Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple in 2022: The Six Colors report card

Tim Cook at WWDC 2022

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 eighth 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 55 replies, with the average results as shown below:

Since I used largely the same survey as in previous years, I was able to track the change in my panel’s consensus opinion on all but one question compared to previous years. The net changes between 2021 and 2022 surveys is displayed below:

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

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Grade: A- (average score: 4.2, median score 4, last year: 4.6)

Coming off the high of the release of Apple Silicon, the Mac has slid back for two consecutive years. There was plenty of praise for the M2 MacBook Air, but the delay to the M2 Mac mini and MacBook Pro—which didn’t get announced until January, when our survey was in the field—definitely led to the Mac taking a hit. Panelists also expressed frustration with the lack of updates to the iMac, the lack of a Mac Pro, and issues with the Studio Display.

James Thomson wrote: “The Mac Studio is fantastic, the Studio Display camera less so. The M2 Air is delightful, the M2 13″ MBP is perplexing. Aside from all that, the Mac Pro didn’t appear, nothing else got updated, and Ventura was a swift step backward in a number of ways, with yet another slightly different layer of window management added.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “Although we are still waiting for a Mac Pro, all the Apple silicon models are home runs. I’m on an M1 Ultra Mac Studio and I haven’t found a task that comes even close to stressing it out.”

John Gruber wrote: “MacOS 13 Ventura is a solid upgrade. The Apple silicon transition continued with another strong year. The MacBook Air is Apple’s most popular and most important Mac, and the M2 models that debuted at WWDC are the best laptops for most people ever made. Thin, light, fast, long-lasting battery life, and they even introduced the midnight colorway — the first truly ‘dark’ laptops from Apple since the last plastic PowerBook G3 all the way back in 2001. The Mac Pro was the one Mac that skipped the M1 generation of chips, but while disappointing, that omission was more than made up for by the addition of the Mac Studio, the ‘small tower for pros’ form factor that Mac users have been clamoring for ever since the discontinuation of the G4 Cube. Apple also finally (no sarcasm intended) introduced the reasonably-priced standalone 5K Studio Display. The built-in webcam is meh at best, but the display itself is wonderful, including the $300 option for “”nano-texture”” anti-glare/anti-reflective glass. This is my ideal display.”

Alex Cox wrote: “It still feels like a Mac Renaissance. With the redesigned MacBook Air, there feels like a ‘default’ to what most consumers want when they get an Apple (or any) laptop. The lack of a Mac Pro update is disappointing, but if the M series of Macs we’ve gotten so far are any indication, it will be worth the wait.”

Robert Carter wrote: “I have owned Macs since 2006 and I am more impressed with my M1 iMac and MacBook Air than I have ever been with any Mac. I am a person who really loves the Mac so that is saying a lot.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “It’s killing me that there’s nothing wrong with my 2017 13″ MacBook Pro, so I have no excuse to buy a black MacBook Air. I am, however, lobbying my workplace to issue me the 16″ MacBook Pro, even though there is also nothing wrong with my 2020 13″ MacBook Pro. In short, there was a lot to be excited about on the Mac side of the house this year. Bring on the accountants’ tears!”

Casey Liss wrote: “Apple’s transition to Apple Silicon has been better, if a touch slower, than anyone could have imagined. Every single new Mac Apple has shipped has been widely regarded as excellent. The MacBook Pro I bought at the end of 2021, equipped with a M1 Pro, has been amazing. But there is still some of the transition story still left to be told. The Mac Pro is still a big question mark. Personally, I still lament the lack of a 27″ iMac, or potentially even an iMac Pro.”

Christina Warren wrote: “It is unfortunate the M2 Pro/Max machines launched in January 2023, precluding them from being part of the discussion, but I still think this was a very strong year (again) for the Mac. The M2 was a nice iterative update, and with the M1 Ultra on the Apple Studio, we get a look at what Apple will be able to do if it takes on an Apple Silicon Mac Pro. I do have some complaints. The 27″ iMac doesn’t have a replacement in terms of screen size or features. I don’t think a Mac mini or Mac Studio and a display really does the same thing. The Studio Display is a flop. The built-in camera is an abomination and the inability to turn it off is the sort of design decision that the team who made it should be filleted for. I’m excited Samsung is coming out with some 5K display competition this year. My other complaint is that Apple needs to stop having 8GB of RAM as the default for its machines. It is now 2023 and this is unacceptable. I don’t care how fast swap on macOS makes RAM seem, I personally won’t buy a machine with under 32GB of RAM for any reason, but not even having the baseline at 16GB just comes across as stingy. The new MacBook Air is wonderful. But there is absolutely no reason for the 13-inch MacBook Pro to exist. All in all, a great year for the Mac.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “In 2022, I rediscovered the pleasure of working with macOS and having the freedom to install any app I want without judgement or limitations. Ultimately, there are two reasons why I can’t fully embrace Macs and, in particular, MacBooks as my main computing devices: I like convertible computers (like iPads) too much, and Macs don’t have a touchscreen. My question for 2023 and beyond is: can Macs become iPads sooner than iPads can become as capable as Macs? Rumors are unclear at this point, but it sounds like we’re entering a transitional phase that’s going to last a few years. For now, I can’t use a Mac full-time because I don’t want to be always be forced into using a laptop.”

