Ap­ple’s big­gest hits and misses of 2016

Caitlin McGarry looks back at the firm’s suc­cesses and fail­ures

Macworld - - Contents -

Ap­ple has been doomed for decades, if the steady stream of head­lines about the com­pany, its stock price, and its prod­uct lineup are to be be­lieved. If The Maca­lope has taught us any­thing, it’s that the Ap­ple death­watch busi­ness is a brisk (and bizarre) one. The truth is much more com­plex. But by any mea­sure, 2016 was a par­tic­u­larly tough year for Ap­ple.

The com­pany en­dured a bit­ter le­gal fight with the FBI, saw its first rev­enue de­cline in more than a decade, and faced back­lash over hard­ware tweaks in its up­graded flag­ship prod­ucts: the iPhone 7’s lack of a 3.5mm au­dio jack and the over­hauled MacBook Pro’s less-than-pro spec­i­fi­ca­tions for a de­cid­edly pro price.

But there were also some bright spots: the suc­cess of the 4in iPhone SE, the up­graded Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 2, and the re­lease of iOS 10, which turned Siri into a plat­form. Let’s look back at 2016, the year the head­phone jack died.

RIP, head­phone jack

When ru­mours that Ap­ple was plan­ning to re­move the head­phone jack from the iPhone first started swirling, the in­ter­net col­lec­tively freaked out. Some called it an out­right user-hos­tile de­ci­sion. Was ev­ery­one sup­posed to sac­ri­fice their wired

head­phones and other pe­riph­er­als for Blue­tooth ones? When Ap­ple se­nior VP Phil Schiller for­mally an­nounced the change and called the de­ci­sion “coura­geous,” Ap­ple crit­ics scoffed.

But then the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus de­buted, and it turned out that a lot of peo­ple were okay with Ap­ple’s de­ci­sion, es­pe­cially be­cause a pair of Light­ning ear­phones and an au­dio jack don­gle were in­cluded in the box. The com­pany hasn’t yet re­ported its hol­i­day quar­ter earn­ings, which would re­flect just how many iPhones it sold, but the iPhone 7 Plus and jet black iPhone 7 were com­pletely sold out on launch day. A case of lim­ited sup­ply or over-the-top de­mand? It seems like the lat­ter. While Google cel­e­brated its in­clu­sion of the head­phone jack in its flag­ship Pixel phone, Sam­sung is re­port­edly hitch­ing its wagon to Ap­ple’s de­ci­sion (of course) by ditch­ing the head­phone jack in its next de­vice.

De­layed AirPods

Ap­ple didn’t just re­lease a head­phone jack-less iPhone. It had a com­pan­ion ac­ces­sory lined up, its own cord­less Blue­tooth ear­phones called AirPods. The £159 ac­ces­sory was slated to ship in Oc­to­ber, Ap­ple said at its Septem­ber iPhone launch

event, but the ear­phones were de­layed for months, re­port­edly due to con­nec­tiv­ity is­sues.

Ap­ple started tak­ing pre­orders on 13 De­cem­ber and ship­ments be­gan ar­riv­ing on 19 De­cem­ber, but avail­abil­ity both on­line and in-store was lim­ited, and ship­ping es­ti­mates quickly slipped to Fe­bru­ary. But at least Ap­ple made it in time for the hol­i­days, even just barely.

The good news: They’re pretty awe­some.

Se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Ap­ple Watch

The AirPods may have shipped months af­ter they were sched­uled to, but the over­hauled Ap­ple Watch ap­peared right on time. Ap­ple re­leased two ver­sions at dif­fer­ent price points, both with up­graded pro­ces­sors that made na­tive apps run much faster (a big stick­ing point with the first­gen­er­a­tion watch).

The Se­ries 2 im­pressed us with GPS, a brighter dis­play, and its new wa­ter-re­sis­tance, per­fect for swim-track­ing. If you don’t need all of those fea­tures, the Se­ries 1 is just as pow­er­ful, but cheaper. Some say the Se­ries 2 is what the first-gen watch should’ve been, but Ap­ple’s in­ten­si­fied fo­cus on health and fit­ness is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

Ap­ple ver­sus FBI

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Ap­ple faced one of its great­est chal­lenges ever: pres­sure from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to un­lock a ter­ror sus­pect’s iPhone. The iPhone at the cen­ter of the le­gal firestorm was a 5c model locked with a pass­code and set to de­stroy all of its data af­ter 10 wrong pass­code un­lock at­tempts. So the FBI asked Ap­ple – then

tried to legally com­pel Ap­ple – to write soft­ware that would al­low the gov­ern­ment to by­pass the iPhone’s se­cu­rity mech­a­nisms. Ap­ple re­fused.

The en­su­ing weeks-long le­gal bat­tle put Ap­ple at the cen­ter of a de­bate about en­cryp­tion, pri­vacy, and what tech com­pa­nies are ob­li­gated to do for their users and for the au­thor­i­ties. Ap­ple ar­gued that any soft­ware it cre­ated for the so-called “good guys” would even­tu­ally end up in the wrong hands.

