Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple in 2019: The Six Colors report card

Tim Cook

It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.

This is the fifth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 12 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5 and optionally provide text commentary per category. I received 65 replies, with the average results as shown below:

Since I used largely the same survey as in previous years, I was able to track the change in my panel’s consensus opinion on all but one question compared to previous years. The net changes between 2018 and 2019 surveys is displayed below:

Read on for category-by-category grades, trends, and commentary from the panelists.

The Mac

Grade: B (average score: 3.6, median score 4, last year: B-)

The Mac’s score rose over last year, and you’d think that our panel would have given Apple credit for introducing the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a scissor-switch keyboard. But its praise for that move was coupled with a whole lot of reservation and a sense that the job’s far from done.

Charles Perry said, “Apple really rescued their 2019 with the release of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro.” David Sparks said, “I’m so happy to see a new more reliable keyboard making its way into the line with the new MacBook Pro.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “They should have sorted [the keyboard] out faster and also should have been more transparent about the issue.” Christina Warren said, “This [keyboard] is a black mark Apple will not be able to easily overcome.” John Siracusa said, “We can no longer take the longterm reliability of Apple’s laptop hardware for granted.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “My happiness at Apple appearing to listen to its customers was tempered by a feeling that all they’d done was lifted their boots from our faces.” John Moltz said, “You shouldn’t get much credit simply for fixing your long-term mistakes.” Andrew Laurence said, “It took far too long to fix the polarizing disaster of the butterfly keyboard.”

Dr. Drang said, “It was a painful detour. I was a decidedly Mac-first person but could not bring myself to buy a new Mac laptop and began testing iPads as my most-used computer.”

John Gruber said, “None of the other MacBooks have that keyboard… if you buy a MacBook Air today — the best-selling, most-popular MacBook — you are not getting a good keyboard.”

After promising it in 2017, Apple shipped its all-new Mac Pro late in 2019, and some members of the panel gave the company credit for that, while others felt that it was a misfire.

John Siracusa said, “The Mac Pro is a bright spot in Apple’s 2019: a long-expected party for high-end Mac users. Apple has listened to its customers that can always use more power and expandability—and are willing to pay for it.” Adam Engst said, “The Mac Pro’s industrial design is another example of how Apple can listen to its customers when it wants to.”

Paul Kafasis said, “I know I’m not alone in wishing that Apple would bring back a Power Mac style desktop, with higher end components and expandability, but a more reasonable price in the $2500-$5000 range…. neglecting the ‘middle class’ is at the very least a missed opportunity.”

Then there was macOS Catalina and other technologies rolled out at Apple’s 2019 developer conference, which were met with a lot of skepticism.

Marco Arment said, “The hardware is much better than the software.” Rob Griffiths said, “I think the new hardware has been really good… Catalina, on the other hand, is a mess.”

Charles Arthur said, “Catalina and Catalyst are really uninspiring.” Steven Troughton-Smith said, “Apple fumbled the start of their next major platform transition with Catalyst and SwiftUI with a poorly documented, barely-ready rushed debut for both technologies.” Stephen Hackett said, “Apple needs to be clearer about what it thinks the future of Mac applications should be. Mac Catalyst and SwiftUI feel like they were on separate, parallel and secret paths within the company, just to end up crossing the line into the public at the same time at WWDC 2019.”

Glenn Fleishman said, “Catalina was a disastrous release.” John Siracusa said, “Apple has not done a good job communicating the benefits of Catalina, an update that… comes with more pitfalls than the average macOS update.” Joe Kissell said, “Catalina was, and continues to be, a real downer in terms of missing features, bugs, and overall quality.” Andrew Laurence said, “For the first time in my career, this IT professional warns users away from the new macOS, and took action to prevent users from installing it.”

Catalina’s modified approach to security specifically came under fire.

