Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple in 2021: The Six Colors report card

Tim Cook at WWDC 2021

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 seventh 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 53 replies, with the average results as shown below:

Final average scores.

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 2020 and 2021 surveys is displayed below:

Final score changes.

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

Mac

Grade: A+ (average score: 4.6, median score 5, last year: 4.7)

We live in the era of Apple silicon. Last year’s average score, 4.7, was hard to top—and so a little backsliding due to familiarity might not be too surprising. The average slid by a half a point, but it’s still an A+ grade that’s among the highest we’ve seen in the history of this survey.

Tom Bridge said, “The 2021 MacBook Pro [is] the most important product Apple has released since the 2012 MacBook Pro sported the first Retina display on an Apple laptop. Apple has redeemed some poor choices, and built a product that’s suited for the Pro moniker. Great work, Apple.”

John Siracusa said, “Every new Mac Apple introduced in 2021 was a hit. The new MacBook Pros have rescued that product line after years of decline and dysfunction. The multi-colored 24-inch iMac is a breath of fresh air after nearly two decades of white and gray models. Though the transition is not yet complete, all the new and existing Apple silicon Macs are great: quiet, cool, reasonably priced, and fast, fast, fast.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “Apple’s volte-face on the extreme minimalism of the Ive era not only brought back ports, but exceeded my expectations on every metric. The MacBook Pro is now comfortably the greatest computing device I’ve owned in 40 years and second place isn’t even close. There is not a single weakness. It’s a flawless device and I’m still in awe every time I lift the lid on this portal into a future that other manufacturers are not even awake to, and even as they sleep, could never have had the imagination to even dream of.”

Dan Moren said, “I was super excited for the potential of Apple silicon with the M1’s release, but the M1 Pro and M1 Max have showed us that Apple can scale that performance way up. I’m not sure there’s ever been a better time to be a Mac user.”

Michael E. Cohen said, “I made the transition from a spinning platter Intel iMac to an M1 iMac and I have to say that it was among the least problematic such transitions I’ve ever experienced in my nearly four decades on the Mac platform.”

Brian Mattucci said, “The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are truly impressive, and I look forward to hopefully seeing them in a top-end Mac Mini this year. The one disappointment is that Macs still lack Face ID.”

Alex Cox said, “For the first time in years I find myself reaching for my MacBook Pro instead of my iPad or iPhone even to do small tasks. Everything about the new MacBook Pro is efficient, from the chips to the placement of the headphone port. I’m finally back to working with my Mac instead of just at my Mac.”

Myke Hurley said, “In the 10 years that I have been covering Apple, this is the most excited I have ever been for the Mac. With the introduction of the iMac and the new MacBook Pro, Apple has truly entered a new era for Mac hardware. I could not be more excited about the future of this platform.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “It feels like a lot of Apple’s previous obsessions with thinness and battery life are finally paying off with the new MacBook Pro. While it’s still heavy, it’s thin and the battery life is mind-boggling.”

Zac Hall said, “The new MacBook Pro is fantastic, and the starting price makes my M1 MacBook Air seem like a steal!”

Glenn Fleishman said, “God, it’s great for the Mac to be ascendent. The ‘1’ part of the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max make it really clear more numbers are to follow. It’s exciting to have that kind of performance boost to look forward to.”

Rob Griffiths said, “The new Apple silicon 14-inch and 16-inch MBPs are excellent machines, with only one notchable, er, noticeable flaw. The performance of the new CPUs is simply astonishing.”

Marco Arment said, “Apple silicon Macs continue to blow away everything else on the market, including their relatively recent Intel predecessors. The hardware is so incredibly good this year, and the architecture transition has been so smooth, that I’ll temporarily forgive the minor macOS quality and design issues that perpetually remain.”

Jean MacDonald said, “The new MacBook Pro is fantastic. I love the display, the sound, the build, and the speed. The notch doesn’t bother me a bit; I think I became inured after the iPhone.”

Dr. Drang said, “I spent the 3–4 years before 2021 teaching myself how to work on the iPad. It was a struggle, but I did it because I wasn’t sure Apple would ever make a good laptop again. In February, I got my M1 MacBook Air, and it was like coming home again.”

Josh Centers said, “Apple acts interested in the Mac again. The new MacBook Pro is what professionals have been begging for.”

James Thomson said, “The MacBook Pros feel like a first glimpse of what Apple can do at the high end, as well as listening to what people actually want, and I look forward to seeing more in the year to come. Monterey doesn’t fix many of the interface annoyances with Big Sur, but is at least stable. Shortcuts on the Mac should have shipped as a beta. Saying all that, still one of the best years for the Mac in recent memory.”

John Moltz said, “When Apple announced the M1 Pro it was already a banner year for the Mac. Then a few minutes later it announced the M1 Max. That checked the final box.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “I mean, if 2021 was not a great year for the Mac I am not sure when it was! While the app ecosystem has not come alive as much as I had hoped for, the M1 has really opened up a new opportunity for the Mac, especially in enterprise.”

John Gruber said, “Both the new iMacs and MacBook Pros are fantastic machines: useful, beautiful, and fun. (The iMacs are especially fun because of their colors.) MacOS feels like it’s in very good shape, both in and of itself, and as a peer to iOS for cross-platform features like iCloud integration, widgets, and now even Shortcuts. The Mac version of Shortcuts is a bit rough, which is putting it mildly, but it does work, and even in its rough 1.0 state, Shortcuts for Mac is useful.”

Charles Arthur said, “Finally, with the MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and Max, the answer to everyone’s prayers. The Air, the iMac, the Pro all got what they so richly needed, and that’s more than 80% of all Mac sales right there.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “The new MacBook Pro is so good it makes it easy to forget the mistakes of yesteryear. macOS Monterey was almost a disaster, but the Safari saga was thankfully resolved before the OS shipped.”

Christina Warren said, “Talk about a turnaround! The new 24-inch iMac brings back a sense of fun the Mac hasn’t had for well over a decade. But the real stars of the year were the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which went back to re-embracing what made Apple laptops great: fantastic keyboards, great screens, MagSafe, usable ports. The software situation for Apple silicon has evolved really well over its first year, but virtualization (as well as Docker or any other containerized environment) is still a bit of a shitshow.”

Rich Mogull said, “This entire transition is one of Apple’s greatest triumphs. I assumed I would have to build a clean M1 Mac, but I easily transferred over all my software and settings from an entirely different architecture without any issues. And let’s be honest, this didn’t always work even between a new and old Intel Mac.”

Most of the criticism that could be found in this category tended to be around the edges of the product line, such as with the lack of an affordable Apple-designed external display, the products yet to have transitions to Apple silicon, and issues with macOS.

Casey Liss said, “I really wish there was a monitor story for non-iMacs in 2021. It’s really despicable that there are no good options for external retina monitors right now. As I write this, the choice is: do you want to be broke, or have an external that is mediocre on its best day? That’s a lose-lose.”

Paul Kafasis said, “Tremendous new Macs—my co-founder Quentin’s post sums up my thinking. But this isn’t a perfect score because of slow updates to the higher-end iMac, and no standalone display for normal people.”

Adam Engst said, “The big hole in Apple’s Mac lineup is an affordable high-resolution display to give the laptops something to connect to and to let iMac users expand to a second large screen.”

Jeff Carlson said, “The Apple silicon transition has been grand, and I say that typing on a new M1 Max MacBook Pro. And then I launch the Music app, and let out a big defeated sigh as it beachballs, stops playing tracks in the middle of a song, and generally disappoints.”

Rich Siegel said, “Many of the ill-conceived UI and visual design decisions that were introduced in Big Sur are still in Monterey, although fortunately things haven’t really gotten much worse. Shortcuts seems like it has potential and the software architecture for application support on macOS appears to be a distinct improvement over its predecessors, although there are still some aspects of the whole Shortcuts experience that make me feel as though it might have been released just a little too soon. Increasing security lockdowns means we have to spend more time explaining to users why things often behave strangely or don’t work at all, and there are bugs that Apple hasn’t fixed yet (or made worse) that have made life harder for the developers of products that I rely on.”

Nick Heer said, “Shortcuts launched in an outright broken state on all platforms, the first versions of Safari 15 were a case study in how not to redesign a critical application, and Monterey’s updater somehow bricked a bunch of T2 Macs. There were memory leaks with Macs running on Apple’s chips, and on all Macs when using accessibility settings with the mouse pointer. Perhaps it is for the best that Universal Control, one of Monterey’s flagship features, was pushed back.”

Stephen Hackett said, “I can’t shake the feeling that — once again — Apple’s software is letting its hardware down. macOS Monterey has been the smoothest-running version of the operating system in several years, but parts of macOS continue to feel outdated, if not outright forgotten by teams who have moved on to other projects. Shortcuts coming to the Mac has been so much fun—however, its buggy rollout highlights the unusual situation the Mac finds itself in. AppKit is clearly not the future, but what is the future? SwiftUI is still rough, and Mac Catalyst seems like it’s just a bridge for iOS developers and not the future of Mac development. I hope Apple sheds some light on its thoughts about this in 2022.”

David Sparks said, “We’re a year into the Apple silicon transition, and I’m still giddy. I’ve been satisfied with Monterey and had no significant problems in terms of OS stability. But that is table stakes. The Mac software stack feels like it is going through a painful technology change, as SwiftUI seems to be the new thing, but is not quite ready to be the new thing. Also, there are still too many native apps on the Mac (Calendar, Contacts, and Mail) that need the Apple Notes treatment.”