Lex Friedman wrote: “My 2022 MacBook Air M2 with 24GB of RAM is the greatest Mac I’ve ever owned, and it’s not even close. The only debate I had was whether I wanted the M1 MacBook Pro or the M2 Air. I am pleased with my decision. Apple silicon is great.”

Philip Michaels wrote: “I think Apple’s ongoing transition to Apple silicon is proceeding nicely and putting Apple in a good place, even if some of the recent releases were more iterative than innovative.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “It’s very hard to fault Apple for anyone in a year they shipped the Mac Studio and M2-series chips. The Mac Studio has received an appropriately hearty welcome for folks in the consumer to professional range who wanted or needed the oomph. The overall line-up appears well populated, if aging just slightly. The Mac Pro has missed its promised window in 2022, but it’s more remarkable that Apple continues to upgrade and ship things on any kind of schedule. They’ve likely done better than any other consumer and professional electronics company, particularly with lockdowns and COVID raging in China. In a regular year, I might have given them a lower grade, but for this year, I feel like they’ve exceeded themselves.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “Almost perfect. The Mac Studio is a huge leap forward, as is (comparatively) the M2 Air —and the Pro and mini versions of the M2 were only a couple of weeks off making it perfect. Sure, the Mac Pro hasn’t happened, but that’s more like the sprinkles on top of the sundae: optional.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “I know that people have machines that they are looking for Apple to still revise with Apple Silicon, I know that macOS Ventura has some pretty weird decisions, but in my opinion 2022 is one of the best years for the Mac in modern memory. The new MacBook Air is my favorite Mac of all time. It’s the perfect balance of what I want from a laptop, with ultimate portability and with way more power than I realistically need. It’s an almost impossible combination. As well as this, they launched a brand new Mac model this year! The Mac Studio is a great machine for those that want it. And the Studio Display (even with its faults), is the best monitor for me.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “The M2 Air is a great machine – I’m typing on one now, and I love it. It may be my favorite laptop since the 11″ Airs. The continued speed bumps on nearly all machines are welcome. Where is a larger iMac? I’d like to see it. The Mac Studio was somewhat surprising and unexpected. The lack of a Mac Pro means Apple whiffed on their two year transition, but it doesn’t bother me much.”

Brett Terpstra wrote: “The Mac Studio is the machine I’ve been waiting years for. I’ve long been a fan of the Mac mini, which is a great machine for its price point. But the Studio I got this year blows my last mini out of the water is is an amazing bang for the buck.”

Andrew Laurence wrote: “Together, the Mac Studio and Studio Display are overdue breaths of fresh air. A function-first desktop computer, and a monitor that’s worthwhile for normal humans. After several years of incremental chaos, Ventura has been a mostly-peaceful upgrade experience.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “The MacBook Air saved the day for Apple on the Mac side in 2022 with a fantastic redesign and a nice set of feature upgrades. The Mac Studio is another appreciated addition that we’d heard whispers of in the form of a ‘smaller Mac Pro’ or a ‘bigger Mac mini’, but which was great to see come to fruition in its actual form with the speedy M1 Ultra chip option. But beyond those two products, Apple really seemed to drop the ball as Apple’s announced two-year transition window for Apple silicon has passed. No update for the iMac was also a disappointment.”

John Siracusa wrote: “I’m not dinging Apple for failing to ‘complete the transition’ to Apple Silicon in 2022. COVID continues to complicate the supply of… nearly everything. But the continued lack of a larger-than-24-inch iMac combined with the inability to transition all the existing plain-old-M1 Macs to the M2 means the Mac line lacks the luster of last year’s M1-powered supergroup. In fact, the strength of the M1 is one of the things propping up the Mac line in 2022. (That, and the less-than-shocking gains the M2 provides over the M1.) The new Studio Display was a pleasant surprise, in keeping with recent customer-pleasing changes like the return of the SD card slot and HDMI port to the MacBook Pros. Unfortunately, Apple tripped at the finish line by including a subpar camera—and by charging $400 for a height-adjustable stand and $300 for a matte screen. In early 2023, third-party displays from Samsung and Dell are already learning from Apple’s mistakes, at least in terms of bundled features and technology. Still, full points for finally filling this gap in the Mac lineup.”

David Sparks wrote: “I am still completely smitten with Apple Silicon Macs. The new M2 MacBook Air just continues the streak. Hopefully, Apple sticks the landing on the Apple Silicon transition with the new Mac Pro release. I, do, however, wish that the M2 Mac mini models had shipped in 2022.”