Stephen Hackett said, “I can’t help but worry about Apple’s on-going tightening of the screws when it comes to macOS and the apps that run atop my OS of choice.” Benjamin Mayo said, “Catalina’s privacy features were not fully designed and make for a pretty terrible first boot experience on updating to the new OS.”

John Gruber said, “Catalina clearly bends too far in the direction of security. By design, it’s just too inconvenient… why in the world is the desktop treated as some sort of sensitive location?… There should be a single switch for expert users to toggle to effectively say ‘I trust all of the software on my Mac.’… I don’t know a single expert Mac user who is not seriously annoyed by the heavy-handed security design of Catalina… I genuinely fear for the future of the Mac as a platform for serious computer users…. Not one thing about Mac software got better in 2019 and everything that did change made it worse.”

The iPhone

Grade: A- (average score: 4.0, median score 4, last year: B+)

It’s good to be the king, and Apple’s iPhone 11 hardware kept it riding high.

Rich Mogull said, “The new models are home runs.” Dave Hamilton said, “Deep Fusion and Night Mode are truly fantastic, almost overlooked, features.” Federico Viticci said, ” the iPhone 11 Pro camera has made me fall in love with taking pictures on my iPhone all over again.” Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “The latest model does everything with the swagger of a Bentley GT.”

Marco Arment said, “iPhone hardware has never been better…. The iPhone 11 camera system isn’t just a great phone camera — it’s a great camera, period.” John Gruber said, “I love all the iPhone 11 models. I’ve been an avid hobbyist photographer for 20 years and I happily shoot over 95 percent of my photos using my iPhone.” Shawn Blanc said, “I think that they are making the right choices about what to incorporate and what to focus on: Battery life! Cameras!”

Carolina Milanesi said, “The strongest portfolio yet… I particularly liked iPhone 11 being their mass market option, aimed at younger users as well as more price-conscious ones.” Casey Liss said, “I cannot overstate how impressed I am by this camera.” John Siracusa said, “The iPhone is always good, but these are great.”

Now the bad news: iOS 13’s difficult roll-out took some the shine off of the iPhone.

Glenn Fleishman called iOS 13 “a minor disaster.” Dan Provost called it “shockingly buggy.” Paul Kafasis cited an “incredibly sloppy, bug-filled roll-out.” Benjamin Mayo called it “a big fumble.” Dr. Drang called it “an embarrassment.” Sean Heber said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had to reboot my phone as often as I have this year.”

Stephen Hackett said, “I’m not sure what lessons Apple needs to learn over the release, but I hope that we won’t see another cycle like this one.” Casey Liss said, “As an engineer, this smells a lot like marketing and/or management not listening to the rank-and-file engineers asking to take a breath.”

Charles Arthur said, “The software has been an utter goatf—. Quite how Apple went from the stability of iOS 12 to the mess of iOS 13 should be a business study, if only someone would tell us about how it happened.”

(There’s much more on iOS 13 in the Software Reliability section, below.)

Finally, several panelists mentioned the idea that Apple needs to add a smaller phone to its portfolio. Philip Michaels said, “If Apple comes out with an iPhone SE successor in the next year, all will be well.” Adam Engst said, “Maybe we need to start mocking Apple’s designers as being incapable of designing a top-notch iPhone in an iPhone SE form factor.” And Paul Kafasis complained about “the continued lack of a smaller-sized top-of-the-line phones.”

The iPad

Grade: B+ (average score: 3.9, median score 4, last year: A-)

The panelists were big fans of the spread of Apple’s iPad hardware offerings, but (as with the iPhone) that enthusiasm was tainted by issues with iPad software.

Josh Centers said, “The base-model iPad is a fantastic value, especially now that it supports both the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.” Kirk McElhearn said, “The iPad has a full range of options for everyone.” Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “I was pleasantly surprised by the iPad mini 5… It’s light, fast, smooth and always available.”

