Year in re­view: 2017

Ap­ple had one of its best years ever in 2017. And one of its worst. Ja­son Cross re­ports

Macworld - - Contents -

It has be­come cliché to use the term ‘mixed bag’ to de­scribe any­thing with both good and bad qual­i­ties, but there is no bet­ter term for the kind of year Ap­ple has had in 2017. It was a year marked by some of Ap­ple’s best prod­uct re­leases in years, and the com­pany has the grow­ing sales to match. At no point in Ap­ple’s his­tory has it has so many prod­ucts that reach so many peo­ple, and it has never had a big­ger im­pact on the world of con­sumer tech­nol­ogy.

Th­ese bright notes are soured by a whole host of screw-ups, de­lays, and stag­na­tion. Per­haps Ap­ple’s do­ing too much too fast, but it seems that the most valu­able com­pany in the world should prob­a­bly have the re­sources to main­tain qual­ity as it ex­pands its reach.

Here’s a look back at Ap­ple’s ma­jor hits and misses of 2017.

Catch­ing up with hard­ware

Ap­ple has al­ways made so­phis­ti­cated hard­ware with in­cred­i­ble crafts­man­ship, but An­droid en­thu­si­asts could rightly lay claim to a few very de­sir­able fea­tures. This year, Ap­ple fi­nally de­liv­ered wire­less charg­ing, an ex­tremely ‘bezel-less’ de­sign, fast charg­ing via USB Power De­liv­ery, and per­haps the world’s best OLED dis­play in a mo­bile de­vice. We could ar­gue about other fea­tures like re­mov­able stor­age, but for the most part, the iphone line is no longer feels like it’s miss­ing sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures rel­a­tive to top-tier An­droid phones.

Ap­ple caught up in other ar­eas, too. The Ap­ple TV 4K feels like the last stream­ing box to sup­port 4K and HDR, but it’s one of the best. And Ap­ple did the right thing by mak­ing itunes movie pur­chases and rentals in 4K cost the same as the HD ver­sion, and even up­dated HD movies in your li­brary to the 4K ver­sion au­to­mat­i­cally (if avail­able).

When it comes to smart watches, there’s

Ap­ple Watch and there’s ev­ery­thing else. Ap­ple’s dom­i­nant po­si­tion in this mar­ket hasn’t stopped fans from look­ing side­long at those Galaxy Gear

watches with LTE, wish­ing Ap­ple would get the hint. Ap­ple de­liv­ered in a big way with Ap­ple

Watch Se­ries 3, which man­ages to pack LTE sup­port and a faster pro­ces­sor into the same form fac­tor. When you look at the whole pic­ture – speed, soft­ware sup­port, in­ter­face, build qual­ity, aes­thet­ics, size, com­fort, bat­tery life – Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 is so far ahead of the rest of the smart­watch mar­ket it’s laugh­able.

Lead­ing the way

While much of Ap­ple’s hard­ware ef­forts in 2017 could be viewed as catch­ing up to fea­tures present in top com­peti­tors, we also saw in­dus­try-lead­ing in­no­va­tions.

Take Aug­mented Re­al­ity. ARKIT in IOS 11 is leagues ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. The ma­tu­rity, ac­cu­racy, and ro­bust­ness of th­ese de­vel­oper tools re­sulted in a mini-ex­plo­sion of AR apps. And while Google’s Pro­ject Tango has never caught on, ARKIT apps run on any iphone or ipad sold in the past few years – hun­dreds of mil­lions of de­vices. Google tried to catch up with Ar­core, but it has limited reach and scale. It seems made in clear re­sponse to Ap­ple’s ARKIT.

Face ID on iphone X is an­other great ex­am­ple of Ap­ple push­ing the in­dus­try for­ward. The Truedepth cam­era is far more so­phis­ti­cated than the front­fac­ing sen­sors on other phones. Ap­ple’s not the

first to im­ple­ment fa­cial recog­ni­tion in a phone, but it’s the first to do it with the speed, re­li­a­bil­ity, and se­cu­rity nec­es­sary for it to fully re­place your fin­ger­print, even for au­then­ti­cat­ing pur­chases. There was con­tro­versy around Face ID and the elim­i­na­tion of Touch ID, but time has proven it to be a hit. You’re go­ing to see Face ID and other Truedepth fea­tures like An­i­moji copied by ev­ery­one else in the course of the next year or two.

And, while the ipad didn’t a ma­jor over­haul

(we could see that in 2018), Ap­ple con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the pre­mium tablet mar­ket with fea­tures, per­for­mance, bat­tery life, and app sup­port far be­yond its An­droid com­peti­tors. The 10.5in ipad

Pro is eas­ily the best ipad Ap­ple’s ever made.

Fall­ing be­hind

For all of Ap­ple’s lead­ing ad­vances, there are some core prod­ucts that feel like they’re coast­ing.