Brent Simmons wrote: “Macs these days are truly amazing. I would like to see the quality of macOS and Apple’s Mac apps live up to the machines they’re running on.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “I bought the Mac Studio, and have been pretty happy with it. I’ve been generally underwhelmed by Ventura, and I’m quite disappointed that ‘Advanced Data Protection’ leaves out Macs stuck on Monterey. I had to sign out on my MacBook, effectively making the device useless to me even though the hardware still has some life left in it. Stage Manager is… interesting? I feel like I’m fighting Stage Manager most of the time, constantly overriding its insistence on opening each new app on a separate stage. I’m not sure it’s adding much value to my workflow. The Studio Display could have been exciting, but for an expensive monitor it’s had some issues (camera quality, speaker issues) and I would have required an HDMI port for use with consoles at the very least so it wasn’t for me.”

Devindra Hardawar wrote: “It was great to see Apple finally throwing power desktop users a bone with the Mac Studio. I just wish the M2 MacBook Pro models arrived earlier. I genuinely feel bad about recommending the MBP M1 models to people in the fall.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “On the positive side, the Mac Studio is a great machine, and Apple is seemingly back in the display business. On the negative side, if you want the Mac Studio with an Apple display, it’s quite costly. There was no Apple new Silicon Mac Pro. No new 27” iMac. Ventura isn’t terrible, but it’s still littered with issues that have existed for several major releases. I’d love to see a “bug fix only” release some year. Never going to happen, but I can dream.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “Apple is entering the third year of its two-year transition to Apple silicon. While the company has been tight-lipped about why it missed its self-announced deadline, the Apple silicon machines that have shipped are all very impressive. The malaise that Mac hardware found itself in in the latter 2010s continues to fade into history. The Mac Studio and Studio Display in particular stand out when thinking about 2022, but the M2 MacBook Air is probably the highlight of the Mac’s year in hardware. On the software front, 2022 brought the first new productivity app from Apple in ages. Freeform isn’t as powerful as some third-party options, but it fits in nicely between the iWork apps and Notes. macOS continues to receive updates that let it keep up with iOS and iPadOS features, even if Stage Manager leaves something to be desired for many of us.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “Apple Silicon has, of course, been game-changing. I love seeing Apple continually producing more-and-more-powerful Mac models, and I also love that most of us Mac users—myself included—aren’t even coming close to maxing out the power of the M1. But, man, that battery life sure is nice! Unfortunately, macOS Ventura still leaves a LOT to be desired. Ventura remains sluggish, restarts often include painful (and incorrect) permissions requests, and it feels woefully undercooked. I wonder if Apple (and we Apple users) might be best served backing off the pace of expecting a new version of macOS every single year.”

Carolina Milanesi wrote: “With its own silicon, Apple is getting a huge opportunity in business beyond BYOD—something that will offer growth opportunity for a while.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “Performance, battery life, ports and a superb screen on the MacBook Pro — after years in the wilderness, the Mac is where it’s at again. My 14-inch MacBook Pro remains the cornerstone of my entire working life, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try the revised MacBook Air M2. I am delighted to report that this might be the best laptop of all time. I can run my entire business on this little beauty, and it can go everywhere with me. Apple’s theme seems to be about achieving the right set of compromises on more devices and the Midnight M2 Miraclebox is the epitome of the art of compromise.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “Apple continues to ride Apple Silicon strengths on laptops, launching M2 chip with the flashy new MacBook Air. However, Apple ended 2022 with multiple Intel Macs still on sale, a situation that was clearly not the original plan. Doubts remain as to how exactly high-end desktop Macs will scale to Apple Silicon, namely Mac Pro and a high-end iMac. For instance, the M1 Ultra in Mac Studio is not slow by any means, but it isn’t exactly leaps and bounds ahead of the PC industry. It’s not as impressive a feat as what the M1 achieved for Apple’s laptop line. I’m glad the Studio Display exists, but what they shipped for version one didn’t quite hit the mark.”

Nick Heer wrote: “We still do not know what the M-powered Mac Pro is going to look like, but we got a whole new category in the form of the Mac Studio. The M2 MacBook Air is approaching something like the perfect laptop for most people. Aside from the aforementioned Mac Pro, the only thing in Apple’s lineup that seems incongruous is the continued availability of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. MacOS Ventura’s modest feature updates are both welcome and an indication of the platform’s maturity. I like Stage Manager and have used it more than I thought I would. I wish MacOS were more stable and refined than it feels. There have been years of backsliding, and filing reports in Feedback Assistant often feels as effective as whining into a paper bag. I know there are engineers at Apple who also care deeply about these issues and I wish they were listened to.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “The hardware continues to excel beyond expectations, and macOS Ventura has some features that might seem small but are really powerful, like Stage Manager and Continuity Camera. I’m forgiving them entirely for not coming out with the Mac Pro on time.”

Josh Centers wrote: “The Mac is actually… good now? At least on the hardware front. In terms of software, my complaint across the board is Apple is too invested in cramming in new features over bug fixes and reliability.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “In a year when some were doubtless disappointed that a favorite product wasn’t refreshed, the new (Mac Studio) and improved (MacBook Air) were worthy additions to the lineup, advancing the silicon transition.”

Christine Romero-Chan wrote: “Apple is definitely killing it with the M-series chips, but I’m still wondering when we are going to get a 27-inch iMac replacement with M2 (or M3, etc). The 24-inch is great, but what about those who want an all-in-one with a larger display size and 5K resolution?”