Devindra Hardawar said, “The new iPad is a tremendous deal, it’s getting to a point where every gadget geek should own one.” Adam C. Engst said, “The iPad was the one place where Apple has managed to introduce hardware that offers entirely reasonable specs and keep the price low.”

But John Siracusa wanted more: “I’m ready for an OLED screen,” he said.

In 2019 Apple decided to call the variant of iOS running on the iPad “iPadOS,” which received praise from some panelists.

Casey Liss said, “iPadOS is definitely a step in the right direction.” David Sparks said, “We just need Apple to keep the gas down on iPadOS improvements.” Federico Viticci said, “Time will tell whether having a separate iPadOS will pay off for iPad aficionados craving annual updates to the tablet’s OS.” Lory Gil said, “iPadOS made 2019 the year of the iPad.”

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “It was so good to finally see some big ticket items that had been missing — like multiple windows, external storage support, a download manager, contextual menus, and even mouse support.”

But there were a lot of tough words for the current state of the iPad software experience.

Dr. Drang said, “Despite years of urging from iPad users, Apple still doesn’t seem to understand how much we want to do ‘real computer things’ on this device.”

Lex Friedman said, “iPadOS still feels hacked together.” Michael E. Cohen said, “The new multi-tasking iPadOS features are welcome but seem clumsily implemented.” Dan Moren said, “The more I use it, the more I find the spots that really don’t work for me, chief among them the lackluster multitasking support.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “My expectations for iPadOS were high… and I don’t think Apple quite met the hype. I fear it will be another two years before we see more changes in this department.” Alex Cox said, “The iPad hardware continues to blow me away, but the software is still disappointing.”

Aleen Simms said, “Swipe gestures on iPadOS are still baffling to me. They’re undiscoverable and not intuitive.” John Moltz said, “Multitasking is still a mess.” Marco Arment said, “Multitasking remains unintuitive.”

John Gruber said, “To say that I’m not a fan of iPadOS is an understatement… Getting the split-screen and Slide Over stuff to work is utterly unintuitive… It’s madness. I’m glad Apple started branding iOS and iPadOS separately. One of them is very cohesive, the other is incoherent.”

Federico Viticci said, “There’s still plenty left to address - from refinements to multiwindow and the Files app to bigger questions that are looming large over the iPad’s role in Apple’s ecosystem. Will the iPad continue to be ‘just a tablet’ with an optional keyboard in its second decade? Will we see Apple move toward a more hybrid approach with features inspired by and modeled after laptops? Something else entirely?”

Carolina Milanesi said, “I think the new iPad Pro models are held back by how basic the keyboard is compared to the Surface keyboard.”

Apple Watch / Wearables

Apple Watch: Grade: A- (average score: 4.1, median score 4, last year: A)

Wearables: Grade: A+ (average score: 4.6, median score 5)

(Since I like to maintain continuity between years, I continued to ask the panelists to rate the Apple Watch. But since Apple now tends to talk about Wearables as a category—including both Apple Watch and AirPods—I’ve decided to also ask about Wearables. This will allow me to compare the panelists’ views on wearables beginning with next year’s survey.)

Panelists were almost entirely positive about Apple’s performance in this category.

Charles Arthur said, “In wearables, Apple has really got everything working just right: it’s really firing on all cylinders, with the timing just right and the updates nicely chosen.” Federico Viticci said, “Apple has only cemented its role as the leader in the wearable revolution.”

AirPods came in for almost universal praise. John Siracusa said, “AirPods are now officially a phenomenon.” Josh Centers said, “I think it’s impressive that Apple is selling out of $250 wireless earbuds.” Dan Moren said “AirPods Pro is… the closest for me that a recent Apple product has come to capturing that indefinable ‘magic.’” Steven Aquino said, “AirPods Pro are without a doubt my favorite Apple product of the year.” Peter Cohen called them “lightning in a bottle.” Jim Dalrymple said they were “the best thing to come out of Apple in a while.” Marco Arment called them “fantastic, with a better fit for many people (like me) who AirPods didn’t fit.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “AirPods Pro is a device that redefines my expectations.” CGP Grey called them “a masterful product that, with its transparency mode, made me feel like I had the first taste of augmented reality from an unexpected place.”

