality

Score: 4

My only real complaints here are the lack of testing their devices in accessibility modes and no real effort on their own apps. 

If you use an iPhone in zoom mode like I do with a larger font you’ll see how quickly the experience falls down. It’s like no one inside Apple actually tests this. 

I also wish Apple would put some more concentrated effort into apps like Reminders and Mail. I’m still getting bugs that I reported two WWDC’s ago in Reminders and Mail needs some modernising. I wish I had confidence that Apple had teams dedicated to these apps but I suspect not. 

Developer relations

Score: 2

Whilst I don’t develop apps I do follow a lot of developers. I feel that Apple seems to push an image out that developers should be grateful that they allow to develop for their platform. I see a lot of hubris from Apple, but it’s not like you’ll see Apple focussed developers switching to Android so they are taken for granted no matter how disrespectful Apple are towards them. 

Social and societal impact

Score: 3

This covers many things for me. First up, do I think they are being a good citizen to the environment? Yes and no. By offering the upgrade program they are encouraging people to change phones every year (not sustainable) but their phones last for years (is sustainable). They also put recycled material into their new devices, which is good to see. I’m skeptical about them offering parts and manuals to repair your own devices but I hope to be proven wrong. 

On the employee front they seem to living in another world expecting staff to be in 5 days a week. They risk losing talent and may struggle to recruit in future. 

Overall

Score: 3.2

An ok score for Apple but I’d like to see

  • Improved developer relations
  • A more flexible hybrid work approach for it’s staff
  • A return to a more rounded and smaller (think iPhone X sized) iPhone Pro model in some cool colours (please give us orange)
  • A focus on iPadOS at this years WWDC
  • Generally cool colours across all of it’s line up
  • A new larger HomePod either as dedicated speakers or a sound-bar for the TV
  • More emphasis on it’s own apps

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