Kirk McElhearn wrote: “I think the Mac lineup is extremely strong this year. The M2 MacBook Air is quickly becoming one of my favorite Macs ever. And the M1 iMac will probably sit on my desk for several years. Some will complain that there is no new Mac Pro, but they are certainly in the minority.”

Marco Arment wrote: “Apple-silicon Macs continue to blow us all away, and the M2 MacBook Air was the star of 2022 as the epitome of the era so far: light weight, zero noise, truly all-day battery life, and fast enough for almost anything — even workloads that required a pro-level desktop only a few years ago. macOS took a step back with Ventura’s awful new System Settings app, but the Mac hardware is so unbelievably great that we can look past the software warts this year.”

Adam Engst wrote: “Although it’s difficult to criticize what Apple did with the Mac in 2022, it’s easier to find fault with what the company didn’t do. Apple’s seeming move away from the extremely popular 27-inch iMac with Retina display has dismayed many users who were waiting for a version with Apple silicon. The combination of the Mac Studio and the Studio Display fits the same niche, but at a much higher price point. Plus, although the M1 Ultra Mac Studio is massively powerful, Apple still hasn’t released a Mac Pro with Apple silicon, leaving it as the sole remnant of the Intel era.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “With the M-class processors, Apple has created a new narrative around their laptops. They are computing super stars. As software developers gradually support the M1 better, I’ve seen tremendous speed boosts that should make Intel salivate. The hardware is impeccable. The tolerances on the MacBook Pro are some of the best in the industry, which has resulted in a sleek and powerful device.

Quinn Nelson wrote: “It’s easy to focus on the absence of Mac Pro and/or a lackluster macOS launch, but it’s important to remember how excellent the Mac Studio is—the first novel Mac desktop since the 2005 mini!—and how strong the entirety of the notebook lineup remains. The Mac has never been a better value than it is today.”

Jeff Carlson wrote: “It felt like a transition year for the Mac. After the somewhat unexpected (in performance) release of the M1 chips, the only notable release was the Mac Studio, which was a surprise in how powerful it is. The M2 MacBook Air is great, but despite the new welcome design, still felt like a bump.”

Dan Moren wrote: “The Mac Studio makes me wonder whether Apple really needs a Mac Pro in its lineup. And the end of the year supply chain issues seem to have backed up the higher-end M2 chips, leaving a pretty barren field going into 2023.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Midnight MacBook Air made me care about the M2. Mac Studio and Studio Display are nice to have around too.”

John Moltz wrote: “Apple made solid progress on the Mac by releasing the M2, but it missed its deadline of transitioning the entire lineup by the end of 2022.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “The highlight of the year has to be the Mac Studio, which seems like a success except for the multi-month shipping delays that extended into the fall. Otherwise it was a quiet year for hardware, except that the new MacBook Air gained a welcome 24 GB RAM ceiling. That’s OK since the rest of the hardware lineup is still solid. After many years of waiting, we finally got the Studio Display. As a display, it’s great, albeit pricey, however the camera is extremely disappointing, the audio and USB hub have been unreliable, and the lack of a power button causes a variety of problems. macOS continues to deteriorate in terms of reliability, and in general it seems like Apple has forgotten how to design Mac software. Many apps feel like iOS ports, and the services apps just don’t work very well. Aside from its own efforts, Apple continues to get in the way of third parties making good software. The Mac version of SwiftUI still doesn’t live up to Apple’s pitch.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote: “Just finished my first full year with a M2 MacBook Pro, which I bought mostly to reward Apple for bringing back MagSafe. In truth, my MacBook Air was good enough for my needs — and not as heavy or as hot.”


Grade: B+ (average score: 3.9, median score 4, last year: 4.0)

Like the Mac, iPhone scores also slid for the second straight year. (Given the smaller updates in the iPhone 13 and 14, that’s not surprising.) Despite expressing some boredom about the iPhone hardware, the panel largely had praise for iOS 16’s Lock Screen improvements and the Dynamic Island, and the iPhone 14 Pro’s always-on display was generally well received. The iPhone mini being discontinued was also a negative. This is tied for the lowest score Apple’s flagship product has ever received in this survey, but it’s still a strong score, all things considered.

Jean MacDonald wrote: “The iPhone 14 Pro camera(s) has been a significant upgrade, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I can do. I’ve been upgrading every year on the Apple Payment Plan, and this kind of improvement means I’ll probably continue to do that forever.”

Alex Cox wrote: “I think most people are bored with the iPhone. That’s not to say that the features the iPhone continues to add aren’t spectacular. The Dynamic Island is a great reminder of what Apple can do when it controls both software and hardware. I just wish/hope that Apple sees the iPhone like a laptop: an essential tool we’ll always need that deserves tweaks, but is also looking for the Next Big Thing.”

Devindra Hardawar wrote: “The Dynamic Island seemed like an interesting idea, but it seems like Apple hasn’t really done much with it.”