Christina Warren said, “AirPods Pro are an incredible upgrade in almost every single way and are a great example of quintessential Apple refinement…. Apple is at its best with its wearables.” John Gruber said they were his “favorite headphones ever.”

But Rich Mogull offered a bit of warning with his praise: “I upgraded to the Pros and they are exceptional…. The only downside is the limited battery lifespan and replacement options. This is a long-term problem for Apple.”

The Apple Watch also was widely praised, as you might expect.

Lex Friedman said, “I love the Apple Watch Series 5 so much. My favorite feature is the time. It tells me the time, all the time.” Paul Kafasis said, “I’m not sure what more to ask for when it comes to the Watch hardware.” Dan Provost said, “The significance of the always-on display cannot be overstated.”

Stephen Hackett said, “The always-on display on the Series 5 has brought me back. It fundamentally changed the way I think about the Apple Watch, for the better.” Charles Arthur said, “The new watch is terrific… The Watch has reached a solid plateau where it’s hard to figure out what else is needed.” Benjamin Mayo said, “Always-on is essentially playing the Joker. That feature alone was enough to make the Series 5 a solid product.” John Siracusa said, “The always-on Apple Watch screen is the next big leap for the product.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “Apple owns the smartwatch category… Apple Watch is no accessory.”

Zac Hall said, “Also important: Apple Watch Series 3 remained in the lineup from $199, matching the price of less impressive Fitbits.”

Still, there were a few issues.

Casey Liss said, “As the owner of a 40mm Series 5, I can say that the battery life is… lacking.” Marco Arment said, “watchOS continues to be fine, but not great.”

CGP Grey said, “Let’s not even talk about watch faces: five years on and nothing really actionable is being done with all the health data it has.”

And Steve Troughton-Smith said, “Apple made it clear that SwiftUI is the only future of watchOS apps, so the developer platform is dead to me.”

Apple TV

Grade: D+ (average score: 2.7, median score 3, last year: D+)

For my money, there’s no sadder grade than the D+. The Apple TV has been living in D+ land for a couple of years, and our panelists found very little to get excited about.

Sean Heber said, “I feel like Apple TV is just coasting.” Brett Terpstra said, “Most of the software updates seemed like lateral moves.” Lory Gil said, “It’s still a hobby to Apple, even though it’s much more important to me.” Adam Engst said, “Talk about an ignored technology.”

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “This year was the first time the TV app was brought to my country, in preparation for Apple TV+, but what a horrendous user experience it is. The TV app on tvOS, now the default homescreen, feels like a minefield.” Gabe Weatherhead said, “I watch all TV through an Apple TV and I hate it. It’s my most used terrible device.”

Marco Arment said, “The TV app changed, but is still an unintuitive, buggy mess designed like a magazine instead of usable software, fitting in nicely with the rest of tvOS.” Rich Mogull said, “The Apple TV app itself really needs a usability overhaul.”

Zac Hall said, “tvOS’s long-requested multi-user feature might as well not have shipped.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “It feels like people forgot about Apple TV as a hardware play and it’s really more about an Apple TV experience through different devices and apps on TV sets.” Casey Liss said, “I’m wondering what place the AppleTV has in my in-home device lineup…. So much of what the AppleTV does, my new TV can do natively.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “Apple TV hardware is too expensive for what it offers in 2019… The tvOS experience is better than competing streaming sticks, but nothing is worth a 4-5x price premium.” Christina Warren said, “The competition has not just caught up to Apple, it has surpassed it.”

A couple panelists thought Apple TV’s user experience brought to mind a different company with a decidedly different set of priorities. Josh Centers said, “The Apple TV app feels like something Amazon would have shipped, catering to the needs and tastes of Apple instead of the user.” Rob Griffiths said, “More and more, they feel like Amazon devices, as they’re interested in getting you to sign up for their services.”