The FBI ended up find­ing another way into the iPhone and dropped their case against Ap­ple.

iPhone sales start slip­ping

Ap­ple re­ported its first quar­terly rev­enue de­cline in 13 years in the se­cond quar­ter of 2016 be­cause of slid­ing iPhone sales, a trend that con­tin­ued as the year pro­gressed. This year, the com­pany re­ported its first yearover-year rev­enue de­cline since 2001, down from $233.7 bil­lion in 2015 to $215.6 bil­lion. For com­par­i­son, Mi­crosoft’s rev­enue in the 2016 fis­cal year slipped from $93.6 bil­lion to $85.3 bil­lion year-over-year. Can the iPhone 7 Plus’s in­sanely great cam­era, the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, or Ap­ple’s laser fo­cus on ser­vices re­verse the down­ward rev­enue trend in 2017? Ap­ple cer­tainly hopes so.

MacBook Pro fi­nally gets a re­fresh

Ap­ple fi­nally gave its pro­fes­sional-grade MacBooks a re­fresh af­ter four years of mi­nor tweaks, and it sure was a big change. The com­pany re­placed the key­board’s func­tion keys with a con­tex­tu­ally aware OLED touch­screen strip that changes ac­cord­ing to the app you’re us­ing. Ap­ple also went all-in with USB-C ports.

The Touch Bar has been a big hit with re­view­ers – we loved it, too – but the re­freshed 13- and 15in lap­tops have been roundly crit­i­cized for their pric­ing (£1,449 for the smaller base model), 16GB max RAM, and is­sues with graph­ics glitches. There were also re­ports about bat­tery life, but Ap­ple re­solved those with a ma­cOS Sierra up­date ad­dress­ing the bat­tery time es­ti­ma­tor.

The Ap­ple Car that will never be

Or will it? Ru­mours that Ap­ple was work­ing on a self-driv­ing car started swirling in late 2015, but this year the ru­mour mill kicked into over­drive. There were re­ports of staff up­heavals and chang­ing

strate­gies, and in the fall it be­came clear that Ap­ple was switch­ing gears. The com­pany is no longer build­ing its own car from scratch – in­stead, it is look­ing to build an au­to­mo­tive sys­tem to power an au­ton­o­mous car de­vel­oped by a part­ner ex­pe­ri­enced in ar­eas where Ap­ple is not. As it turns out, mass-pro­duc­ing ve­hi­cles and mass-pro­duc­ing iPhones are not the same. Bet­ter for Ap­ple to bow out be­fore launch­ing a prod­uct doomed from the start than to pro­ceed just to prove a point.

iPhone SE launch

One of Ap­ple’s un­der-the-radar suc­cesses in 2016 was the iPhone SE. Who knew there was such a huge mar­ket for a small phone? Ap­par­ently, Ap­ple knew, which is why the com­pany re­leased the 4in SE af­ter su­per­siz­ing its line-up with the 6 and 6 Plus in 2014.

The SE has the low­est start­ing price of any iPhone at £379, the stylish look of the iPhone 5 (a de­sign favorite), with the speed, power, and same great cam­era as the iPhone 6s. It also has a head­phone jack, if that’s your jam.

Re­leased in March, the SE re­port­edly pre­vented a po­ten­tially larger iPhone sales slip than Ap­ple ex­pe­ri­enced this year. Turns out that if you give the peo­ple what they want, they will buy it.

iOS 10 opens up Siri

Ap­ple’s voice as­sis­tant Siri has lan­guished be­hind its chief ri­vals, Ama­zon’s Alexa and what­ever Google is call­ing its voice-activated as­sis­tant now (Google As­sis­tant or Google Now, de­pend­ing on what de­vice you’re us­ing). Part of that is due to

Ap­ple’s hard line pri­vacy pol­icy, which lim­its Siri’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. But iOS 10 made Siri more open by al­low­ing third-party app in­te­gra­tion. Now you can use Siri to hail an Uber, send a Viber mes­sage, search for restau­rants on Yelp, or find images on Pinterest, among a slew of other ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

iOS 10 also turned Mes­sages into a plat­form with GIFs, stick­ers, Ap­ple Mu­sic in­te­gra­tion, and an iMes­sage App Store us­ing texts to send money via Venmo, play games like Words with Friends, and share sports scores through ESPN. iOS 10 was a huge step for­ward for Ap­ple.

iPhone 6 glitches

The iPhone 6 and 6s were plagued with prob­lems in 2016. To­ward the end of the year, Ap­ple fi­nally ad­dressed a spate of bat­tery com­plaints about iPhone 6s mod­els. First the com­pany said it was lim­ited to a “small num­ber” of iPhones pro­duced be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber of 2015, but then ac­knowl­edged the prob­lems were more wide­spread than ini­tially thought. The com­pany launched a bat­tery re­place­ment pro­gram.

Ap­ple’s press re­leases about the is­sue have all been in Chi­nese, but af­fected Amer­i­can iPhone own­ers can take ad­van­tage of the free bat­tery re­place­ment, too. iOS 10.2 in­cludes a di­ag­nos­tic tool that will help Ap­ple fig­ure out ex­actly why its bat­ter­ies are ran­domly shut­ting down.

The iPhone 6s bat­tery prob­lems sur­faced just af­ter Ap­ple ad­dressed a touch­screen bug in the 6 and 6 Plus, dubbed ‘Touch Dis­ease’. Ear­lier in the year, Ap­ple fixed yet another bug, ‘Er­ror 53’, which caused Touch ID to fail.

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