Federico Viticci said, “The greatest compliment I can pay to Apple’s renewed approach to the Mac is that, for the first time in a decade, they got an iPad user like myself interested in the Mac again. This isn’t to say I plan on switching from the iPad Pro as my primary computer; however, the speed, battery life, incredible performance, and fantastic display of the new MacBook Pro is helping me rediscover the Mac in a way I didn’t think possible a few years ago. Compared to when I left the Mac years ago, the platform I found is one where there’s greater parity of features and apps with iOS and iPadOS, which allows me to seamlessly switch between working on the iPad and Mac without feeling like I have to learn a new idiom or reset my expectations every time. The most important app that I can now access on the Mac is, unsurprisingly, Shortcuts. I’m thrilled by the arrival of Shortcuts on macOS and Apple’s commitment to it as the future of automation, but the first version of the app is also a symptom of larger problems underlying macOS: software quality of apps and limitations of SwiftUI. I understand the desire to ‘start fresh’ with a new Shortcuts app for Mac by also rewriting the whole thing in SwiftUI, but that technical decision resulted in a plethora of bugs that continue to affect the app on all platforms for new and existing users – including those who had no issues whatsoever with Shortcuts in iOS 14. It’s almost as if launching Shortcuts on the Mac made the app worse than before for everyone else. I hope this story of ‘dogfooding‘ serves as a wake-up call at Apple about the longstanding problems and limits of SwiftUI.”

Guilherme Rambo said, “I think there’s still a lot of work to be done on Mac software. I’ve had numerous issues with macOS Monterey, especially related to Bluetooth, which keeps breaking with every major OS update. Not to mention the awful state of the Shortcuts app, which has been improving with the new point releases, but is still far from what I would call production-quality.”

iPhone

Grade: A- (average score: 4.0, median score 4, last year: 4.3)

A new iPhone design stokes a lot of excitement, even among this panel of experts with years of history watching Apple. And so this year’s iPhone 13 release was bound to be a letdown after last year’s new iPhone 12 design. And indeed, the score regressed a bit, though it’s still quite good.

Allison Sheridan said, “The iPhone 13 Pro is an outstanding phone, but the rate of innovation has slowed, hence the drop of one star.”

Josh Centers said, “iOS 15 has a lot of nice new features but also some rough edges like Focus. The iPhone 13 updates weren’t terribly interesting.”

Lex Friedman said, “I think Apple’s glass is getting a little less awesome over time. My 13 Pro shows more scratches and nicks than other recent iPhones did, through no worse treatment.”

Charles Arthur said, “The improvements to battery life through adaptive scrolling are clever. But let’s be honest – there’s very little new juice to squeeze out of this particular fruit. The iPhone rolls around, we get new colours, but at this point it’s really hard to imagine any way of shocking us in a positive way with a new model.”

Casey Liss said, “I am a big fan of ProMotion, the increased battery life, smaller notch, and ever-improving cameras. I cannot overstate how glad and thankful I am that the Pro and Pro Max carry the same hardware. Apple could and should trust users to customize more. The runaway success of Widgetsmith — and widgets in general — should be a strong sign that iOS users are ready to make their phones truly theirs.”

Stephen Hackett said, “The whole platform lives under the cloud of Apple’s business practices concerning the App Store. Issues of commission rates, rip-off apps and payment processors will continue to dominate the app-centric news cycles for the next year. Apple should look hard at what it is doing, and ask itself if risking run-ins with governments and courts around the world is worth risking what makes the iPhone so great — the integration of hardware, software and services.”

Dan Moren said, “I’m sure there will be another jump forward at some point, but right now they just keep slowly getting better, like an inexorable march forward. A slight demerit if this does end up being the last year of the iPhone mini though.”

James Thomson said, “As with the Mac, a similar pattern of solid hardware paired with remarkably unexciting software updates. But software development seems be one part of Apple that the pandemic has really hit hard in the past year.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “Solid product line up, interesting and meaningful enhancements on video in particular making it feel like Apple is moving from the success of establishing the iPhone as the most used camera to now making it also the most used video camera and overall best phone for content creation.”

Dave Mark said, “The biggest iPhone gains for me are display quality (hold a 13 Pro next to an older model), and the 13 Pro macro mode.”

Brian Mattucci said, “The ProMotion display is a nice, subtle upgrade. The improved battery life and cameras are good as always. iOS 15 introduced two features I really like – Live Text and offline Siri. But I’m not quite sure how best to use Focus and Notification Summary. A pretty low key update overall.”

Jean MacDonald said, “The camera on the iPhone 13 Pro is the reason I upgraded again in 2021, and it was worth it.”

John Siracusa said, “Another year, another great iPhone. I refuse to lower my rating based on some perceived lack of ‘wow factor.’ The iPhone 13 does everything it should do, and does it better than its predecessors. The closest I can come to finding a fault is to point to the ever-expanding camera bump, which may have crossed a line this year.”

Rosemary Orchard said, “I wish the mini had a better camera with all three lenses. I am concerned about the scratching and chips which people are experiencing with the ceramic shield.”

Rich Mogull said, “I work as a communications leader for a disaster response nonprofit. The iPhone 13 is not only the first phone authorized for shooting photos and videos, but it is now considered the preferred option due to the consistent quality and ease of workflow integration. Oh yeah, 5G is nice and the screen looks great also.”

John Gruber said, “The iPhones 13 are very nice year-over-year upgrades. The cameras are better than ever (with the only downside being that the camera lenses on the Pro models are more pronounced than ever). Performance improved by typical margins, while at the same time battery life improved too. My favorite factoid: the iPhone 13 Mini gets longer battery life than the regular-sized iPhone 12. That says a lot. iOS 15 is an incremental update, but an incremental update is exactly what’s called for.”

Marco Arment said, “The iPhone 13 family is dramatically improved from the already-great 12 series in camera quality and battery life. iOS 15 has been remarkably stable, while still delivering good under-the-hood updates for developers.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “The flashy new pro camera feature, Cinematic mode, was a bit of a letdown and currently sits in gimmick territory. It is quite easy to spot the fakeness, like early years of Portrait mode photography, but also limited to 1080p resolution at 30 FPS. iOS 15 features are a mixed bag of functionality and complexity. The shipping bottom bar Safari design turned out well. I personally don’t like how Focus Modes have been exposed, and hope that future releases make it simpler and more approachable for newcomers. Live Text is awesome.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “The cameras in particular are the smartphone industry’s high bar and in tandem with the screen continue to be the eyes through which I remember my world and the canvas on which I review it.”

Myke Hurley said, “For me the biggest difference maker has been the ProMotion display. I love it.”

Alex Cox said, “I doubt this drives away customers, but having a phone that’s top heavy feels very weird.”

Shelly Brisbin said, “New camera hardware and the software to run it are compelling. But iOS 15 was a bit wobbly, with promised features like SharePlay not delivered at the initial release. Others we did get, like Focus, were confusing to understand and use. iOS did get a few nice accessibility updates, like VoiceOver Quick Settings, per-app low vision options, and enhanced audio customization for hearing impaired users. But there were serious bugs, too, and a couple of unexplained feature deletions in the accessibility suite.”

Federico Viticci said, “I personally only care about two of the new features in the iPhone 13 Pro lineup: battery life, which is outstanding on the 13 Pro Max, and the ProMotion display, which I love. I have no idea what do with Cinematic Mode, ProRes video, and Photographic Styles, but I’m glad they exist for other people. Macro photography is neat, but I’m not going outside much these days, and there’s only so many macro shots of my dog’s nose I can capture. Part of me also wonders if maybe this is a software problem? iOS 15 is, by and large, an addendum to iOS 14 that didn’t bring any meaningful changes to the features that made iOS 14 so popular and fun. Is it time for the iPhone to get more multitasking options, customization features, or more powerful widgets on the Home Screen? Time, and iOS 16, will tell.”

Christina Warren said, “Software quality does continue to get worse, particularly with things like autocorrect and the continued embarrassment that is Siri. iOS 14 was one of the worst iOS rollouts in history and iOS 15 is definitely better than that. From a hardware perspective, as good as the iPhone 13 is, it also feels like the weakest upgrade from the previous version that I can maybe ever remember.”

Nick Heer said, “The enhancements to the iPhone 13 seem to be exactly what users want: better cameras and better batteries. What’s more to say? I would be very okay if that is the entire hardware story for years to come. As with the Mac, software quality continues to be a letdown. The iPhone is like half of Apple’s revenue, which reflects its important position in our lives. I wish its software felt as mission-critical.”

iPad

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

A year of status quo, as the score didn’t budge at all. But beneath the surface there’s a great unease with the pace of iPad innovation, with the feeling that all the hardware power (represented by the M1 iPad Pro) is consistently being let down by iPadOS. The saving grace this year was the arrival of the new iPad mini, which clearly rescued this category from a sharp drop.

John Siracusa said, “The iPad hardware is doing fine, but it continues to be let down by iPadOS. The M1 hardware that it shares with several Macs only serves to highlight just how much more the iPad could do, if only its operating system were less restrictive. Also, now that the MacBook Pros have gotten their ports back, maybe it’s time to consider whether it’s appropriate for an iPad ‘Pro’ to have just one port.”

Zac Hall said, “I would still prefer OLED, but the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s mini-LED display is such an improvement over the old one.”

Lex Friedman said, “I’m a tech person. I want every new thing. But nothing inspires tech lust in me like Apple’s iPad releases. Each one seems amazing.”

Adam Engst said, “The iPad and iPadOS still somewhat seem to be a solution searching for a problem. It’s easy to think that you need a large-screen desktop Mac to work in the office, a laptop Mac to work on the road or bring work home, an iPhone to stay connected, and an Apple Watch to extend the iPhone’s capabilities to the wrist. But where does the iPad fit into that?”

Carolina Milanesi said, “Maybe because of the success of the Mac, the iPad updates felt very incremental this year. I feel the Magic Keyboard is holding the iPad Pro back. iPad mini could become a key device for frontline workers, but we have not seen that come to fruition yet.”

James Thomson said, “The hope is that next year is when all the power of the iPad Pro hardware will finally be unleashed. But we have been saying that for a not insignificant time, and there comes a point where you have to wonder if there is actually a grand plan after all.”

Dan Moren said, “The hardware on the iPad is second to none. Even the software with iPadOS 15 is pretty solid, even if it still feels like it’s straining at the seams sometimes. (Better windowing still seems like it’s on the horizon, even if we never quite reach it.) The biggest peculiarity that needs to be remedied is Apple’s line-up, specifically the iPad Air, which sits at an awkward price/performance point. The iPad Pro is for Pros, the base iPad is for everybody…so who is the Air for? And why is it so expensive?”