Siri is per­haps the most im­por­tant area in which Ap­ple is be­ing left in the dust but its com­peti­tors. IOS 11 brought only mar­ginal im­prove­ments, while Ama­zon’s Alexa and Google As­sis­tant are in a whole other league. Siri sim­ply un­der­stands our speech less ef­fec­tively, de­liv­ers less de­sir­able re­sults, is all-around less re­li­able, and has a very limited fea­ture set com­pared to Alexa and As­sis­tant. For Siri to catch up, it has to make ma­jor strides along ev­ery axis, all while Google and Ama­zon drive for­ward as fast as they can. This is not an area where Ap­ple should be con­tent with sec­ond-best, much less dis­tant third.

Ap­ple’s Photos app suf­fers sim­i­lar de­fi­cien­cies com­pared to the best from Google. From a ser­vice stand­point, Google of­fers free un­lim­ited photo and video stor­age with the pur­chase of one of its phones; a huge ben­e­fit that would be triv­ial for Ap­ple to repli­cate. Google Photos’ abil­ity to quickly and ac­cu­rately iden­tify peo­ple in our photo li­braries is light years be­yond Ap­ple’s (it even does pets), and its Ai-pow­ered search func­tions are an or­der of mag­ni­tude more ad­vanced.

Ap­ple has rarely jumped aboard the lat­est pro­ces­sor re­leases as fast as the Win­dows ecosys­tem, but there’s lit­tle ex­cuse for the Mac­book Pro to still sport a dual-core CPU when those quad-core 8th Gen­er­a­tion Core i7 pro­ces­sors are all over the Win­dows lap­top scene. It’s not a big plat­form over­haul – th­ese are al­most drop-in re­place­ments.

We’ve got a laun­dry list of sub­stan­tial changes we’d like to see in the Mac­book line, but in the mean­time, Ap­ple could at least keep the pro­ces­sors cur­rent, es­pe­cially when the new model of­fers such enor­mous per­for­mance ben­e­fits.

IOS 11’s big leap for­ward

IOS 11 is a re­ally, re­ally big up­date. It’s the most am­bi­tious IOS up­date in years, and in­cor­po­rates a lot of new un­der-the-hood tech­nolo­gies to­gether with sig­nif­i­cant new de­sign changes.

There’s so much ‘new’ in there. New setup ex­pe­ri­ence. New Con­trol Cen­tre. New app store. There are new toys for de­vel­op­ers like ARKIT,

new photo and video for­mats (HEIF/HEVC), im­prove­ments to Siri, in­door Maps, the list is ex­ten­sive. Nowhere is IOS 11 a big­ger deal than on ipad. ipads with IOS 11 are ca­pa­ble of se­ri­ous work thanks to a new Dock, changes to mul­ti­task­ing, drag-and-drop sup­port, and a smart new key­board fea­ture called Quick­type.

IOS 11 is so big and am­bi­tious that a cou­ple of its key fea­tures didn’t make the ini­tial re­lease. Ap­ple Pay Cash just landed in IOS 11.2, and we’re still wait­ing on Mes­sages in icloud. Nonethe­less, from a fea­tures stand­point, IOS

11 is a mas­sive im­prove­ment that mostly gets things right. Ex­cept...

Soft­ware bugs abound

IOS 11 is full of bugs, and Ap­ple just can’t seem to shake them. Ev­ery IOS re­lease co­in­cides with com­plaints about it “slow­ing down my iphone,” many of them imag­ined. IOS re­leases also prompt cries of, “it ru­ined my bat­tery life,” but in IOS 11 there seems to have been some real bugs that caused se­ri­ous bat­tery life prob­lems for a big num­ber of users.

Ap­ple’s prob­lems with IOS 11 seem never-end­ing. A quick 11.0.1 up­date fixed a prob­lem with Ex­change email servers. 11.0.2 fixed a prob­lem that caused some iphone 8 and 8 Plus own­ers to hear crack­ling in their ear­pieces. Then there was a prob­lem with hap­tic feed­back on some iphones, fixed in 11.0.3.

The 11.1 re­lease added lots of new emoji, but in­tro­duced a re­ally ob­vi­ous bug: typ­ing a cap­i­tal

‘I’ au­to­cor­rected to a cap­i­tal ‘A’ fol­lowed by an un­de­ci­pher­able uni­code sym­bol.

Oh, but then some iphone X users found that their touch­screens stopped work­ing in cold weather, and that had to be fixed in 11.1.2 (along with a bug with Live Photos).

Ap­ple even had to kick out IOS 11.2 in the mid­dle of the night on a week­end, be­cause it fixed a bug whereby daily no­ti­fi­ca­tions would cause iphones to re­boot start­ing at 12:15am on 2 De­cem­ber.

