From the highs of the iPhone X to the lows of the iPhone X’s notch…
Apple is in its very own Groundhog Day. Every year, it releases great new kit, but is scoffed at by an industry that then clamours to copy every detail. Meanwhile, doomsayers predict the company’s demise as it racks up profits that’d fund several small countries.
But not every decision Apple makes is on the money – some baffle, some annoy, and some beat your wallet to a bloody pulp; and sometimes Apple manages all of those things at once.
Here, then, are Apple’s 2017 tasty bits and rotten cores as we saw them…
X marked the spot where everything changed for the iPhone. Apple ditched the Home button (and with it, Touch ID), and went ‘all screen’. Well, nearly – but ‘mostly screen apart from that weird bit at the top’ isn’t nearly as catchy a marketing slogan. Still, the iPhone X impressed almost everyone who used it and garnered hugely positive reviews everywhere including on this very site. It made the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus look comparatively old-hat, frankly, while also gaving the big Android manufacturers something to think about.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the iMac Pro costs five grand. And that’s before you start fiddling with build-to-order options.
If you just made a choking noise, this machine isn’t for you. But with its 5K display, 18-core configs, and high-end GPU, it showcases Apple hasn’t yet forgotten its pro customers. And those guys are suddenly very happy again.
“Pay with your face!” demanded Apple on social media. Fortunately, Tim Cook hadn’t become a mob boss – Apple just got a bit over-excited about its Face ID security system.
In use, it’s proved fast, effective, and secure – but some commentators missed the real prize: Face ID can more easily move to Macs than Touch ID. In 2018, we suspect it will.
iPad Pro 10.5
Another iPad screen size? But any exasperation about Apple further complicating the iPad line-up vanished the second we started using this 10.5-inch tablet.
Particularly with iOS 11 installed, this iPad is a near-perfect mix of form and function: light, absurdly fast, and with a screen 20 per cent bigger than its predecessor’s. There’s nothing here not to like – apart from the price. But then there’s the standard iPad if that’s a concern.
Apple Watch 3
With Apple Watch 3, we didn’t get a bold new redesign – the biggest change on the outside was the Digital Crown’s odd red dot.
On the inside, though, there’s a processor upgrade that makes for a much zippier wearable, and optional cellular capabilities. Yes, Apple users, the ‘make a phone call from your wrist’ sci-fi future is finally here – without having to fake it by having an iPhone about your person.
iOS 11 on iPad
There’s nothing wrong with iOS 11 on the iPhone, but on iPad it’s revolutionary. With the new Dock, multitasking, drag-and-drop, and the Files app, Apple finally made good on its promise of combining the power of desktop computing with the flexibility and elegance of a tablet. More, please.
Pretty much every tech company’s decided actual reality is boring and needs tarting up a bit with virtual goodies. ARKit is Apple’s go, blending digital objects with the world around you. And it’s surprisingly great.
Because ARKit is baked right into iOS, developers have already released all manner of superb apps and games that would have otherwise taken years to create. It’s early days yet, but ARKit already feels transformative.
The other great ‘kit’ of the year from Apple was GymKit. Part of watchOS 4, it lets your Apple Watch and gym machines communicate, so the former can grab all sorts of handy stats. Compatible gym machines are admittedly scarce, but it further cements the Apple Watch’s place as an exercise aid. A pity GymKit didn’t follow ResearchKit in being open-source, though.
GRID Autosport for iOS
Last year, we had an auto-running Mario gunning for the App Store hot-spot, but 2017’s trend was a surprising rush of ports (rather than stripped-back reimaginings) from consoles and the PC.
The most audacious was GRID Autosport, which brought VRRRRMMMing great AAA console racing to iPad and iPhone, in premium form. The first of many? We can but hope.
Support for Qi chargers
This might seem an odd entry for a list of the best bits of Apple’s 2017; but the company deserves credit for embracing the open Qi wireless charger standard, rather than coming up with something proprietary of its own. Now, Apple: how about ditching Lightning and going all-in with USB-C?