David Sparks said, “2021 is the year that I came to a new understanding with the iPad. I no longer judge it by what I want it to be, but instead what it actually is. My tipping point was the arrival of an M1-based iPad but no significant steps to use that M1 chip for historically constrained iPad features. That was when I realized Apple looks at the iPad as something between the iPhone and the Mac, and no more. So now I’m only using the iPad for things the iPad is good at and no longer trying to move mountains with a shovel.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “The iPad is not constrained by hardware. It has the fastest tablet CPU I could ask for but the software limits what I can do with it. I can’t take iOS seriously without a proper file manager. I’m also still waiting on the promise of iOS predicting what I need from it before I have to go hunt for it. It almost never suggests the right apps or files in Spotlight.”

Dave Hamilton said, “I have always been a big fan of the iPad mini. The new model really is an ‘iPad Pro mini’ in so many ways, and I love mine. I haven’t been this happy with an iPad in many years, and now my admiration of the product has been rekindled.”

Stephen Hackett said, “The new iPad mini is a revelation, re-igniting my love for the small tablet. It’s fast, lightweight and the iPad Pro-inspired design fits in quite nicely. That said, the fundamental questions about what the iPad is weren’t answered in 2021. The hardware still runs circles around the software, and Apple still hasn’t shipped world-class examples of pro apps for the device. Meanwhile, in the Apple silicon era, Apple is shipping the best notebooks in the history of the company, luring back people who were previously more iPad-centric. I expect that trend to continue, especially if the MacBook Air gets its rumored redesign this year.”

Charles Arthur said, “So you added an M1 and.. the iPad now seems to be in the backwater that the Mac laptops were for ages. The hardware has reached some sort of Platonic ideal, the add-on keyboard is good (but of course we’d need to talk about the software, later), the Pencil is neat, but it feels like stasis.”

Federico Viticci said, “There’s no better example of software holding back hardware than the latest generation iPad Pro with an M1 chip. The new iPad Pro is the best iteration of this form factor to date. At the same time, the new iPad Pro is more of the same that doesn’t really unlock anything new in terms of ‘pro’ computing despite its M1 and adoption of Thunderbolt 4. As I argued in my review, iPadOS 15 brought some welcome updates for power users in terms of keyboard integration and multi-window management, but it didn’t add any major new functionalities: it only refined the iPad’s existing foundation. Widgets on the Home Screen are nice, but their lack of interactivity is in direct opposition to the ‘pro’ nature of the iPad Pro. So, once again, it still feels like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. What saved the iPad line in 2021 was the arrival of the redesigned iPad mini. I love it. By adopting the iPad Pro’s industrial design, Apple was able to make the iPad mini’s display bigger but the overall device smaller, all while bringing the device into the modern era of iPadOS gestural multitasking. I’m glad Apple decided to revive this product in 2021; I just hope we won’t have to wait three years for another update.”

Myke Hurley said, “The M1 iPad Pro was a real line in the sand for iPad hardware. Pure power. Unfortunately – yet again – Apple did not beef up iPadOS to make use of it. But the new iPad mini may be my favourite iPad ever. It’s perfect in size, the screen and form factor are so good. It is the best iPad Apple has ever made for content consumption.”

Alex Cox said, “I no longer know who the iPad Pro is for if Apple still won’t bring over their own pro apps to models that have an M1.”

Steven Aquino said, “I’m very excited by the new iPad mini. After years of experimenting with using an iPad as a laptop replacement, the redesigned mini feels like just what I’m looking for out of a tablet nowadays.”

Joe Macirowski said, “Center Stage has been a wow-inducing feature. We haven’t had those in a while.”

Nick Heer said, “What a year it was for iPad updates. The base model iPad continues to be one of the best deals going, the iPad Pro uses the same SoC as consumer-level Macs, and even the iPad Mini got some love this year. Truly great stuff all around on a hardware front. I know I am sounding like a broken record, but software remains where the iPad lags. iPadOS 15 was a really big update and it was a genuine joy to see so much attention lavished on multitasking. But it’s still not working as well as it should. iPadOS still shows its smartphone roots in enough ways that it remains irritating for me to use for long periods of time.”

Christina Warren said, “I’m still not sure where it fits in the whole ecosystem. iPadOS still feels frustratingly constrained versus the incredible hardware capabilities. It’s difficult to make a solid argument for why someone should get an iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard rather than a MacBook Air that can also run iOS apps AND is a full Mac. I still love the iPad, but I think the fact that Apple has created so many artificial constraints on the software continues to drag down the platform.”

Rich Mogull said, “The transition to the M1 for the iPad Pros was seamless, but in my testing the battery life is a little lower than I hoped. The products are still pretty great, but are also hampered by an OS that isn’t quite there yet.”

Rosemary Orchard said, “I love the new iPad mini. It would be amazing to have a Bluetooth keyboard like the Magic Keyboard including the trackpad, but maybe a third party will bring out one of sufficient quality. With the Apple Pencil 2, this is is an excellent portable note taking device as well as reading.”

Tom Bridge said, “iPadOS remains a second class citizen in terms of adoption, focus and attention for Apple, and that makes the best-in-class hardware seem a bit less shiny. No question that the new iPad mini is the best device to carry the moniker, but it still isn’t quite enough of a workhorse. Until the software catches up with the hardware, the iPad is going to be a pretty niche player.”

Marco Arment said, “iPadOS’ efforts to add powerful features without ruining its simplicity have always left me wanting both far more and far less. I’m starting to think that such a balance cannot be struck. But if it could be, it would probably require far more effort than Apple is currently investing.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “I am really pleased with iPadOS 15’s changes to the multitasking UI and the associated metaphors. Improving iPadOS handling of external displays is an obvious next step for the platform and probably can be elegantly built off the interface foundations introduced this year.”

Wearables

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

Apple Watch: Grade: B (average score: 3.6, median score 4, last year: 3.8)

A degree of boredom has entered the Apple Watch world, with a fourth straight year of score decline. The overall Wearables score remained steady, largely indicating more positive feelings about the trajectory of the AirPods line.

John Moltz said, “The 3rd generation AirPods are a strong improvement over the previous model, which was already a great offering.”

Josh Centers said, “The third-generation AirPods are nice. Spatial Audio is great for movies. Apple Watch Series 7 was kind of a dud update. However, the watchOS ecosystem has grown enough now that I’m finding my watch more and more useful.”

Lex Friedman said, “Apple Watch battery life still needs to get better. And the new UI for composing text is a step forward and backward at the same time: Editing is easier, writing is harder.”

Joe Macirowski said, “My Series 4-6 immediately felt boxed in as much as a series 3. I didn’t expect that. Upgrades that make it hard to go back shouldn’t be written off as ‘minor.'”

Brian Mattucci said, “The reduced bezels and larger screen size of the new Apple Watch is welcomed, but the lack of new sensors or meaningful software features was disappointing. The Apple Watch feels pretty stable, but hopefully they can find ways to delight us in 2022. Also, I really love AirPods Max. I know they came out in mid-December 2020, but I’ve really enjoyed spending the year with them.”

Allison Sheridan said, “The Apple Watch Series 7 was panned as not having breakthrough features, but the increase in screen size was a huge increase in usability. Larger touch targets are also easier to read, and the improved brightness is truly dramatic. I used my Apple Watch Series 6 the other day and I was struck by how tiny it looked. All this while keeping the same watch bands.”

Marcus Mendes said, “The recent rumors about the AirPods Pro 2 only made me think how I’m still in awe of the AirPods Pro and they still feel like they came from the future.”

Shelly Brisbin said, “Easier-to-read text on the watch is always welcome, and frankly, it’s the reason to upgrade if you’ve gotten an Apple Watch since Series 4. But more than phones, even, watches shouldn’t be judged on their year-over-year upgrades. AirPods continue to gain innovative audio features, but the design of AirPods Pro means they aren’t a good fit for some ears. I’d like to see Apple find ways to offer custom-fit options.”

John Gruber said, “I bought a Series 5 Apple Watch two years ago and did not expect to upgrade to a Series 7. But, after reviewing it, I did — the bigger, brighter display (especially the brighter ‘always on’ mode) and longer battery life are meaningful improvements. My beef is with the entry level Series 3 still being sold. Given the improvements from Series 4 through 7, Series 3 feels downright ancient. I’m a big-time AirPods Pro fan, but I totally get that many people do not like the feeling of sealed earbuds. Even putting the price difference aside, there’s an important spot in the AirPods product lineup for non-sealed ‘regular’ earbuds. The third-generation AirPods are a great upgrade for that spot in the lineup.”

Michael Tsai said, “AirPods 3 are a winner, though squeezing is not as good as tapping was.”

Tom Bridge said, “In 2021, I changed jobs, and suddenly had to spend a lot more time on videoconferences. My podcasting headphones were deeply uncomfortable after a few hours of wear. I visited an Apple store for an iPhone repair and tried on a pair of AirPods Max. I swore audibly, and an Apple employee came to check on me to make sure I was okay. I was okay—they fit like a dream, they moved the right way, they didn’t pinch where the temples on my glasses met the ear cup, they sounded incredible. I was so mad that I was about to spend $549, but when you wear them 6-8 hours a day, every day, and they cause you no pain or confusion? That’s money well spent.”

Dave Hamilton said, “Apple’s addition of Spatial Audio took me by surprise. I didn’t think I’d care about that feature, and now it’s the feature of my AirPods (and AirPods Pro) that I think I like the best. The new AirPods are another feather in Apple’s cap here. I’ve long been a fan of the non-sealing AirPods as my favorite Bluetooth headset for phone calls, and the Gen3 AirPods deliver here and then some. Great product.”

Jean MacDonald said, “I was wearing my AirPods Pro so much for noise cancellation around my new apartment, I decided to get the AirPods Max so I could switch between them and give myself a break from wearing an in-ear device. The AirPods Max are phenomenal. Yes, they are expensive, but having happy ears is worth it.”

John Siracusa said, “The Apple Watch Series 7 surely is, as Apple is so fond of saying, ‘the best Apple Watch yet.’ But the Watch product line is in the same place the iMac was before 2021. It’s had the same (admittedly, iconic) basic industrial design for over six years. And unlike the pre-2021 the iMac, the Watch still has some ways to go before it’s as svelte its customers would like. The AirPods remain fantastic.”