Ap­ple didn’t end the year on a high note, con­firm­ing what many iphone users had

spec­u­lated: the power man­age­ment built into IOS can slow down per­for­mance on iphones with old bat­ter­ies. This isn’t a bug, how­ever, and Ap­ple’s rea­son­ing makes sense on a tech­ni­cal level; the com­pany is try­ing to pre­serve bat­tery life and pre­vent crashes and shut­downs on older iphones as bat­ter­ies lose their abil­ity to sup­ply peak volt­age. But Ap­ple screwed up the de­liv­ery of this fea­ture and its mes­sag­ing to users, and it’s led to a num­ber of class-ac­tion law­suits that will prob­a­bly be set­tle some­time next year.

Am­a­teur-hour bugs like th­ese are the an­tithe­sis of the Ap­ple mar­ket­ing pitch – that when you con­trol the hard­ware and the soft­ware, ‘it just

work’. Lest IOS have all the fun with dumb bugs that should have been caught, macos got in on the fun with a the very se­ri­ous Root Bug. The com­pany re­sponded very quickly, but then botched that by break­ing file shar­ing and re-in­tro­duc­ing the bug if you up­graded to 10.13.1 af­ter in­stalling the fix. Wasn’t the whole point of macos High Sierra to fo­cus on re­li­a­bil­ity and per­for­mance in­stead of in­tro­duc­ing ma­jor new fea­tures?

Ap­ple’s had a rough year with soft­ware. IOS 11 has a ton of big im­prove­ments, but some of its fea­tures didn’t make re­lease and the re­li­a­bil­ity has been far be­low the com­pany’s usual stan­dards. Even some of the re­leases that weren’t bug-rid­den caused headaches, like when itunes 12.7 dropped sup­port for IOS apps. It’s a nec­es­sary step in de­clut­ter­ing the bloated mess that is itunes, but it could have been han­dled in a way that didn’t catch so many users off guard.

De­lays, de­lays, and more de­lays

As much as Ap­ple has done this year, it was sup­posed to do more. De­lays are a nor­mal part of tech, but this is rarely true of Ap­ple; the com­pany de­vel­ops in se­cret, only an­nounc­ing some­thing when it is sure it is go­ing to re­lease when promised.

But we’re still wait­ing on Mes­sages in icloud. We had to wait months for Ap­ple Pay Cash.

Thanks to man­u­fac­tur­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, the iphone X had to launch six weeks af­ter the iphone 8 and 8 Plus, and was set to be in very limited sup­ply for many weeks there­after. Ap­ple and its

part­ners have done a great job fix­ing sup­ply is­sues and im­prov­ing avail­abil­ity, but it’s a de­lay that shouldn’t have hap­pened.

Homepod is al­ready a year or two be­hind its com­peti­tors in the home speaker space, and now it’s go­ing to miss 2017 en­tirely. Miss­ing this hol­i­day sea­son will cer­tainly im­pact sales – Alexa and Google Home are hot items, and peo­ple don’t want to buy an­other smart speaker just a few months later. Es­pe­cially one that, at £349, costs way more.

In some cases, Ap­ple promised a re­lease by the end of the year and just barely squeaked in un­der the wire. Ama­zon Prime Video on Ap­ple TV dropped in De­cem­ber (six months af­ter its an­nounce­ment) and the imac Pro shipped with just a cou­ple weeks

left in 2017 – and you can’t even buy the big 14- and 18-core con­fig­u­ra­tions.

Here’s to a smoother 2018

We put a lot of pres­sure on Ap­ple. We con­stantly ex­pect new mar­ket-defin­ing, ground­break­ing prod­ucts on the scale of the iphone or ipad. If a year passes with­out an Ap­ple Car, or Ap­ple AR Glasses, or an Ap­ple over-the-top stream­ing tele­vi­sion ser­vice, we read scores of op-ed mis­sives about how Ap­ple has lost its abil­ity to in­no­vate.

I think more im­por­tant than Ap­ple’s abil­ity to dis­rupt new in­dus­tries is its im­plicit prom­ise to its users: that com­plete ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion and fa­nat­i­cal at­ten­tion to de­tail makes Ap­ple prod­ucts more re­li­able, per­for­mant, and se­cure than their coun­ter­parts.

2017 was a year marked by a bunch of ex­cit­ing new Ap­ple re­leases in both hard­ware and soft­ware, but a heap­ing pile of shame­ful bugs and prod­uct de­lays cast doubt about Ap­ple’s abil­ity to ex­e­cute at the qual­ity level we ex­pect. If there’s one thing we want most from Ap­ple in 2018, it’s a com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing qual­ity.

And a new Mac Pro.

Ap­ple’s com­plex Truedepth cam­era ar­ray caused a de­layed launch for iphone X, and ship­ping short­ages. It was rec­ti­fied quickly, at least

No­body should have to try a work­around to type a cap­i­tal ‘I’

IOS 11 makes the ipad dra­mat­i­cally more func­tional

Face ID is way ahead of any­thing on any other phone, and is go­ing to be copied ev­ery­where

Ap­ple is late to the 4K stream­ing party, but it de­liv­ered a great box

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