Philip Michaels wrote: “I’m a big fan of iOS 16 and like the way Apple implemented things like lock screen customization and the always-on display. I’m less impressed with the more deliberate effort to separate the iPhone 14 Pro models from the standard models — great if you like the Pro, less great if you want a more affordable phone. The iPhone SE is a disappointment, and it’s very clear Apple is ceding the midrange market to Samsung and even Google.”

Christine Romero-Chan wrote: “I’m happy to see more customization options in the form of the Lock Screen, but seriously, that’s one of the worst user interface experiences I’ve seen come from Apple. It needs serious fixing. Also, I would love to see more use come out of the Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro, because right now it’s still pretty limited.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “The 14 line wasn’t particularly exciting, but they executed what they needed to. I am a big fan of the always-on display and Dynamic Island in the Pro Max. That’s enough for me to say it was a great year for the iPhone.”

David Sparks wrote: “It was a good year for the iPhone Pro. I dig this year’s camera upgrade and the Dynamic Island landed with me. It just makes me want Apple to put even more delight into its operating systems.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “Nothing to complain about on iPhone, but moving year to year on the phones provides only tiny changes in capability and power.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “Close to ideal in a hard year. The iPhone 14 Pro is definitely the best iPhone I’ve ever owned and it has particular features, like the 48MP raw mode for shooting, that are just outstanding and even a little mind-boggling. Apple didn’t hit every mark, and I think the confusion over whether a modern SE or newer iPhone mini should appear… well, I feel like they don’t totally get the audience for smaller devices.”

John Gruber wrote: “Not a groundbreaking year for iPhone, but it’s neither possible nor desirable to break new ground every year. iOS is 15 years old and it’s appropriate for Apple to treat it as a mature platform, because that’s what it is. iOS 16 is a solid upgrade, with much of Apple’s efforts seemingly directed at polish and reliability. Both technically and conceptually, iOS has a solid foundation. It’s a shame that the Mini was dropped from the iPhone 14 lineup. But big-ass phones are more popular than elegant small ones, so the addition of the iPhone 14 Plus—Apple’s first non-Pro 6.7-inch iPhone—is a net win. My biggest gripe about the iPhone 14 Pro models remains their use of polished stainless steel for the sides. It feels slippery at times, and steel is so much heavier than aluminum (or, cough, titanium). I bought a 14 Pro because of the camera system and other Pro-exclusive features, but I’d prefer those features in an iPhone that feels like and weighs as little as the non-pro iPhone 14. The Dynamic Island is a wonderfully inventive design: useful, attractive, fun.”

Steven Aquino wrote: “I’m a staunch serial upgrader when it comes to the new iPhone every year—for journalism’s sake, sure, but also because the iPhone is the lifeblood of my digital being. I love my 14 Pro Max, but hoping Apple is more committed to improving the Dynamic Island than they were 3D Touch or the Touch Bar.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “Nothing very special? It’s the iPhone, the chips reportedly didn’t quite hit the mark that it wanted but most people didn’t notice, iOS is fine, the supertanker sails on.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Effectively having 2x and 3x zoom on iPhone 14 Pro is my favorite new thing this year.”

Aleen Simms wrote: “I love the whimsy and functionality the Dynamic Island brings to iPhone.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “I love my new 14 Pro, but, honestly, it’s more phone than I need.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “It’s still an iPhone. While it remains one of the best mobile phones, I’m not sure there is the spark that lures in new users or convinces an existing user to upgrade. I’m finding less incremental value in upgrades and this year was a tiny improvement to my day-to-day life.”

Kirk McElhearn wrote: “As always, there was a little change to the iPhone 14, with the exception of the very big change of the 48 MP sensor for the iPhone 14 Pro. This makes the iPhone a true competitor for “real” cameras. I am extremely impressed of the quality of photos that this iPhone can take, compared to previous models. Especially when shooting in raw.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “iPhone updates have largely been iterative for a number of years now, but there were some nice updates in 2022, particularly on the Pro side with the always-on display, the clever Dynamic Island (which has yet to see its potential tapped), and a 48-megapixel camera. The non-Pro phones were more of a status quo update. The new iPhone SE was a welcome upgrade for those people who still prefer Touch ID and a budget price tag. It’s not for everyone, but those whose previous SE or iPhone 7/8 devices were getting long in the tooth, they’ve now got a few more years of familiarity in their pockets.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “I’m not overly impressed with the iPhones 14 this year. I have one, of course, but the functional delta between the 14 and the 13 is a bit undercooked. Mostly, I’m upset that the iPhone mini has not survived. Based upon the very anecdotal vocal minority from which I hear, I think an iPhone mini Pro would’ve turned a LOT of people on to that model, and may have saved the size for those of us who really prefer a true one-handed iPhone.”