Christina Warren said, “The Apple Watch update this year was boring but the Apple Watch is still the wearable to beat. As for AirPods, they have continued to take the world by storm and the AirPods 3s are the best yet. For 20 years now, white earbuds have been an enduring fashion statement and AirPods continue to be really strong.”

Casey Liss said, “I finally got myself a pair of AirPods Pro for the holidays and — who knew? — they’re excellent. I find the fit just fine with the default tips, and they sound SO MUCH better than classic AirPods. I wish there was an AirPods Pro update in 2021, but I’m pleased to see the new third-gen AirPods adopt much of the same physical design, as well as Atmos/spatial audio support.”

Steven Aquino said, “The bigger screen on Apple Watch Series 7 is probably my favorite Apple improvement of the year. Some may find it incremental, but it’s been a game-changer for me as someone with extremely low vision.”

Marco Arment said, “This was a relatively uninteresting year for the Apple Watch, but it’s already in a great place in most ways. I still wish for watchOS to offer some form of custom watch faces, even if it’s achieved with what’s effectively a nearly-full-screen complication with minimal system UI around it.”

Apple TV

Grade: C (average score: 3.1, median score 3, last year: 2.1)

Our fastest mover in the survey, with a shocking increase of an entire point to the average score, is the red-hot product category of… Apple TV? Well, the score wasn’t very good to begin with, and the introduction of a new remote control really was a crowd pleaser. A C grade is still not great, but at least the bad remote is gone. Otherwise, many panelists are puzzled about the Apple TV hardware’s place in the world, given the much cheaper competition.

Charles Arthur said, “The question of why the Apple TV exists in its current form factor, rather than being a stick you can plug into the back of the TV, remains a puzzle. Is all that A-series processing power really needed to do the job? And the Bluetooth stack remains buggy – if you’re using an Apple TV for Apple Fitness and listening on Airpods, it sometimes loses the connection to one or the other.”

Guilherme Rambo said, “The new Apple TV 4K, especially the new remote, is a huge improvement over the previous model. However, I’d like a more powerful chip in there, since the software still seems to struggle quite a bit. The tvOS 15 update also came riddled with bugs, which made using the new Apple TV less enjoyable.”

James Thomson said, “The new remote is a definite improvement, but I still frequently curse while navigating the Apple TV interface with it. There was a new Apple TV too, but it was underpowered, and overpriced. tvOS itself didn’t visibly change, and still has the worst text entry system of any device I own, over a decade later.”

Michael E. Cohen said, “Oddly, I’m not very disappointed that this platform seems to be languishing in terms of development and features: I like to veg out in front of the TV, and wrestling with new features and the interfaces necessary to access them is not conducive to vegging out.”

Glenn Fleishman said, “The worst piece of hardware Apple ever made, the Siri Remote, was finally given a burial.”

Allison Sheridan said, “The remote is mildly better, but not the game changer others seem to find it. Being able to click forward and back is much better, but the Siri button is much less accessible on the side and harder to push.”

Marco Arment said, “The new Apple TV remote is a huge improvement over the previous one, which saves the Apple TV from the much lower score it would earn if tvOS was my focus this year. (At least it would be someone’s focus, because it sure seems like nobody at Apple cares much about it — or even uses it.)”

Zac Hall said, “Bravo, Apple, five stars. You fixed the remote and slightly updated Apple TV 4K. Prices are still steep, but the new remote makes up for that when rating.”

Andrew Laurence said, “The AppleTV hardware remains sufficient. If you only want a TV streamer device, it’s grossly overpriced. The Apple ecosystem brings a lot of extra value to the hardware, but does a product make sense if it’s only valuable to the Services whales?”

Stephen Hackett said, “Apple has shipped AirPlay and Apple TV+ support on dozens of non-Apple televisions and streaming boxes over the last couple of years. I really struggle to understand what sets the Apple TV apart enough to justify its high cost. But hey, at least the remote doesn’t suck anymore.”

Dan Moren said, “The new Siri Remote isn’t perfect, but it’s such an enormous improvement on its predecessor that it’s kind of amazing. The Click Wheel works great, the buttons are responsive and useful, and miracle of miracles, you can actually tell which way is up. It’s enabled me to get rid of almost all my other remotes, and live the single-remote lifestyle. Now if only tvOS would get some more improvements that aren’t just about driving people towards AppleTV+ content. Is the future of TV still apps?”

John Siracusa said, “The remote is no longer terrible! But unlike the MacBook Pros, I think the new Apple TV remote is getting by partly based on how well it compares to its execrable predecessor, rather than entirely on its own merits. The part of the Apple TV that you touch every day is no longer a punishment, but it’s still a bit too small, its buttons are still too uniform and too slight, and the touch-pad can still be tricky.”

Adam Engst said, “The Apple TV hardware is stagnant. tvOS 15 has a few improvements, I guess, but it doesn’t seem that Apple is devoting much attention to the platform. Maybe that’s OK, on the assumption that all people really want to do is watch TV. But it’s still an odd, fragmented experience that’s better when you deal with the streaming apps individually rather than try to access them through the TV app.”

Tom Bridge said, “The new Siri Remote for the AppleTV 4K is a huge step forward. The box itself remains overpriced and under-featured.”

Marcus Mendes said, “The Apple TV is in an unfortunate position to be delivering everything it possibly can to differentiate itself in a market where people don’t really seem to want this differentiation.”

Brian Mattucci said, “The new Siri remote is proof that Apple listens to its customers now and then with great success. They should do so slightly more often.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “The new Siri Remote is a fantastic upgrade that is approachable to people expecting a traditional button remote, without sacrificing the useful swipe gestures for people that are accustomed to them. I do think the remote should have included a beeper / Find My integration, an even more hilarious omission when you remember that it was announced at the same event as the AirTag. However, the overall Apple TV product still feels unsatisfactory for the price they charge. The box needs to do more, or get significantly cheaper. The tvOS software is also beginning to lag behind the modern Google TV platform when it comes to the smarts of collating a watch list across many different services.”

John Gruber said, “The new Siri Remote is great — not just great compared to the much-maligned old remote, but great period. The updated $180 A12-based Apple TV 4K box is very good. But $150 for an A8-based Apple TV HD? Come on. If Apple wants to keep selling that box, it should be $99, tops. If they want $150 to be the floor for Apple TV hardware, it should be a better computer. There’s a lot one can criticize about the tvOS experience, primarily surrounding the muddle that is the TV app. The TV apps wants to be your gateway to the whole experience, but it can’t be, with apps like Netflix not participating. But, still, I’d say the overall experience of using Apple TV and tvOS as your entertainment center is the best there is. It’s a failing of Apple’s marketing that more people don’t know just how good Apple TV is.”

Rosemary Orchard said, “I really like the new Apple TV remote, but would appreciate a range of colours and Find My integration. The Apple TV is still the priciest option out there – and while the experience is definitely really good, it’s a shame that they still don’t offer a smaller, cheaper option.”

Federico Viticci said, “If you were to ask me to recall what’s new in tvOS 15 off the top of my head, I don’t think I’d be able to answer that. The ability to see HomeKit cameras on the big screen maybe? The redesigned video player? None of this matters for me because Apple did the one thing I wanted to see in TV hardware, and they did it extremely well: they redesigned the Siri remote and brought back physical buttons. Saying that a new TV remote had a positive, meaningful impact on my daily life may sound like an exaggeration, but given the amount of TV we watch in these pandemic times, it absolutely isn’t. I love that I can easily change volume with physical buttons or navigate the tvOS UI with a clickwheel. I bought three new Siri remotes in 2021 and placed them everywhere I have an Apple TV. Is it weird to love a TV remote? Is this love the result of how much I fundamentally despised the old one? But seriously, what’s new in tvOS 15?”

Casey Liss said, “Finally, an updated Apple TV. Even as a first-gen Siri Remote apologist, I cannot deny the new, second-gen Siri Remote is leaps and bounds better in every way. Furthermore, I appreciate that Apple made it available for purchase and use with older Apple TVs. Software-wise, tvOS is… fine. I don’t actively dislike it, but nothing about it gives me any particular joy, either. It does the job, which is probably the most I can reasonably ask.”

Nick Heer said, “Was tvOS updated? Not really. Did Apple overhaul the box? No. Is it cheaper? Absolutely not. But there’s a new remote! I guess I’m grading on a curve. Also, I really like that new colour balancing feature that works with an iPhone. It didn’t change much on my TV, but the experience of using it was delightful.”

Services

Grade: B (average score: 3.6, median score 4, last year: 4.0)

Apple loves its Services category, which contributed 16% of the company’s revenue in its most recent financial quarter and keeps growing at a remarkable rate. Our panelists were less enthused, though it’s worth noting that this category started in the dumps back in 2015 and has generally trended upward. Still, unlike the revenue totals, our panel’s enthusiasm about services did not continue trending endlessly upward.

David Sparks said, “Remember when we all talked about how Apple can’t do the cloud? I don’t hear anyone saying that anymore. My biggest concern about services is probably its overall success. The more Apple comes to rely on services income, the more they will create conflicts with Apple’s historical business of selling killer hardware with integrated software.”

Brian Mattucci said, “Apple’s improvements to ‘Hide My Email’, and the addition of Mail Protection and iCloud Private Relay were unexpected surprises. iCloud Private Relay isn’t ready for widespread use yet, and I hope they continue working on it.”

Marco Arment said, “The boring services — iMessage, iCloud, etc. — continue to function very well without fanfare. Siri continues to be an embarrassing mess of unreliability, sluggish performance, inconsistency, and poor-quality responses.”

John Moltz said, “Apple TV+ has really grown up. They’re not all winners, but Apple’s managed to put together a compelling enough lineup that I don’t resent my Apple One Plan.”

Stephen Hackett said, “Why 👏🏻 doesn’t 👏🏻 Apple 👏🏻 have 👏🏻 a 👏🏻 photos 👏🏻 service 👏🏻 that 👏🏻 works 👏🏻 for 👏🏻families?”

Josh Centers said, “Apple is pumping out all these services that are making them all kinds of money, but I’m not sure how useful many of them are. Apple Music and Apple Pay continue to be high points.”

