Was 2016 Really a Disaster for Apple?

December 20th, 2016

Apple’s critics are out in force this holiday season with end-of-the-year pronouncements. Some say it was a mixed back, but few speak of it as notable. Some suggest Apple had a really bad year, that it couldn’t possibly get much worse.

Clearly the latter rating doesn’t recognize the years when Apple was really in shaky condition.

Now if you based Apple’s success strictly on the number of new products that were introduced, you’d have a simple answer on whether they were successful in 2016. Not much happened of importance. It was more about falling iPhone sales, and the expected lack of significant new features before the iPhone 7 was released. The iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro were regarded as underwhelming.

Macs? Well, what happened anyway? Has Apple lost its cool, or is it trying to be too cool for its own good?

And what about the Apple Watch Series 2? Well, that seemed a sensible upgrade, although the fact that it came so late compared to the previous model — released in the spring of 2015 — meant that sales really tanked before they evidently recovered. But despite the bad news from IDC, Tim Cook went so far as to say that sales during the early part of the holiday season were the best ever.

As to the watch itself, reviewers said it was much faster, and the newest watchOS addressed interface issues that were designed to make it more usable. Most important for those of you using wearables for fitness. Apple added GPS, making it easier to take one with you without stuffing an iPhone in your pocket or purse.

What’s left? Well, I’m curious to see what happens when Apple is able to add a cellular radio to provide data and telephone connections without tethering to the iPhone. It’s not a matter of if, but of when; when Apple is able to do it in a reliable fashion without harming battery life or making the device larger. Even then, I suspect there will be versions with and without data/telephone capability. But imagine doing a FaceTime video connection from a smartwatch, the commercial realization of an old-time sci-fi concept.

I suppose it would be nice for Apple to finally release actual Apple Watch sales figures. Otherwise claims of high demand don’t amount to much, and one shouldn’t to rely on third-party estimates that are, at best, approximations.

Now when it comes to the iPhone 7, the perception that it would be a minor upgrade was very much based on the fact that the case was little changed from the previous version. Apple could take the same components, put it in a case that’s more distinctively different, and the critics would say it was a major improvement.

But if you look at the new features, the water-resistant capability, the new Home button, enhanced camera and wider color gamut, to mention a few, the iPhone 7 offered as many new features as previous iPhone upgrades. So much for expecting logic and reason. But I do agree that the failure of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 certainly helped Apple’s cause this holiday season.

In saying that, even the lesser reviewers have given the iPhone 7 pretty high marks. In one of those lesser articles, the writer appeared to mostly depend on specs when comparing the iPhone 7 to the Samsung Galaxy S7. So the ability to withstand water insertion was based on specs, not on actual performance, and thus the Samsung was rated better. The obvious performance differences were obvious, despite the fact that the Samsung’s hardware had what appeared to be more powerful specs. But the Galaxy S7’s usual inability to manage the resource-hungry Android interface without visible stuttering appeared in bold relief to the iPhone 7’s fast and fluid interface management. At the same time, the fact that the Samsung’s display has more pixels supposedly made it sharper than the iPhone 7, even though the latter has a Retina display, meaning enough pixels per inch for them not to be visible at normal viewing distances.

I’m also wondering how soon the Apple TV will add support for 4K and HDR, especially now that the higher resolution TV sets are mainstream.

Now when it comes to Macs, Apple didn’t appear to go as far as they should have gone. One MacBook refresh in the spring, and a new MacBook Pro in the fall. At the same time, manufacturing of high-resolution displays was ceded to LG in a curious move; orders are now being taken after a long delay. What did make a difference was the pedestrian design that made one doubt that Apple had much say in how the final product was realized. And what about the future of the Mac mini and the Mac Pro? When’s the next iMac refresh coming?

Well, it does appear that good things are on the horizon in the Mac universe. In a message to Apple employees made public on Monday, Cook delivered words of reassurance: “Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.”

Apple in 2016 was a mixed bag with lots of unrealized potential. But there’s now hope for next year, especially for Mac users.

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7 Responses to “Was 2016 Really a Disaster for Apple?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Apple did a refresh for the smaller handset market with the iPhone SE and a new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Those of us who appreciate the Macs recalled the days when Bob Mansfield was the head of Hardware Engineering. It was like a Mac refresh every six months.

  2. Bill Richards says:

    This is what apparently is coming in 2017 for Macs:

    “Mac fans shouldn’t hold their breath for radical new designs in 2017 though. Instead, the company is preparing modest updates: USB-C ports and a new Advanced Micro Devices Inc. graphics processor for the iMac, and minor bumps in processing power for the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro.” (from the Mark Gurman story)

  3. Shameer M. says:

    If you’re a Mac die-hard, according to this article, probably not


  4. Steve Cupertino says:

    Great column, but one nitpick.

    “The iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro were regarded as underwhelming”

    iPhone SE as “underwhelming”?! I thought reviews were incredibly positive and sales quite good, too.

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