By Jason Snell
January 31, 2016 11:47 AM PT
By Request: Apple Report Card
As I shared with subscribers exclusively on New Year’s Eve, late last year I conducted a survey of two dozen Apple watchers to generate a “report card” on Apple in 2015. At that time, I offered all of you a chance to chime in on the survey.
The results were interesting. As I noted in my full story on the survey results, your scores were a bit higher than my celebrity panel’s, but if I ranked the 11 categories from best to worst, the ranking order was identical. (I’ve since opened the poll up to all Six Colors readers, and the scores from the general public are somewhere in between those of subscribers and the celebrity panel, but the ranking order remains intact. Perhaps we’re on to something.)
My story on Six Colors summarized some of the feedback in each category, using quotes from participants to add some color. I thought it would be fitting to do the same for the thoughts of Six Colors subscribers. Almost 100 subscribers took part in this survey, with most results coming in on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
Grade: B+. (Average score: 3.8, median score: 4.)
A lot of you had comments about the new Photos app, introduced in 2015. Debby C. said it was “not nearly as user friendly as iPhoto was.” John S. cited “a rough start” but liked Apple adding back missing features and stability with the El Capitan update. Barry F. said Photos was “the single most important app and development of the year.”
There was general disappointment in the pace of improvement in the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro models, probably owing in part to Intel’s delays in getting the new Skylake chips out. Still, what was there got praise: Bill H. said the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro was “the closest thing to perfection” he’d experienced, and Jared W. called it “a dream machine.”
Feelings about the new MacBook were more mixed, with some people praising Apple for pushing boundaries while others—and sometimes the same people!—complained about the keyboard and single USB-C port. Donald P. wrote: “The MacBook was another bold step in which Apple removed something we deem so important: integrated USB ports. They are probably onto something, I thought it was terrific, but I know it wasn’t for everyone.”
In general, though I sense a lot of anticipation for Skylake and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C hardware in 2016.
Grade: A. (Average score: 4.4, median score: 5.)
People love their iPhones. There’s no doubt about it. There were a few complaints here and there—some comments about the camera not being good enough, and a bunch of complaints that Apple needs to do better with battery life! I won’t argue that point at all. John S. wrote: “Force touch is great, but more third party developers have to add features to their apps to make it a success.” Matthew L. write: “There could definitely be some improvement to iOS 9, especially in the setup process.”
Valeri was disappointed that iOS dumbed down the Apple Podcast app—a complaint I’ve heard from quite a few people recently. Marc R. noted that “there’s room for a 4-inch model,” which I’ll also second—and the rumor is, there might be one at some point soon.
Grade: B+. (Average score: 3.9, median score: 4.)
Lots of love in this category to the iPad Pro update, though a lot of you don’t seem to feel it’s the right iPad for you. Also, people generally appreciated the iOS 9 updates that were iPad specific. “I’m glad that iOS is finally getting some iPad-centric features,” wrote Ivan T. But the most mainstream iPad is the iPad Air 2, and there was no iPad Air 3 this year—which rankled a bunch of you. “I would have liked to seen a refresh of the Air this year to keep its hardware similar to the Pro,” wrote Matthew L. “The main product line should have been updated,” wrote Dan W., also noting that’s he’d buy an iPad Air 3 if it supported the Apple Pencil.
Six Colors subscribers seem to run the gamut from people who do most of their work on iOS to those who have very little time for an iPad when a Mac will do the job. “It will never replace my Mac for work, but now it functions as my only non-work computer,” wrote Magnus. “I can definitely see the iPad Pro taking over as a general workhorse,” wrote Ronnie. If your comments are any indication, an iPad Air 3 with iPad Pro-like specs (and support for the Apple Pencil) might be quite a hit.
Grade: C. (Average score: 2.9, median score: 3.)
Everyone from subscribers to pundits pretty much agrees on this — Apple’s cloud-services story is a work in progress. “Still not trusting this,” wrote Alfie S. “Convoluted and confusing,” wrote David P. “Nervousness about weird quirks,” wrote Joseph R.
Still, there’s a silver lining. “Seems to be very app dependent—some are lightning fast and consistent, others not so much,” wrote Emory P. “I think I’m the only person who has no problems with iCloud!” wrote Chris H. “iCloud Drive and Photos backup are awesome,” wrote Paul N.
Then there’s Apple Music, which seems to have been positively received, though iTunes Match and iCloud Music Library are still problematic. “A horror show,” wrote Alex H., and several people cited Jim Dalrymple’s rants about what iCloud Music Library did to his music collection as a reason for concern. (I have to admit, I’ve recently run into some problems similar to Jim’s, where live tracks are transmuted into studio versions, or bowdlerized “clean” versions have been substituted for the uncensored versions I bought. Not cool.)
Paul M. wrote something that strikes me as being a pretty fair summary: “I like Apple’s ambition here, and I think they hit more than they missed.” Still, there’s a lot more work to be done—ambition is nice, but then you’ve got to deliver, and consistently. Maybe 2016 will be the year that Apple builds more trust in its cloud service offerings.
Grade: B. (Average score: 3.6, median score:4.)