Michael Tsai said, “iMessage has been extremely unreliable for me this year, with notifications and read state syncing essentially broken. Siri is still impossibly slow and unreliable, even for basics like controlling audio playback and adding reminders.”

John Gruber said, “Apple One is a very good value. Apple Music is great. TV+ is good and getting better every month. Fitness+ seems like a perfect fit for Apple given Watch’s focus on fitness. But iCloud storage tiers are too small at every price point.”

John Siracusa said, “Apple TV+ continues to have just enough excellent content to sustain itself. Apple Music seems stagnant and is saddled with some creaky apps, especially on the Mac. Apple Arcade is keeping its head above water, but might better be seen as a cost center aimed at fighting the scourge of ‘casino games for children’ on Apple’s mobile App Stores.”

Andrew Laurence said, “Each service functions well within its own domain but the value-add of bundles should be easier to navigate. I’ve yet to figure out why the Apple Music Voice Plan exists, or whom it targets.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “The services division at Apple, if they have one, deserves a big bonus. They steered Apple from a hardware company into a services company. I’m generally happy with my Apple subscriptions, which includes the iPhone purchase plan. I pay them some money each month and I get cloud storage, news, TV shows, music, and some games. It’s actually a pretty good deal even if I wish I could get more iCloud storage. The price points are more reasonable than most streaming services so overall I like the direction Apple is headed.”

Tom Bridge said, “I remain a happy customer of the Apple One bundle. This is a good product, composed of some excellent items (iCloud, Apple Fitness+, Apple TV+), some okay items (Apple Arcade, Apple Music, Apple Card), and AppleCare remains a product in Apple’s lineup.”

Jean MacDonald said, “The Fitness+ offerings are fun to explore, and it’s great that they continue to add new interesting workout categories and instructors.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad said, “Having paid for Fitness+ for a year, I’ve not used it once. I barely play any of the games. I don’t use the News service. Music is OK. TV is just about OK. It’s not a compelling package for the money.”

Charles Arthur said, “Very solid. Fitness+ is great, TV+ had some good shows (and the price is attractive), and the Apple One bundles are well priced. It’s also reliable. No big stories about downtime that I recall.”

Rich Mogull said, “TV+, Music, Apple Card, and even Apple News are solid. Fitness+ is pretty good but still doesn’t have enough variety. AppleCare+ has also been a great experience this year, with more flexible options. I wish I needed it less. But… iCloud. Oh iCloud. You’ve become the anchor gluing everything together and dragging them to the depths of the ocean as all the services on top try their best to tread water.”

Dr. Drang said, “iCloud Drive continues to be my main cloud storage system. Its reliability is an undertold story. But Apple needs to make sharing as easy as Dropbox does.”

Casey Liss said, “For the most part, I’m pleased with Apple’s services. I don’t love that they’re becoming an ever-larger priority for Apple, and I feel like I’m continually being nickel-and-dimed about… everything. However, I enjoy the services I do subscribe to as part of Apple One. Fitness+ is really well done, and I like that they’re trying new things throughout the year. iCloud still doesn’t have enough storage for free; it’s really getting kind of embarrassing now. I dove in on Apple Photos this past year and by and large it’s been pretty reliable and worked quite well. Apple Pay is becoming more and more useful over time, as more websites and more brick-and-mortar retailers adopt it. AppleTV+ is surprising in its breadth, and though I’ve only taken the time to watch a few of the shows offered, they’ve all been enjoyable.”

Joe Macirowski said, “Remember iCloud Private Relay? FaceTime coming closer to parity with iChat AV is nice, though.”

James Thomson said, “AppleTV+ produced a lot of really great shows, but iCloud has been very unreliable from a developer perspective since the autumn OS updates.”

Allison Sheridan said, “Apple Card was much more of a game changer than I expected. Being able to see all of our transactions in a human-readable form, having the immediate popup to confirm that a transaction went through (when often the seller’s web interface is stuck pretending it hasn’t) and the continued security of an obfuscated credit card number adds up to a fabulous service.”

Myke Hurley said, “Many of my favourite TV shows of the year were on TV+. That’s not something I would have expected this soon.”

Nick Heer said, “After decades of failed starts and reliability problems, it is still a little hard to believe Apple is a legitimately convincing internet services company. 2021 was the tenth year of iCloud and it has come a long way in that time. These services are rarely showy and do not necessarily stand out, but they have been reliable for me. Unfortunately, a security researcher managed to delete all public links to shared Shortcuts, so that wasn’t great. Apple Music is still nowhere near as compelling as it ought to be. Also, outside of the United States, Apple’s services portfolio feels like a watered-down impression of what they should be.”

Guilherme Rambo said, “I wish Apple Music wasn’t so slow and buggy.”

Peter Cohen said, “Just based on my own receipts, I’m throwing a lot more money at Apple this year for services than I ever have. So either they’re doing something right or I screwed up.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “Apple Arcade probably got the most love this year with the expansion of the library into ‘Timeless Classics’ and ‘App Store Greats’, enabling the company to funnel a lot more titles onto the service. Both Apple Music and Apple TV+ feel held back by the apps you have to use to access them. And 2021 didn’t really move the needle on improving those experiences, for either Music or TV. Rebranding of paid iCloud as iCloud+ was interesting, but the actual non-storage features feel a little underwhelming. Most notably, Private Relay was released as a beta, and the beta still seems quite buggy.”

Adam Engst said, “When Apple’s services are good, they’re very, very good. Apple Pay, particularly when activated from the Apple Watch, is living in the future. When they’re bad, they’re completely irrelevant.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “The introduction of Fitness+ offered a good alternative to Peloton, with a superior integration of Apple Watch. The introduction of Apple One allowed for higher attach rate of multiple services at a very competitive price point.”

Federico Viticci said, “Apple did a good job expanding Apple Arcade to include classic games and ‘App Store greats’ – basically using game preservation as a way to build a back catalog of content, which is clever. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the evolution of Apple TV+. Apple Music had a pretty quiet year with no major changes in the iPhone and iPad app, which is why I find myself more excited about Apple TV+ these days. A lot of people in our community dislike Apple’s transformation into a hardware company that also sells services for recurring revenue; I think it’s fun, and I like how you can mix and match the services you subscribe to and unlock different experiences on Apple platforms based on your needs and preferences. If an audiobook service is next, that’s likely another one I’ll subscribe to.”

Dave Hamilton said, “The addition of Custom Email Domains in iCloud+ is really a sleeper feature. I’ve helped many people migrate over to these, and it is — by far — the easiest path I’ve ever experienced to getting your own email at your own domain. Huge.”

Zac Hall said, “Big year for Apple Music with Dolby Atmos (and lossless for those who care).”

HomeKit/Home automation

Grade: D+ (average score: 2.7, median score 3, last year: 3.1)

Apple’s Home strategy—if it has one—backslid in the estimation of our panel this year. (And it’s never really gotten good grades.) Many panel members hold out hope that Apple is planning a grander strategy and that the launch of the new Matter smart-home specification in 2022 will help things coalesce. But the lack of action up to now sours most of their perspectives. This is a group that’s waiting for something to cheer for—and not finding it.

Brian Mattucci said, “I’m excited about Home Key and look forward to trying it at some point in the near future.”

Allison Sheridan said, “The Home app really and truly needs to be redesigned from the ground up. I’ve been using it for years and whenever it’s time to add a new device or mess with a scene or an automation, I find myself fumbling around trying to guess where an option is buried. It’s truly an awful piece of software.”

Charles Arthur said, “Still seems to be trailing. When something goes wrong, you don’t know who’s at fault—the product vendor or Apple. HomeKit’s automation programming needs to integrate with Shortcuts – I’d like to be able to chain commands together to adapt to different scenarios, rather than just having individual scenes to enable and disable.”

Guilherme Rambo said, “There’s no home strategy that we can see. The OG HomePod is dying a slow death without a decent replacement. And to top it all off, the iOS/tvOS 15.1 update completely broke my HomeKit setup, rendering most automations unreliable. They need to catch up on this, and do it quickly.”

Joe Macirowski said, “The app is still ugly and my new bedside mini pair starts playing music an entire minute after I’ve dismissed the phone’s wake up alarm on the watch.”

John Moltz said, “HomeKit works fairly well for me in my limited use and it works on more and more devices. I still maintain that Apple needs to make its own kit.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “Apple’s home strategy remains unclear. Although there may be a long-term vision in development, nothing materialized in 2021 to really back that up. HomePod mini got some new color options, but that was basically it. Apple has a lot of potential to make a contribution but they aren’t yet doing it. Even Facebook has a better offering right now with the Portal, enabling pretty seamless living room FaceTime calls with family — a feature that it feels like Apple could very easily provide.”

Rosemary Orchard said, “I’m really excited by the new Apple Home Key feature, and the Thread rollout appears to be going well.”

Federico Viticci said, “At the moment, Apple does not have a Home strategy. They have a Home app, and they have a HomePod mini, which is ‘mini’ in comparison to… nothing, since the original, regular-size HomePod was discontinued. At this point, it’s fair to say that Apple is merely the maker of a HomeKit API and aggregation dashboard (the Home app). If Apple wants to compete with Amazon and take back control of the home from the Echos of the world, they need to make more hardware, and they need to make it fast. And that’s not even to mention the clunky and outdated design of the Home app, the lack of interactive HomeKit widgets on iOS, or absence of Home complications on the Watch. I hope we see any kind of new story from Apple regarding the Home in 2022.”

Paul Kafasis said, “I’m hopeful for the Thread/Matter future, but HomeKit devices continue to be slow, Shortcuts are hit or miss – it all just does not work as quickly or reliably as it should. And yet, it works just well enough to keep me using it!”

Josh Centers said, “HomeKit seems to be languishing. Maybe that will change once the Matter standard drops. But I gave Apple high marks simply for how great the HomePod mini is.”

Shelly Brisbin said, “Apple continues to lag behind Amazon and Google in terms of sheer numbers of devices supported. But more importantly, configuring HomeKit-compatible devices is often not fully possible in the minimalist Home app, and what’s required get up and running (like using the device manufacturer’s app along with Home) is opaque to many.”

Lex Friedman said, “I still rely on hacks to make things work the way they should.”