John Moltz wrote: “No iPhone 14 mini. Boo. Otherwise the updates are fine, if not exceptional.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “As part of my yearly theme for 2023, I’ve been playing around with Android lately. I purchased a Google Pixel 7, used it for a couple of weeks, and returned it. The degree of focus and refinement Apple puts on the iPhone platform is vastly superior compared to the Mac and iPad (not a surprise, given how much money the iPhone makes them). I love my iPhone 14 Pro Max and how the iOS 16 UI is optimized for it. The Dynamic Island is Apple at its best: instead of trying to hide an even larger sensor cutout, they outright embraced it, turning it into an innovative interface element that combines hardware and software to achieve the unique interplay of distinct components Apple is well known for. The always-on display has been a success for me too, allowing me to more easily keep an eye on music playback and incoming notifications in a way that wasn’t possible before. The one aspect of the iPhone experience I’m still not fully convinced by is photography. More specifically, how iOS processes the images captured by the iPhone’s camera. For the past few years, iPhone photos have had that particular iPhone “look” that often feels kind of boring and muted, and I’d like Apple to improve this aspect of the experience. On balance, and especially after having tried Android again, it’s apparent to me that it doesn’t get any better than iOS and iPhone when it comes to Apple’s focus, design ethos, and innovation on mobile devices. This is where Apple never drops the ball.”

Nick Heer wrote: “iOS is a mature operating system, so it’s notable to see Apple completely redo core features like the Lock Screen. It is still identifiable as an iPhone Lock Screen, of course, but Apple leaned into users’ customization, and I appreciate that. There are lots of great little changes in iOS 16 like improvements to Focus modes and editing in Messages. But there is still a disappointing feeling of fragility.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “iPhone hardware and iOS seem to be in decent shape. I usually upgrade my phone every two years, but I skipped this one because there was no new iPhone mini, and the regular iPhone 14 got a relatively minor update. The Dynamic Island is interesting. Lock Screen customization is welcome but awkward and limited. The camera seems to be slipping a bit versus the competition, and photos sometimes look too processed and fake.”

Casey Liss wrote: “Things with the iPhone were very good this year. The Dynamic Island is classic Apple: instead of a hole punch and a potential eyesore, Apple worked within the constraints to come up with something that is seriously delightful. I still wish the tap and long-press gestures were reversed. However, even with this paper cut, I still love the Dynamic Island. Beyond the obviously useful things like timers, podcasts, or music, It’s also excellent for following sports games, as well as when flying. I do wish the non-Pro phones still got the new processors, instead of last year’s leftovers, but this is a reasonable place to draw the line. I much prefer this over the Max (née Plus) phones getting the good cameras, and the human-sized phones not. I’m a little underwhelmed with the new camera. Perhaps it’s user error, but I don’t feel like my photos with my 14 Pro are noticeably improved over the 13 Pro. Though I do quite like having the 2× ‘lens’.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “I wish I hadn’t traded in my iPhone 13 Mini for the iPhone 14 Pro. It was small and pink and my new phone is not better enough that I don’t miss that. I was lured by the apparent coolness of the Dynamic Island, but in practice, it’s just not that amazing. Cool demo aside, I don’t feel like there was any really super compelling reason for folks with a 13 series phone of any stripe to upgrade this year — although I do actually like the dark purple.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “The Dynamic Island was exciting at first, but I think that wore off quickly. I like the Lock Screen changes in iOS 16 and changes to the Focus feature, and while I like my iPhone 14 Pro Max, I feel like the non-Pro iPhone 14 models are some of the most disappointing iPhones ever, at least for anyone with an iPhone 13.”

Christina Warren wrote: “The iPhone lineup this year, like every year, is good. I’m no longer wowed by the iPhone the way I once was, but that also doesn’t matter. The iPhone remains the best phone available. RIP to the iPhone mini, a phone I know plenty loved, but as someone with genuinely small hands (child like is a better descriptor), the size was still too large to use one-handed so I’ve gone all in on the big phone life. The cameras continue to improve and at this point, Apple is so far ahead of the competition when it comes to chip prowess in mobile devices that it doesn’t even need to try anymore. As for iOS 16, this release cycle seemed to go better than in the past. I love the new update offering E2EE for iCloud—fantastic move. And the new Home Screen stuff is really fun. The Dynamic Island is a bit of a gimmick but also can be genuinely useful. I did turn off the always-on mode for my phone immediately. I don’t need that, but it’s nice to see Apple match what Android and even Nokia have done for forever.”

James Thomson wrote: “The Dynamic Island is the smartest bit of symbiotic software and hardware design I’ve seen Apple do in years. The options for home screen customization are a lot more than I expected I’d get, and still a lot less than I wanted. Phone hardware is boringly excellent, and the new safety features could genuinely save lives.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “I’m saddened by the loss of the iPhone Mini. I still (still!) want a smaller phone, but with the best possible camera. Apple never made that, and thus I never bought it, but my purchase of larger phones doesn’t mean it’s what I actually want. The 14 Pro is very nice. The Dynamic Island needs work though, and ultimately was overhyped and isn’t so hot to me.”

Lex Friedman wrote: “I really like the iPhone 14 Pro. It’s a minor upgrade over the iPhone 13 Pro. But man, my screen is scratched to hell. To hell, I say. I don’t use a case but haven’t used a case in three phones. This is the most scratch-prone iPhone screen for me in some time.”