Finally, CGP Grey said, “The jellyfish screensavers are a living nightmare.”

Services

Grade: B (average score: 3.7, median score 4, last year: C+)

2019 really was the year of Services, with Apple launching many new ones. Peter Cohen said, “It’s hard to imagine a more impactful year for Apple Services than 2019.”

Despite a pretty uniform dislike of Apple News+, the panel dramatically raised the Services grade. Full credit to Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, I suppose, as well as a general feeling that iCloud is far more stable than it used to be.

Carolina Milanesi said, “the weakest link in the services portfolio is News+.” Glenn Fleishman called it “a damp squib.” Josh Centers called it “a dud in every possible way.” Allison Sheridan called it “bit of a yawn.”

Rob Griffiths said, “Apple News+ took the best magazine app reader out there and just destroyed it.” Benjamin Mayo said, “The News+ UI is still cack-handed… the News+ content offering is uninspiring.” Zac Hall said, “Apple News+ needs a major year-two upgrade. Despite tons of minor improvements, it’s just not a good deal for anyone.”

Apple TV+ reactions were mixed. Paul Kafasis said the “foray into original content is needless.” Devindra Hardawar said, “Apple TV+ is off to a rough start, but it’s nice to see that Apple is actually committed to original content.” Philip Michaels said, “I wouldn’t watch any of these Apple TV Plus shows if the actors came to my house and acted them out in my kitchen.”

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “I’m all for Apple’s push into better services, and have really enjoyed Apple TV+’s launch lineup.” John Siracusa said, “Apple TV+ is the surprise of the year. It’s flagship shows are all good, with definite moments of greatness.” Benjamin Mayo said, “I think Apple TV+ had the strongest content debut that anyone could reasonably hope for.” John Gruber said, “They mostly nailed it…. the [one free year] promotion is just what the doctor ordered for a new service with a very limited library of content.”

James Thomson said, “Apple Arcade is an aggressively-priced service with significantly more good games on it than I have time to play.” Benjamin Mayo said, “Apple Arcade is the opposite of News+, strong content with a solid 1.0 interface.” Josh Centers said, “Apple Arcade is probably the best of Apple’s new services, and the price is good, but the selection is still pretty limited.” Federico Viticci said, “Now they need to keep up the pace and show us why we should continue to pay for new games each month.”

Apple Card got a couple of somewhat positive mentions. Dan Moren said, “Apple Card has been…fine. Not as revolutionary as could have been hoped, but also about what was expected.” John Gruber said, “I’m still wary of Apple entering the credit card business, period, but I use my Apple Card for all Apple Pay purchases.”

And the panel is still complaining about a “feature” of iCloud that has been around longer than this survey: the free 5GB of iCloud storage per Apple ID. Charles Arthur said, “We’re approaching an entire DECADE where [5GB] has been the base amount, and it’s ludicrous.” Casey Liss said, “iCloud storage tiers and pricing are still insulting.” Roman Loyola said, “C’mon Apple, you can do better than a free 5GB.”

Joe Kissell said, “iCloud’s free tier is still limited to a ridiculous 5GB of storage, and iCloud Drive folder sharing—something I could really use—has been delayed twice.” Michael Tsai said, “iCloud Drive did not deliver the promised new features.”

But at least there’s this: Dr. Drang said, “iCloud Drive has become as reliable as Dropbox, so I will not be resubscribing to Dropbox.”

HomeKit/Home

Grade: C- (average score: 2.8, median score 3, last year: C-)

A C-minus grade is better than a D-plus, I suppose, but it reflects the panel’s overall lack of enthusiasm for Apple’s overall smart-home efforts.

Steven Troughton-Smith said, “Apple’s Home efforts seem to be coasting.” Charles Arthur said, “HomeKit seems like an utter backwater.” Rich Mogull said, “HomeKit is still… meh.”