Marco Arment said, “HomeKit works well for me, but the Home app is garbage on every platform. The HomePod Mini is a great little product, but the lineup could really use more options, such as a replacement for the large HomePod, a battery-powered portable HomePod, and a HomePod line-out box for larger integrations.”

Michael Tsai said, “The Mac Home app is an embarrassment.”

Marcus Mendes said, “If it wasn’t for the Matter thing, I’d be sure that Apple had given up on this market altogether. Kind of like Siri.”

Adam Engst said, “As with the Apple TV, it feels like Apple’s HomeKit team isn’t really doing very much, such that HomeKit continues to work but has little forward momentum.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “I’ve seen zero innovation in either the Home app or HomeKit. The Home app remains one of the most obtuse and inconsistent UIs Apple provides, which is odd for something that should be targeting more average users.”

Steven Aquino said, “HomeKit is great in many respects, but I feel like Apple is missing the boat by not offering a smart display. The OG HomePod in my kitchen is great, but I’d much rather have a screen from which I could monitor the doorbell and driveway cams without having to reach for my phone every time the doorbell rings.”

Rich Mogull said, “Improvements have been incremental, but even trying a ton of other apps, I still end up using Home more than anything since the layout works well. We have also become really reliant on Siri for our home control. However, most of my automations run on a separate higher-end product (Indigo) that I trigger with Home.”

Dan Moren said, “I want to like HomeKit so much. I use it all the time, but it’s decidedly flaky. Devices are often listed as Not Responding. Siri on the HomePod sometimes just decides it doesn’t want to be able to control your accessories, and you still have to fall back to third-party solutions like Homebridge to get many devices to work. It’s promising, and I have high hopes for Matter, but the Home app is badly in need of an update, and would it kill Apple to produce some smart home tech to show other companies how it’s done?”

Zac Hall said, “Five stars for HomePod mini and new features added, but no stars for discontinuing the original HomePod with no replacement.”

Peter Cohen said, “I’m really hoping HomeKit is useable with more stuff this year once Matter starts to take hold.”

John Gruber said, “I think this whole endeavor needs a major kickstart. You want to go all-in on the Apple experience for your phone or computer or even TV, you know what to do. But if you want to go all-in on the Apple experience for home automation, it’s very muddled.”

John Siracusa said, “Too many third-party home devices that claim to have HomeKit support are actually constant headaches that ‘disappear’ from HomeKit on a regular basis. Is this Apple’s fault? I’m not sure, but there are so few good HomeKit devices that it certainly is Apple’s problem.”

Alex Cox said, “HomeKit can position itself as the homeOS for people who care about their privacy, but Apple needs a smart hub that’s more robust and reliable than the HomePod Mini.”

Tom Bridge said, “Apple needs a better story here, but the HomePod mini is a solid entrant in the home speaker line. The poor, neglected HomePod, though, is suffering service and experience degradation that needs to be addressed. I am hopeful for a new standard with new material to help uncloud the picture, but we’re still a long way from good.”

Casey Liss said, “I am a HomeKit user, but it’s still a buggy mess. I’ve come to loathe the word ‘Updating…’, as I see it all too often. There aren’t enough HomeKit devices on the market. HomeKit is too unreliable. Something that doesn’t work in the Home app will often work immediately in Siri, or vice/versa. It’s infuriating. I like the spirit of HomeKit. I like the implementation, when it works. But it is far too unreliable. I can’t recommend it for an average user.”

Myke Hurley said, “It feels like someone is truly asleep at the wheel in Apple’s Home team. Maybe they put all of their efforts in to building the home set they use for keynotes. There has just been nothing meaningful at all. I really hope they’ve been so quiet because they have something great coming. I will remain hopeful.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “I hope things will improve with Apple’s back up of Matter but progress here seems low for the average iPhone user. It seems that the return is really for those users who invest in shortcuts and routine which is not for everyone”

Jeff Carlson said, “Maybe it’s the fragmented nature of different home products and standards and implementations, but nothing about HomeKit ever seems like ‘it just works.'”

James Thomson said, “HomeKit feels like it’s in maintenance mode until Matter and Thread become mainstream, and remains as reliable as ever. Which is not a compliment. At least we got an orange HomePod mini.”

Rob Griffiths said, “It mostly works. Sort of like most internet of things devices. I hate the UI, but it’s unlikely to ever change.”

Hardware reliability

Grade: A (average score: 4.5, median score 5, last year: 4.5)

In 2020 this category reached an all time high after several years in the doldrums, and this year maintained the same score. Apple silicon Macs received a lot of praise, of course, and more generally people noted the absence of any big hardware-related scandals.

Brent Simmons said, “I continue to be happy that those awful, erratic keyboards are gone.”

Marco Arment said, “The new Apple-silicon Macs seem even more reliable than their outgoing Intel predecessors, and there seem to be no widespread hardware issues with any modern iPhones, iPads, or Apple Watches.”

James Thomson said, “Nothing stands out, with the exception of AirPod Pro failures. Pretty solid.”

Allison Sheridan said, “While my Macs, iPads and iPhones continue to be rock solid, the AirPods continue to be unreliable. Three sets of OG AirPods in a row will suddenly report that one pod is dead, and yet putting it back in the case and taking it back out often changes it to reporting 100% charge.”

Dan Moren said, “With the exception of having my AirPods Pro encounter the dread scratchy/crackling problem, most of my Apple hardware has been remarkably stable.”

Adam Engst said, “The butterfly keyboard remains dead.”

David Sparks said, “No ‘gates’ in 2021. Hooray!”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “To me, AppleCare is a big part of the hardware reliability. The hardware rarely fails but when it does I can be pretty confident that it’s not the end of life because I have AppleCare. Oh, and the new keyboards are nice.”

Rob Griffiths said, “We’ve not had any major hardware issues with any Apple items in the last year. One minor exception was an AirPod that stopped working, but it was replaced under warranty.”

Josh Centers said, “Apple hardware is quite solid. My biggest complaint is battery lifespan. I’ve only had my Apple Watch Series 4 for a couple of years and the battery is worn out.”

Alex Cox said, “I forgot what it was like to live in a world where I don’t carry around a second keyboard in case a speck of dust got into my MacBook Pro.”

John Siracusa said, “Apple has addressed its most egregious hardware reliability problems in the past few years. We’re left with the baseline level of small issues, most of which can be adequately addressed by AppleCare+. Can Apple hardware be even more reliable? Certainly. Look at the advances in manufacturing consistency and product reliability made by the automobile industry over the past several decades. But in 2021, Apple is at least back to a level of hardware reliability that its customers can mostly live with.”

Software quality

Grade: B- (average score: 3.4, median score 4, last year: 3.5)

After a few years of yo-yoing between good and bad scores, Apple managed a second straight year of largely positive comments from our panel. Not that a B- is a grade to get excited about, especially compared to the praise for Apple’s hardware, but it’s a second year of positivity from a group that generally can’t maintain enthusiasm about software quality for more than a year at a time.

Tom Bridge said, “macOS Monterey is an incremental improvement, but there’s a long way to go here. Apple only just expanded bike directions for Maps beyond a few core cities, and they have a long way to go to bring the Maps experience to an appropriate level of experience everywhere they promise it. Overall, the Mac’s software is aging poorly. Calendar, Mail and Contacts remain stuck in a much earlier, much less interesting world of personal information management. Mail cannot scale to meet the needs of modern mail experiences, and that’s, frankly, a bit criminal in this world. While Monterey is an improvement over Big Sur — especially for organizations that support Macs at scale as part of business environments — there’s a long way for Apple to go. It feels as if the bold Apple is gone, and it’s replaced by a meek Apple, afraid of making big strides.”

Charles Arthur said, “iOS and macOS were solid updates. But iPadOS still lags, making some things either impossible or too much work to do, and drives one back to the Mac.”

Brent Simmons said, “When that app that I write crashes, it’s due to Apple’s crashing bugs. I’d really like better software reliability.”

John Siracusa said, “Though Apple did a good job of not introducing any new egregious bugs in 2021, there’s still a giant backlog of old bugs waiting to be addressed. I applaud Apple’s new policy of holding back new features if they’re not yet up to snuff, but that can’t be the only tool for increasing software quality. At some point, Apple has to look at its existing products holistically and fix everything that’s preventing them from doing their job—even issues that are ‘preexisting’ and ‘not a regression.'”

Peter Cohen said, “Especially high marks for efficiency and invisibility of Rosetta 2.”

Rosemary Orchard said, “I have been quite disappointed by the iOS 15 rollout. It was still very buggy when it launched publicly, and this was only saved by the fact that it didn’t auto install for most people. Shortcuts, in particular, clearly needs extra support – the team have done amazing things, but the apparent lack of testing and continuous breaking of both automations and actions within Shortcuts, and no magic of handling unsupported actions on another device (e.g. Vibration on Mac could just be skipped) or attempt to do so, results in a poor experience for those of us who use it—and is offputting to anyone who attempts to use it and them immediately encounters a bug.”

Shelly Brisbin said, “It’s not that iOS 15 was unspeakably buggy, but a combination of new features that didn’t launch when or how they were advertised, and a few odd bugs and feature changes in the accessibility suite got my attention. Private Relay was delayed, and still doesn’t seem to work in some cases. On the accessibility side, though they’re back in 15.2, iOS 15 initially did away with a number of Siri commands that VoiceOver users relied on to manage phone call and voicemail behavior. Then Apple didn’t address the issue for some time.”

Allison Sheridan said, “An unsung hero of macOS is Continuity. The enhancements made with macOS Monterey and iOS 15 to capture text are a game changer. Adding that to copy and paste between OSs and it’s an extremely powerful productivity enhancement. I find myself using these tools constantly and would feel impaired without them.”

Casey Liss said, “I don’t feel like I’m actively fighting Apple software all the time — excepting iPad multitasking — but I do still miss the days of the late aughts and early 2010s when things really did just work. In much the same way Google lost its way on ‘Don’t be evil,’ I think Apple has largely lost its way on ‘It just works.’ Things don’t just work anymore.”

Brian Mattucci said, “Mostly good, but I’ve had some buggy experiences especially involving the Apple TV remote in Control Center, which I’ve always found to be slower and less reliable than the Apple TV app that is no longer available.”