The fourth-generation Apple TV, long rumored to be in development, finally arrived in 2015. And generally, people who bought one said they were happy with it—with a few caveats. “Can’t give it a 5 with the state of the current remote and searches,” wrote John S. “I like it, but it could be more compelling,” wrote Dan W. “Needs a little polish,” wrote David R.
Of course, a bunch of you are happy Roku owners, and fail to see what the new Apple TV offers that the Roku doesn’t. (I’ve got an Amazon Fire TV Stick myself, which is pretty great, especially for travel. And it does everything the Apple TV does, more or less.) A lot of people cited the Siri Remote, the lack of a Remote app for iOS at launch, and a limited supply of new apps as other reasons to feel mixed about the Apple TV.
I’m gonna let Paul M. do the summary for this category, too: “Also a lot of promise—feels like a 1.0 product.” Or as Alex M. wrote, “I’m excited about the possibility of where the new Apple TV is headed… but so far it’s been thoroughly underwhelming.”
As with our panel of pundits, you get the sense that in a lot of these categories, the general sentiment is that you’re glad Apple is striking out in new directions with new products, but that 2016 needs to be about tightening the screws and smoothing the finish on these products.
Grade: D. (Average score: 1.8, median score: 2.)
The low score in all our surveys! HomeKit was announced by Apple at WWDC in 2014. At WWDC in 2015, basically zero HomeKit products had shipped. A few have, now, but it’s been a hard road, and that was reflected in the scores.
John S. has optimism: “HomeKit has its bugs, but once you suffer through setting it up, it’s amazing.” But Ben G. called it “a flaky disaster” and David M. wrote that it’s “too immature to be a real product.” Interoperability with existing equipment is definitely a problem, as Tedd L. wrote: “My home is fully automated, but not with anything compatible with HomeKit.” Me too, Tedd.
Let’s have Matt L. wrap up this category: “Go big or go Homekit.”
Grade: A. (Average score: 4.6, median score: 5.)
The top scorer across all our voters. For all the quibbles and constructive criticism of Apple, it’s hard to deny how solid the company’s hardware processes are.
“I would not go with any other company on hardware, because Apple’s products are overall the most reliable I have ever used,” wrote Paul N. “The quality of their hardware is unmatched,” wrote John S. “Best in the industry,” wrote Jared W. “Close to perfect,” wrote Arnie S. “Still the best in the business,” wrote Tedd L. And the beat goes on.
Grade: C-. (Average score: 2.5, median score: 2.)
Most of you aren’t developers, so generally I think the scores here come from the coverage you read on sites like this one about the issues facing Apple developers. So is it any surprise that the score echoes that of the celebrity panel? There’s definitely a lot of unease in the Apple developer community. A bunch of you said you hoped Phil Schiller’s takeover of the App Store would lead to better conditions for developers. And many of you pointed out—quite rightly, in my opinion—that the Mac App Store needs some love.
Environmental and social impact
Grade: A. (Average score: 4.5, median score: 5.)
This is a funny category. Tim Cook’s Apple has made a big enough deal out of using Apple’s prominence to promote social issues and also create products that are environmentally friendly that it seems like fair game. At the same time, it’s a bit far afield from the core of what makes Apple successful.
Still, the perception is that Tim Cook’s Apple “cares a lot,” as Debby C. wrote. “Sets the standard,” wrote Mark Y. Or as Ted C. wrote: “Hard for a multinational, publicly-traded company to do more than Apple is doing. The work to improve the lives of people who support the supply chain are admirable, and I love the focus on privacy.”
Grade: C+. (Average score: 3.2, median score: 3.)
Responses for this one were all over the place. “Suffering from a lack of polish,” wrote Mike S. “A really mixed bag,” wrote Joseph R. Generally, I’d have to say that people feel like Apple is turning this around, but that there’s a whole lot more to do. Wrote David R.: “I’m surprised I’m saying this, but they should slow down their releases and improve the quality. It’s not bad, just not ‘Apple Good’.”
A bunch of people also complained about inconsistent updated to first-party software, most notably the iWork apps.
Comment on Apple Watch
Grade: C. (Average score: 3.1, median score: 3.)
Your comments about the Apple Watch were very much like the comments our pundit panel provided: A whole lot of you are using the Apple Watch and still like it, but have come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t as much as you’d hoped and that there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially on the software side.
“I really enjoy receiving texts on it for the convenience of not taking my 6s Plus out of my purse so much,” wrote Debby C. “It’s the epitome of a version 1 product… then again, I wear mine every day,” wrote Chris H. “Good start, but even watchOS 2 frustrates and underperforms,” wrote Dan W. “Good start—so much untapped potential,” wrote Mark Y. “Beautiful and does a few things well… and many other things poorly,” wrote Clinton M.
Donald P. wrote: “I finally got the watch… I was incredibly skeptical for a fanboy. I loved Apple’s narrative: it help keep us from the incessant checking of our devices. A technology to solve a technology problem I didn’t want to admit I had. I have now had my phone on mute for nearly a month with the use of my Apple Watch. Any phone call, text or approved notification I get comes to be in the form of a silent tap. Making a cup of tea? I get to ask Siri to remind me not to over-steep. I’m loving it!”
Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey. I appreciate your participation in this first-ever Six Colors Report Card! Let’s make a note to do it again next year.