Cherlynn Low wrote: “The iPhone 14 Pro got me to finally ditch a Pixel as my main and switch to Apple. Enough said.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “iPhone 14 was a bit of a bust, except for the Plus bringing a bigger screen to a more accessible price point — a greatly welcomed change. Dynamic Island showcased classic Apple care in attention to detail, with plenty of room to expand its utility down the road. I liked the colorful default Always-On Display; it was both distinctive and technically impressive. The camera was a little bit of a let-down. You can get some great shots out of the iPhone 14 Pro, but it requires shooting RAW and doing manual edits after the fact. The ‘point and shoot’ camera quality does not feel like it benefitted much from the new lens; it feels like the software is not fulfilling the potential of the hardware.”

Adam Engst wrote: “Perhaps this falls into the category of beating a dead horse, but it’s disappointing that Apple moved away from the form factor used for the iPhone 13 mini. Presumably, total sales volume doesn’t support the small form factor, but there are still plenty of people who want it. Pick up an old iPhone 5 these days and you’ll be amazed at how small it feels in your hand and pocket.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “The iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island is the biggest UI change to come to iOS since the iPhone X ditched the home button back in 2017. Having quick access to media controls, sports scores, weather and more, from anywhere in the system, makes the iPhone feel more useful and alive, somehow. The iPhone’s take on the always-on display was decidedly whimsical, with Apple keeping a user’s wallpaper on the display all the time. But when iOS 16.2 added a toggle to disable the always-on wallpaper, I flipped the switch and went to the all-black background. Speaking of Lock Screen widgets… I love this feature, but would like to see Apple add more flexibility in terms of layout and design. As inventive as the iPhone 14 Pro is, the regular iPhone 14 is a bit of a swing and a miss. And hopefully this is the last crop of iPhones with Lighting. USB-C is here to stay, and I don’t even mind if Apple claims faster file transfers for things like 4K ProRes video are the reason for the switch.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote: “iOS still works for me, but I’m a frog that’s been slowly parboiled. I fear for anyone coming fresh to an operating system so deeply honeycombed with hidden operations.”

Marco Arment wrote: “The iPhone 14 family is great, and iOS 16 is mature and stable with lots of great user features and developer APIs. Both iOS and the iPhone have gotten fairly boring, but in very good ways: they rarely have widespread bugs or issues, and just quietly keep working for us all day, every day, in the vast array of wildly varying tasks and circumstances in which we ask them to perform.”

Quinn Nelson wrote: “This has been one of the few years where software has surpassed hardware. The iPhone 14 is by no means a bad phone, but the real star of 2022 is iOS 16.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “While I can’t say there was anything super-exciting this year, the camera improvements in the Pro were more noticeable than I expected. And as a former mountain-rescue and ski-patroller (and current disaster response paramedic) the idea of widespread satellite emergency beacons is super compelling. I may not be ready to ditch my Garmin, but for the average adventurer (or person driving outside cell coverage) this is game changing for safety.”

Josh Centers wrote: “The iPhone feels stagnant, and new features feel increasingly irrelevant and even complicate what was once a simple experience.”

John Siracusa wrote: “The iPhone continues to be a great product, but it is now ever-so-slightly overdue for a refresh to address the closest things it has to weaknesses. It’s time for the camera bump to be… rethought, if not reduced. What used to be a cluster of lenses tucked into the corner of the phone now takes up the majority of the width of the device and prevents it from laying flat when set down on a surface. The Dynamic Island makes some pretty good lemonade out of the lemons of the front-facing sensor array. The whimsy of the Dynamic Island is appreciated, but its features with the most practical benefit would work just as well on a true all-screen iPhone—and would spare us a baby black hole at the top of our devices. Someday.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “With unmatched power and stellar camera performance, the iPhone remains solid, but it’s beginning to feel heavy and dare I say it, unexciting.”

Carolina Milanesi wrote: “Good solid year, with a few features that set the iPhone apart like satellite and Dynamic Island.”

Dan Moren wrote: “Months later, I find myself thinking the iPhone 14 line was a pretty meh update. The Pro’s Dynamic Island feels like it could be revolutionary, but it’s still not widely adopted and probably won’t be until it spreads through the entire line-up. iPhone updates are feeling increasingly incremental, which makes me wonder if there are any big surprises left for the smartphone market?”


Grade: C (average score: 3.0, median score 3, last year: 3.7)

The iPad took a precipitous fall to its lowest score in the history of this survey. There was some praise for the iPad 10th generation, but even that product got dinged for its confusing Apple Pencil story—and the fact that its new features make the rest of the product line feel antiquated. A treading-water update for the iPad Pro and the rough introduction of Stage Manager seem to be the biggest culprits in the bad mood of our panelists.

Myke Hurley wrote: “Apple had one job to do with the iPad Pro and they couldn’t get it done. They’ve left the lineup incredibly confusing with the new iPad. But that does look like a great device for those that need it.”