Michael Tsai said, “iOS software quality seems OK. Monterey introduced fewer new problems than other recent upgrades. However, the baseline level of macOS bugginess remains very high. The bundled media apps are not very good. SwiftUI still seems unready for desktop apps.”

John Gruber said, “If we’re talking bugs and glitches, I think Apple is doing very well. But Apple’s software design is starting to scare the hell out of me. Look no further than this summer’s Safari tabs saga, across all three platforms. Perhaps it’s still true that all’s well that ends well, but I find it deeply troubling that these Safari UI redesigns ever made it past the whiteboard stage. And what the hell is going on with Shortcuts for Mac? Functionally it’s pretty good but design-wise it looks like it was made by people who have never used a Mac.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “macOS Monterey was a big disappointment for me. Shortcuts on macOS is bad. I regularly have to reboot my M1 MacBook Pro because the trackpad stops recognizing multi-touch. The menu bar does not seem to know about the MacBook Pro Notch. It just feels like these teams are not coordinating and there are too many product managers in the kitchen. I wish it felt more consistent across devices and overall I wish it was more reliable.”

Benjamin Mayo said, “The summer of Safari changes probably defined the year, but in credit to Apple, the problems were resolved before the redesign was shipped to end users. I know everyone has a different experience when it comes to software bugs, but I continue to be happy. I’ve had a relatively bug-free year across all the operating systems.”

Lex Friedman said, “iOS is exceptional. I use fewer of Apple’s default apps than ever, though. Safari and Messages: all day every day. But I don’t use Apple’s apps for Mail, Calendar, video chat, word processing, podcast listening, etc.”

Marco Arment said, “iOS 15 and watchOS 8 have been very high-quality releases. macOS Monterey is a quality regression from Big Sur, though.”

Dan Moren said, “Software quality feels better than last year, but it’s still mainly middling. At least iOS 15 and macOS Monterey have settled down after a few point releases.”

Zac Hall said, “iPadOS multitasking finally feels like it’s out of beta and ready for real use.”

Nick Heer said, “For years, there seems to have been a tick-tock cycle to Apple’s software cycle: some years are more feature-heavy, and some years are about quality and stability. This year felt like neither; more like engineers being pressured to deliver under extraordinary circumstances for the second year running. There were big problems: MacOS Monterey bricked some Macs, a software update overheated some models of HomePod to the point where they stopped working, Siri is still Siri, and Shortcuts shipped broken across all platforms. But there are little things that also do not work correctly that are as aggressively grating. On my Mac, every Quick Look preview flashes bright red. When I use CarPlay, audio sometimes doesn’t initiate and I have to reconnect my phone. Nine of the bugs I filed in 2021 were about scroll position not being maintained in several high-profile applications. Searching Maps still returns locations thousands of kilometres away, even when there is a matching result around the corner. Podcasts was a mess. From nearly every vendor, including Apple, it feels like users’ continued patronage is taken for granted. I wish it still felt like there was a fight for my business.”

Adam Engst said, “Apple’s operating systems are just doing too much, and they’re too complex to ever be really great in this way. That’s not to say that the problems are terrible, and Apple does fix things much of the time, but it feels as though we’ve entered an age where there will be constant small quirks and problems that will be difficult or impossible to pin down and that may just go away on their own. Which is good, but also annoying.”

Dave Mark said, “I’d like to see Apple take some time off from rolling out new features and dedicate a release cycle to fixing bugs, seeking and responding to feedback. I’d especially love to see some attention paid to cleaning the scams from the App Store.”

Dr. Drang said, “So many applications seem to drift along from year to year. I continue to think Apple needs to hire more programmers and fewer emoji designers.”

Rob Griffiths said, “The continued inability to fix longstanding bugs in the OS is really grating. And there’s seemingly less attention paid to details in the OS and bundled apps.”

Developer relations

Grade: C- (average score: 2.8, median score 3, last year: 3.1)

After some big gains in this category in the mid-2010s, the scores have slipped repeatedly, now reaching a low not seen since our first survey in 2015. The state of affairs in Apple’s relationship with its developer community could not be much more dire. The company’s legal battles with regulators and developers over its cut of App Store revenue and requirements to not allow external links or third-party credit card processing are generally viewed negatively; however, the dramatically reduced cut Apple has begun to take of smaller developers’ revenue was a bit of a counterbalance.

Benjamin Mayo said, “The App Store Small Business Program does give a pretty good deal to small developers. So even if Apple’s public relations around antitrust and the developer deal are basically in the same place this year as they were last, I believe indies like me are basically content with the status quo, as much as we’d wish Apple would forego some of its financial interests.”

Marco Arment said, “Apple’s tightening grip on App Store fees, attempts to reach into other parts of businesses that they don’t deserve, and extremely entitled and galling statements on the matter continue to be distasteful and extremely damaging to their reputation. It seems like a huge strategic blunder to inflame developer relations, generate bad PR, invite more regulatory scrutiny, and risk governments imposing much worse changes for such a small percentage of their revenue.”

Adam Engst said, “For a company that has more resources than nearly any other, Apple doesn’t seem to spend a lot of money or attention on creating an environment that’s nice to developers. It’s a shame, since developers are a lot of the reason that Apple has that $3 trillion market cap.”

Glenn Fleishman said, “Apple made significant changes for developers in 2021, but it continues to seem to make them only under pressure and with the threat of lawsuits or regulatory action. It would be delightful to see Apple stop treating their financial success as proof that everything they do is obviously correct and get ahead of what developers need and consumers want. The company wouldn’t take a big financial hit; it might be neutral or even positive. It’s all self-inflicted PR wounds on this front.”

Tom Bridge said, “We need better relationships between MDM developers and Apple, with more give and take, more conversations, more impactful input, and a better cadence for partnerships. I know that my take is different than many, but I’m a different sort of developer in my day job than most. When it comes to the App Store, Apple has some hard choices to make, lest they risk having the whole thing slip right through their fingers in the form of federal regulation of their spaces.”

James Thomson said, “Both the second virtual WWDC and the new Tech Talks have been great, and show that some parts of Apple’s developer organisation are very capable of adapting to change. However, the ‘you should be grateful we’re letting you make software for our platforms’ attitude that has been present throughout the App Store legal challenges this year does not inspire confidence that Apple recognizes the value developers bring.”

Joe Macirowski said, “I once again used a WWDC lab to ask questions that the documentation should answer. I’m probably against full Mac-style side-loading, but I don’t appreciate Apple lying or treating us like children in their officially stated opposition.”

Rich Siegel said, “My individual contacts with the developer relations organization continue to be positive and affirmative experiences. I think in the big picture, there are a lot of areas for improvement and the issues with the App Store and app review process are still in desperate need of attention and resolution.”

Charles Arthur said, “The Epic trial and the data and the attitude that came out of that seemed pretty damaging. A lot of developers seem to have accepted that they’re in something like an abusive relationship, but if they keep getting paid, and praised by users, that makes up for it. Plus the scams are terrible. Weekly subscriptions probably should be banned.”

Myke Hurley said, “At this point it feels like Apple would prefer to fight every court in the world than give up their 30%, and I honestly cannot fathom why they want to go to this trouble. All it does is put a sour taste in the mouth of people that should be their partners.”

Brent Simmons said, “I always believed Apple would draw a line at outright lying — but they continue to lie about what selling software was like before the App Store. They lie about what the review process does and about how developers are treated equally. As a developer, I find this profoundly disillusioning.”

Stephen Hackett said, “Apple continues to fight tooth and nail over its commission rates and ban on third-party processors. When you layer on the App Store’s apparent inability to weed out clones and scammy copies of apps, I’ve never been happier to not earn my living on the App Store.”

John Siracusa said, “The past few years have really cemented an adversarial relationship between Apple and developers. Apple seems to merely tolerate developers, and developers continue to mostly tolerate Apple, but too much has been said and done to damage the relationship. Apple’s reflexive expressions of love for developers now ring hollow. Developers’ complaints continue to fall on deaf ears. The only thing that seems to move Apple at all is the threat of government regulation.”

Casey Liss said, “Apple did finally launch TestFlight for macOS, but from everything I’ve gathered, it is largely an afterthought. App Store Connect is still unintuitive, but at least it has a mobile-friendly layout now? Crash/error reporting is still way behind the competition. Analytics is still not great. The 30% tax is really getting a bit overblown for the [lack of] services provided in return. The small business program is nice, but the hurdles that must be regularly jumped through to be a member are draconian and stupid. Apple digging in their heels in the courts worldwide is not a good look. Documentation has gotten slightly better, but it’s still pretty abysmal. Every time I search for something specific to Apple APIs, but end up on a Microsoft documentation page — for an Apple API! — I die a little inside. ‘No overview available’ is still a cancer on Apple’s documentation.”

Paul Kafasis said, “The App Stores continue to stink, and Apple’s fights with Epic and others are a terrible look for the world’s most valuable company. Apple can afford to be magnanimous, yet they’re being tight-fisted. Forcing apps to use in-app purchase is gross. Preventing apps from linking out is obscene. And trying to claim a (big) piece of sales from people using alternate payment methods? Yuck.”

Rich Mogull said, “You don’t need to be a developer to see the friction. And the App Store situation seems only headed to government intervention. While I am very against sideloading due to the security issues, Apple’s refusal to support even linking to outside payment options (for subscriptions) will most likely result in a government sledgehammer to open things up in ways that hurt both customers (security) and Apple.”

Nick Heer said, “Kosta Eleftheriou spent much of 2021 highlighted many iOS apps that were outright scams, some raking in thousands of dollars every week. Meanwhile, legitimate developers get stuck in approval hell for weeks. Then came Epic Games v. Apple. There were uncomfortable moments on both sides, but it was Apple that often looked worse, even if it came out on stronger legal footing. For months, the simmering displeasure for the App Store’s policies boiled over as even long-time developers seemed genuinely miserable. Apple settled a 2019 class action lawsuit, but its only concession was to permit developers to mention other payment methods in their direct communications with users. Apple also attempted to swat away proposed sideloading legislation in the E.U. with incomplete security arguments. It wasn’t all bad. Since WWDC was still remote, it remained free and accessible anywhere. Apple finally delivered TestFlight for MacOS. Apple promised to crack down on apps with ‘irrationally high prices.’ Oh, and in October, it became possible to report the kinds of scams Eleftheriou had been documenting.”