Shawn Blanc said, “Apple is so far behind in this category — it’s very frustrating.” John Gruber said, “If you haven’t even really looked into it yet, I’d say you’re not missing much.” Allison Sheridan said, “I want to love HomeKit, I truly do. But in my mind it’s not only not progressing, it’s slipping.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “I am still amazed how much Apple is struggling to develop Siri into a platform and in 2019 it felt like they have given up all together “

Marco Arment said, “The Home app is still an over-designed, form-over-function, unintuitive mess.” Gabe Weatherhead said, “I’m still baffled by the Home app.” Federico Viticci said, “The Home app continues to be affected by an awful design that makes it way more difficult than it should be to quickly manage your accessories and see the status of your home at a glance.”

Stephen Hackett said, “HomeKit continues to move at a glacial pace… I tried HomeKit Secure Video, and it’s nowhere near ready.”

However, Josh Centers cited Apple’s move to build a new smart-home standard with Google and Amazon as a positive: “These developments are promising for the entire field, and I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Hardware Reliability

Grade: B+ (average score: 3.9, median score 4, last year: B+)

Apple generally continues to get good marks for hardware reliability, though that butterfly keyboard…

Dan Provost said, “Continue to be overall best in class. Point deducted for continuing to sell butterfly keyboards.” Christina Warren said, “The keyboard decisions for the MacBook Pro will continue to haunt Apple for many years to come.”

Steven Troughton-Smith said, “With the Mac keyboard issues addressed properly, I hope things are going to trend up.” John Siracusa said, “Sorry, Apple, but the butterfly keyboard reigned for 2019 (and continues to be sold today).”

Stephen Hackett said, “2020 better be the end of the butterfly keyboard.” Casey Liss said, “Butterfly keyboards excepted, things seem to be pretty good.”

James Thomson said, “The slow death of the butterfly keyboard should mean by 2021 we won’t be talking about keyboard problems any more.” Alex Cox said, “There are still going to be butterflies flying around for far too long.” Andrew Laurence said, “The butterfly keyboard drags this entire category.”

Software quality

Grade: D+ (average score: 2.7, median score 3, last year: B-)

This category took an ugly swing — just as it did between 2016 and 2017. Is this what is meant by a tick-tock development cycle? One year you anger anyone, the next year you make amends. In any event, the iOS 13 and macOS Catalina release cycles… were not appreciated by the panel. If this survey measures general sentiment, the general sentiment is that Apple needs to turn around its flailing software process in 2020.

CGP Grey said, “It’s been a brutally buggy year.” Sean Heber said, “It’s bad across the board.” Rene Ritchie said, “iOS 12 should be the new normal.” Andrew Laurence called it “the roughest year for new releases in quite a while.”

Lory Gil said, “This year shows an example of how its better to ship late and ship right than to ship on time with the risk of a poor user experience.” John Siracusa said, “The iOS 13 launch was the roughest in recent memory, and Catalina has not been smooth either. Apple needs to regroup on software quality.” Michael Tsai said, “Catalina is the worst macOS release I can remember… Catalyst has not delivered on its promise of either quality or quantity of apps.”

Paul Kafasis said, “Ooof - the fall of 2019 was a very, very rough year for Apple’s software. I truly wish they’d slow down the pace of their OS updates.” James Thomson said, “Something failed significantly in Apple’s software engineering process this year, and I hope lessons have been learned.”

Casey Liss said, “Without question, Apple is having trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time… So much of Apple seems to be defined by marketing rather than by engineering. If I were on the engineering team, I’d want to pump the brakes, and do so with all my might.”

Dr. Drang said, “I keep thinking Apple has overlearned the lesson of ‘The Mythical Man-Month’ and refuses to hire enough programmers to keep up with the demands of its enormous software base. From the outside, it looks as if the Apple software team just keeps running from fire to fire, an understaffed group barely able to take a breath between crises.”