No new Mac mini
Turning three should be cause for celebration. Cake! Daft party games! More cake! (Did we mention cake?) Alas, in the Mac mini’s case, this means it’s been three years since the thing was updated.
Frankly, it feels like Apple doesn’t care, and is taking customers for a ride with old hardware. And it’s not even that mini compared with the latest batch of tiny PCs.
No new Mac Pro
That said, the Mac mini is a relative youngling compared to the Mac Pro, which turned four in December. High-end pro machines should enjoy regular updates, or be modular enough for users to tinker with. Instead, the Mac Pro parties like it’s 2013. That’s not good enough, and we look forward to Apple releasing its “completely redesigned, next-generation” Mac Pro in 2018.
We warned you Apple dropping compatibility for 32-bit apps would lead to loads of games and apps abruptly vanishing – and we were right. What we were surprised about is some developers have gone with them.
The latest is Simogo, creator of Device 6 and Year Walk. Frustrated at the extra workload and Apple’s lack of interest in game preservation, they’ve quit the platform entirely.
Touch Bar tumbleweeds
When the Touch Bar was first announced, many people were – to put it mildly – sceptical. But we rather liked it. Our thinking was that if app developers properly embraced the Touch Bar, it could become something amazing. Sadly, few did, and although some apps admittedly wow with Touch Bar smarts, the little touchscreen strip’s starting to look unloved.
As 2017 prepares to depart, you wonder whether Apple posits iPad is the future of computing because you type on glass. Certainly, Apple’s had little good fortune with its mechanical keyboards over the past 12 months: Mac notebook keyboards have failed when users have had the audacity to use them in the same room as a speck of dust; and Apple’s extended desktop keyboards started warping like expensive iBananas.
The iPhone X notch
The iPhone X notch packs in a ton of cutting-edge technology. It gives the newest iPhone a distinctive look, and Apple has perhaps wisely encouraged app developers to embrace it in their design work. But it’s still ugly, and it needs to disappear. It also makes a mockery of Apple’s claim the new iPhone X is “all screen”.
Planet of the Apps
Netflix has Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black. Amazon has The Man in the High Castle. HBO has Game of Thrones. Apple kicked off its telly ambitions with a show about apps – Dragon’s Den with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s not bad, just bland and dull. Here’s hoping Apple does better in 2018 – and rethinks a reported aim to keep all of its shows very family friendly.
Apple TV 4K pricing
Whatever your opinion of the new Apple TV – and we thought it was pretty good on the whole – there’s no getting past its price tag. Apple’s known for premium kit, but £179 for an Apple TV is a bit rich, given that for the same outlay you can buy two Fire TV 4Ks and 39 quid of pick ’n’ mix. And no-one needs that much pick ’n’ mix.
All of the bugs
Apple had a pretty miserable end to the year when it came to bugs. Some were merely ridiculous and embarrassing: iOS autocorrecting ‘I’ to ‘A [?]’, and the Calculator app’s animations causing key presses to be ignored. But on the Mac, there were some glaringly obvious security blunders. Given that Apple’s reputation in part hinges on polish and safety, it needs to up its game.
Perhaps because someone just ate the last mince pie, Stuff is feeling uncharitable; but did the world really need a grinning pile of poo ‘animoji’ you could animate with your face? Given how angry typographer Michael Everson was at the prospect of a frowning poo in the official emoji set, we can only imagine he’s now using a trebuchet to relentlessly spear Apple HQ with expensive art pens.
AND THE PAINFULLY INEVITABLE
Death of the iPod
2017 finally saw Apple unceremoniously axe the iPod shuffle and iPod nano – which, naturally, immediately started selling like hot cakes on eBay.
So let’s raise a glass to the line of devices that changed everything for Apple – before the iPhone did that all over again.