Rob Griffiths said, “Apple doesn’t really seem to like its developers, it just puts up with us because they know they need us.”

Dan Moren said, “App Store legal decisions have mostly been going Apple’s way, but the company has made some small concessions here and there, though we won’t see some of them (like external links for reader apps) until later this year. There hasn’t been a big blow-up since the Epic trial concluded; the status quo remains in effect.”

Josh Centers said, “At least developers have a good MacBook Pro now.”

Marcus Mendes said, “Apple’s been playing chicken with a wall for a while now, trying to will the wall into getting out of the way. Every single so-called improvement to the App Store felt like a transparent PR stunt, and every actual meaningful change has been appealed in the courts. I can only think of that Apple Watch keyboard app when I think of app review decisions, and how it’s pretty symbolic of every other big deal about it that made it to the news.”

John Gruber said, “Resentment over App Store policies continues to build. Rip-off apps continue to appear in App Store.”

Zac Hall said, “This score can only improve through court systems and government regulation.”

Michael Tsai said, “Bug reports and documentation are mostly ignored.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “Although Apple made some concessions this year around the Epic trial, I still argue that more transparency would benefit their developer relationship.”

Social and societal impact

Grade: C+ (average score: 3.2, median score 3, last year: 3.7)

This category is always a bit of a Rorschach test. Apple talks a good game about its commitment to making a positive impact on society; sometimes its actions call that talk into question. Despite a slight bump last year, overall this is a category that has been trending down for the entire length of our survey. Our panel, it seems, isn’t buying most of what Apple is selling.

Glenn Fleishman said, “I have an increasing concern about what they are willing to do to remain in the Chinese market that jeopardizes the privacy, safety, and welfare of people in China. Their reportedly terrible workplace culture that places an incredibly high importance on in-person teams, even after the last two years has proven how well they thrive without that requirement. Their strange introduction of ‘enhanced child protection features’ that seemingly involved little consultation with little experts and organization engaged in child exploitation and safety leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”

Shelly Brisbin said, “I frankly didn’t expect employee relations to become such a contentious issue. From work-from-home to allegations of harassment and sexism, it’s very troubling, especially because it’s all being handled with the company’s typical secrecy and high-handedness in communication.”

David Sparks said, “This year, I had a close friend who got a warning on his Apple Watch and was in heart surgery within 24 hours. It saved his life. Apple is making many positive changes, particularly in the areas of health and the environment. I’m honestly baffled by their intransigence over the App Store monopoly accusations. If they don’t take positive steps themselves, I expect governments and judges to do it for them, which will be a lot worse for everyone.”

Steven Aquino said, “Apple deserves a perfect score for its accessibility efforts. The company continues to add and refine its myriad assistive technologies across its platforms. I’d also argue the amount of disability representation on TV+ deserves much more credit/coverage than it gets. Whatever one thinks of a show’s entertainment value, Apple is really turning the whole woebegone ‘disability is to be overcome’ narrative in Hollywood on its head. Some people may not like ‘See’ as a show, for instance, but I’d say you have to respect it for what it does for the Blind community. There’s nuance here.”

Dr. Drang said, “Apple’s outwardly directed social commitments are certainly better than its inwardly directed employee policies. I don’t think its employee relations are worse than most big companies, but it doesn’t live up to the standards it likes to set for itself.”

Paul Kafasis said, “I think Apple’s App Store policies are having a real, negative impact on the world. It may not matter to most consumers, but it matters to me as a developer, and as a user who can see that we’re surely losing things due to their heavy-handedness.”

Adam Engst said, “When it comes to environmental and social justice issues, Apple is doing very well. On the downside, it’s hard to believe how completely the company botched the rollout of the CSAM technology, potentially poisoning the well on that front forever. A little humility and solicitation of feedback might have made for a more successful launch and better PR for Apple.”

Rich Mogull said, “Speaking of boat anchors dragging the company down, the situation in China only continues to degrade and hurt Apple. On the positive side, their recent work suing spyware maker NSO and revealing abuses on the platform are laudable.”

Zac Hall said, “Apple usually excels here, but 2021 was marred by its response to remote work needs and employee feedback. Slack became a crime scene for the company.”

Marcus Mendes said, “Man, what a mess Apple made with that whole CSAM thing. They managed to fumble what should have been an unequivocal good thing for the world. As for the environment, Apple seems to have lifted its foot from the pedal a little bit while it handles more urgent matters, which only goes to show that saving the planet is great fodder for when it doesn’t really have anything better to talk about.”

Joe Macirowski said, “Apple’s response to employees who genuinely love and believe in it banding together to say ‘this feels like a mistake because at best it makes me not proud’ has been a resounding ‘we hear you, we already told you we disagree, and how dare you tell the press the truth.’ And then there’s the pay equity. I am appalled.”

James Thomson said, “Great to the outside world, terrible internally. Inflexible policies around remote working drove many good people away from Apple even though the return to campus still hasn’t happened. Internal discussion and worker organisation was suppressed. So much sacrificed in the name of seemingly immutable ‘Apple culture.'”

John Siracusa said, “Apple’s reliance on China for its manufacturing continues to limit how much good Apple is able to do in the world. Worse, Apple does not appear to have any plan to change this situation. Instead, it continues to try to ‘work with’ China to improve the situation. But it’s not easy without more leverage.”

Gabe Weatherhead said, “Apple does a good job at quietly influencing working conditions and conservation where it applies to their factories, so I respect their continued work there. But I think they had an opportunity in 2021 to make a bold statement about work-life balance for their office employees with remote work options. I’m an outsider, so it’s hard to know what the truth is, but what I have read of Apple’s statements has been disappointing.”

Michael Tsai said, “Apple has not been a good steward of its App Store quasi-monopoly.”

Marco Arment said, “Apple does well with green initiatives, but they’ve struggled with employee relations this year, especially regarding remote work. Their strong involvement with China, with seemingly no significant efforts to reduce their reliance and presence there, might be Tim Cook’s largest strategic risk.”

Brent Simmons said, “Apple’s commitments to accessibility and to privacy are its brightest lights.”

Carolina Milanesi said, “Great effort in sustainability and their investment in HBCU, but there is more that Apple could do when it comes to diversity and inclusion inside the company, especially at the senior level. COVID put Apple company culture under pressure without the company really addressing it head on. I personally find it demoralizing that they continue to use the line ‘we need to be in person to drive effective innovation.'”

John Gruber said, “I believe that climate/carbon is the societal area where a company like Apple can and should make the most difference, and I’m hard-pressed to think how they could be doing more than they are, practically. We’re living in sensitive times on other social issues, and Apple seems to be managing that very astutely and honestly.”

Casey Liss said, “Apple’s internal response to the pandemic has been mixed, but mostly bad. I understand — as much as an outsider can — that spontaneous interactions in the halls really is key to some of our favorite features being built. However, in today’s world, that really isn’t safe nor advisable. Apple insisting on its staff staying in one of the most difficult places to live in the entire country is causing real problems. If the rumblings of widespread departures are to be believed, I am genuinely worried that software quality will degrade even more. And Apple doesn’t have much room to give in that department. The removal of power bricks and EarPods in 2020 was, I suspect, more about cost-cutting than it was the environment. However, I can say that Apple boxes have gotten surprisingly small. Additionally, the work they do to create odd but clever cardboard/paper enclosures for things like power cables is admirable.”

John Moltz said, “Reports indicated that Apple, which likes to tout its environmental record, lobbied against the Clean Energy Standard which would have decarbonized the electric grid by 2035. Boo.”

Dave Mark said, “The push towards carbon neutral, giving back to communities, respecting the underrepresented, setting standards for their supply chain sets a solid role model for other companies. Hard to resolve this version of Apple with the public complaints from some employees.”

Alex Cox said, “I hope management is having a wakeup call when it comes to their corporate culture. If it wants to retain talent, they need to be more cognizant of their employees’ growing concerns over their own working conditions.”

Tom Bridge said, “The current moment is a test for Apple, and it’s not one they’re passing right now. Treat your people well, give them autonomy, give them opportunity, and let’s see Apple build the future. Treat them like children, take away their voices, and you’ll just see the revolving door effect sap your products. Do better here, Apple.”

Charles Arthur said, “Being totally snookered on the topic of China – unable, for instance, to really speak out about abuses there – is always going to be a problem. Environmentally, Apple has been making progress (less packaging, fewer adapters 👍) but could make more noise about it.”

Stephen Hackett said, “While Apple’s environmental and social work is to be commended, the company’s coziness with the previous Presidential administration left a very bad taste in the mouth of many of its users and employees. During COVID, we’ve seen Apple struggle with the Work From Home movement, and move to try to silence employees with concerns about the company’s management and internal structure. None of that is a good look for a company with more money and power that most countries.”

Notes

I didn’t vote in the survey. Thanks to all of those who who participated, including: Steven Aquino, Marco Arment, Charles Arthur, Tom Bridge, Shelly Brisbin, Jeff Carlson, Josh Centers, Peter Cohen, Alex Cox, Dr. Drang, Michael E. Cohen, Adam Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Lex Friedman, Maryanne Garry, Rob Griffiths, John Gruber, Stephen Hackett, Zac Hall, Dave Hamilton, Nick Heer, Myke Hurley, Paul Kafasis, Shahid Kamal Ahmad, Joe Kissell, Andrew Laurence, Casey Liss, Jean MacDonald, Joe Macirowski, Dave Mark, Brian Mattucci, Benjamin Mayo, Marcus Mendes, Carolina Milanesi, Rich Mogull, John Moltz, Dan Moren, Rosemary Orchard, Guilherme Rambo, Allison Sheridan, Rich Siegel, Brent Simmons, John Siracusa, David Sparks, Brett Terpstra, James Thomson, Michael Tsai, Khoi Vinh, Federico Viticci, Christina Warren, and Gabe Weatherhead.

All our previous surveys are available via our Apple Report Card archive page.

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