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “This was a rough year as a developer trying to build things on Apple’s platforms… Every year, half-working features are layered on top of half-working foundations. Apple seems to be trying to do more than ever before, but it’s just not hitting the mark in so many areas.”

Developer relations

Grade: B- (average score: 3.4, median score 3, last year: B-)

Apple’s relationship with its app developers was rocky the year this survey launched. It’s improved in the years since, but there are still plenty of issues to work out.

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “I would welcome stricter regulations from governing bodies, as there have been far too many instances where Apple has killed/rejected apps, or categories of apps, for entirely selfish or emotional reasons, or acquired app developers then integrating their apps into the OS with features and APIs that third party developers aren’t allowed access and thus can never compete with…. I think Apple is overreaching way beyond its remit.”

Casey Liss said, “Apple’s documentation is insultingly bad and/or non-existent. If Apple wants third party developers like myself to embrace new technologies, the answer can’t be ‘watch a WWDC video then get out a divining rod and hope for the best.’ They need to provide documentation for all of these new APIs. No excuses.”

Paul Kafasis said, “Notarization [of macOS apps] has thus far worked better than I might have expected…. So long as Apple uses a very, very light touch with this, it can be a win for users and developers. Nevertheless, I live in fear of a capricious use of this to kill something legitimate that Apple simply dislikes.”

Environmental/Social/Societal impact

Grade: C+ (average score: 3.3, median score 3, last year: B-)

This is a weird category, in that what it’s really about has changed a lot over four surveys. Back in 2015, the category was mostly about the working conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories. It’s also been about Apple’s privacy stance, its support for green power, and the recyclability of its products. This year, it seems to have become (at least in part) about Donald Trump’s appearance alongside Tim Cook at a Texas plant that assembles the Mac Pro, and about Apple removing an app from the App Store that was being used by Hong Kong protesters—along with more broad concerns about Apple’s choice to accept the rulings of authoritarian regimes in China and Russia.

It’s interesting to note that Apple’s score in this category has declined every single year the survey has been taken. This category can be an empty vessel into which the panelists can pour their sentiment about whether Apple is living up to its own lofty ideals as a corporation. It’s always fascinating to see what bubbles to the surface every year.

Casey Liss said, “I was disgusted by Tim Cook’s recent dog and pony show with Trump. The amount of kowtowing that was done is incongruous with Apple’s and Tim’s stance on social and environmental issues.” Carolina Milanesi said, “I really expect more from Tim Cook than letting himself be manipulated into an election campaign photo moment.”

Stephen Hackett said, “I think Tim Cook’s proximity to the Trump Administration is hurtful to many at Apple and in the wider community. The White House is at odds with so many of the values Cook talks about and uses to shape Apple’s impact in the world.” Alex Cox said, “Tim Apple needs to stop humoring Donald Trump.”

Philip Michaels said, “I hope Tim Cook likes being featured in Donald Trump re-election ads, because footage of him standing next to Trump in an Apple factory heaping praise on the economy is going to get replayed roughly a billion times between now and November. Cozying up to an authoritarian just so you could get some tariff exceptions washes out the positives you hope to gain by using recycled materials in your hardware.”

John Gruber said, “It’s an absolute disgrace that Apple allowed Donald Trump to use the Mac Pro assembly plant in Austin as the backdrop for an event to promote his re-election. Trump is a liar, a crook, and his administration has proven to be a menace to everything Apple stands for: LGBT and racial equality, the environment, and privacy as a human right.”

Marco Arment said, “Apple’s core environmental and political ideologies remain better than most corporations, but cooperation with the Chinese government and the Trump propaganda campaign has tarnished their reputation.” Christina Warren said, “I was personally disappointed by Apple’s decisions to bow to China a few times this year, especially in regards to the Hong Kong protests.”

James Thomson said, “Apple’s reliance on authoritarian and corrupt governments has led to a number of highly questionable choices. Their continued focus on user privacy should still be commended.”

Glenn Fleishman said, “Apple was moving strongly forward on privacy, human rights, and democracy, and then it appears to be giving China everything it wants even as China builds a total surveillance state at a level people in the NSA and FBI only dream of. I’d like Apple in 2020 to figure out a plan for China, even if it means exiting the entire market. Tim Cook should not be able to sleep at night while empowering a totalitarian state as it perfects permanent, total citizen control.”

John Moltz said, “it was sickening to see the company attempt to continue to project its independent, customer-focused image using quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and a homepage marking the fall of the Berlin Wall while it removed an app that helped people in Hong Kong continue their protests in the face of a crackdown on their human rights.”

Rich Mogull said, “Their position on China in particular is undermining their own support for human rights. This is something that can’t be ignored anymore…. But when you focus on human rights as a core value that should mean human rights everywhere. This is where Apple’s business needs are in conflict with their social stances.”

Steve Troughton-Smith said, “Apple is struggling to navigate the global political landscape whilst doing the right thing… That shouldn’t take away from all the good they have done for accessibility, green energy and recycling — but it is something that rubbed me up the wrong way this year”

Josh Centers said, “If Apple really cared about the environment, you could replace the battery in the AirPods.”

Our panel also had thoughts about Apple’s embrace of accessibility and continued attempts to improve its diversity and inclusion.

Steven Aquino said, “In terms of accessibility, Apple continues to push forward, both product-wise and in general advocacy. The introduction of ‘See’ is at the forefront of this—it is very much representative of the company’s institutional love for accessibility and the disabled community. Whatever one thinks of the show’s entertainment value, there can be no denying how revolutionary ‘See’ is in terms of disability representation in Hollywood. It is a very big deal.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “I think accessibility remains a strong point for Apple. Diversity and inclusion is another area where I would like to see more rapid progress, especially in senior roles.” Aleen Simms said, “Apple is, as always, stellar at accessibility. Voice Control, introduced with iOS 13, enables people with disabilities to do more than ever before. I’m still not impressed with their diversity and inclusion statistics.”

Jean MacDonald said, “I’m glad to see Apple promoting its second year of Entrepreneur Camp for companies with women founders, CEOs, and lead developers.”

Notes

I didn’t vote in the survey. Panelists who responded to the survey included Shahid Kamal Ahmad, Steven Aquino, Marco Arment, Charles Arthur, Shawn Blanc, Jeff Carlson, Robert Carter, Josh Centers, Peter Cohen, Michael E. Cohen, Alex Cox, Jim Dalrymple, Jessica Dennis, Dr. Drang, Adam Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Lex Friedman, Lory Gil, CGP Grey, Rob Griffiths, John Gruber, Stephen Hackett, Zac Hall, Dave Hamilton, Devindra Hardawar, Sean Heber, Nick Heer, Myke Hurley, Paul Kafasis, Joe Kissell, Andrew Laurence, Casey Liss, Ben Long, Roman Loyola, Jean MacDonald, Benjamin Mayo, Kirk McElhearn, Philip Michaels, Carolina Milanesi, Rich Mogull, John Moltz, Dan Moren, Rosemary Orchard, Charles Perry, Dan Provost, Ant Pruitt, Gui Rambo, Rene Ritchie, Allison Sheridan, Rich Siegel, Brent Simmons, Aleen Simms, John Siracusa, David Sparks, Brett Terpstra, James Thomson, Steve Troughton-Smith, Michael Tsai, Khoi Vinh, Federico Viticci, Christina Warren, Gabe Weatherhead, Jeffrey Zeldman. (Some panelists preferred that their participation be anonymous.)

I didn’t allow panelists to be quoted anonymously. (Dr. Drang is a pseudonym, but I don’t consider him anonymous.)

Previous surveys were reported for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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