John Gruber wrote: “I’d have scored this lower if not for the solid improvements to the consumer-level iPad hardware in 2022. It’s great that the 10th-gen no-adjective iPad starts at just $450 and brings that model into the modern ‘all-screen/no home-button’ design era. I can’t help but believe that if not for COVID and two years of work-from-home and severe travel restrictions between the U.S. and China, that we’d have seen a design refresh for the iPads Pro in 2022. It feels like just another sign that among Apple’s three personal computing platforms, iPad comes last in terms of attention. Stage Manager on the iPad isn’t appealing and feels half-baked conceptually. The iPad experience offered much more clarity — which I found satisfying, if at times frustrating — in the early 2010s, when it was just a big iPhone. Conceptually I find advanced usage of iPadOS to be muddled.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “It seems like the iPad Pro is inching closer to being a computer with some serious software limitations. I guess. I’m all about the iPad Mini, and it didn’t get an update this calendar year.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “The hardware continues to improve, but iPadOS is a bit of a mixed bag. I’d love to see more pro-level apps on the iPad. While I wait for those, the iPad mini remains my favourite of the bunch.”

Marco Arment wrote: “The iPad story seems lost, erratically delivering multitasking features every few years such as Stage Manager that are too confusing for novices yet too limited for power users.”

Kirk McElhearn wrote: “The iPad seems to have stagnated in the past couple of years, but there was a solid line up from the iPad pro models down to the less expensive models. The iPad Pro models are still expensive, however, but I don’t imagine that will change.”

Aleen Simms wrote: “The iPad product line is more robust than it’s ever been, but none of the models fits my needs well.”

Alex Cox wrote: “People who are more passionate about the iPad have better words to convey the dismay and frustration most of us feel—but I will say I sold off my M1 iPad Pro. I have an iPad mini I love, yet I realize I’m using it more like my phone because I LIKE my phone way more than I liked my iPad Pro the past few years.”

James Thomson wrote: “Even if I hadn’t spent the majority of the summer working on support for an iPadOS feature that turned out to be underwhelming, I would still be down on the iPad this year. Again we didn’t see the pro apps that justified the powerful hardware, and Stage Manager was equal parts constrained and confusing. Did the iPad Pros get updated this year? I genuinely had to look it up. The new entry-level iPad is at least interesting, but the Pencil situation is a mess.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “It’s a little hard to suss out the iPad line as it currently stands, given the new iPad Air an older iPad Pros. But that seems like a minor issue when compared to the iPad multitasking situation. Stage Manager was late, and confusing when it finally arrived.”

Robert Carter wrote: “I think the iPad models are a bit confusing. My wife, however, does love her new iPad Air.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “Lots of new and interesting tech, but the iPad has become such a moving target in terms of both capability and interface that the new ones include an extra helping of confusion.”

John Siracusa wrote: “It’s hard to tell if the iPad line suffered from supply constraints or underinvestment in 2022. The new no-suffix iPad includes a lot of new thinking from Apple, including a repositioned camera and a new key layout and keyboard attachment method. But the use of the (very) old Apple Pencil design is galling, even if it is technically explicable. It’s Apple’s job to solve these design challenges, not our job to live with them. And then there’s the iPad Pro line, which didn’t benefit from any of the “new thinking” from its cheaper sibling. If Apple can’t justify the expense required to update the features of the iPad Pro as frequently as the lower-end models, then at least try to synchronize the rollout of the biggest changes to hit the whole line at the same time. As a bonus, doing so might have given Apple more time to figure out the Pencil situation and avoid shipping another awkward dongle.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Conceptually, Stage Manager doesn’t do it for me. M2 iPad Pros exist, but that’s about all I can say for “new” Pro models.”

Casey Liss wrote: “While I’m as perplexed and overwhelmed by the iPad lineup as anyone, I do think that the iPad hardware is mostly quite impressive. I just wish Apple had a clearer story in damned near every capacity: Fewer models, and/or a clearer delineation between them. More powerful software, which doesn’t stand in my way in both expected and unexpected ways. And consistency between the models—I so desperately wish my brand-new M2 iPad Pro had a landscape-mounted camera. Although I’m using and enjoying my iPad Pro more than I have in a while, I can’t deny that the iPad story is messy at best, and lost at sea at worst.”

Joe Macirowski wrote: “The years when the best features aren’t all available on any one device at any price point at all are not fun for would-be buyers or the people likely reading this article who are consulted for Apple related buying advice by their friends, family, and coworkers.”

David Sparks wrote: “The iPad is fine. That is, and continues to be, the problem.”

John Moltz wrote: “The iPads are all individually great devices and I continue to be impressed by the value exhibited in the base iPad model. However, it’s a confusing lineup with a lot of overlap.”

Christina Warren wrote: “The new iPad feels like the right device for its audience. However, the increase in price and the fact that it still uses the first generation Apple Pencil is ridiculous. I’m glad it has USB-C, but that makes charging the old pencil that much harder. Total fail. It’s software where I get so frustrated. Four years in, iPadOS doesn’t feel any more finished or ready for ‘real’ work the same way macOS is. I know you can. I know people do. But it’s not good enough. Especially not when it costs the same as a MacBook Air or 13″ MacBook Pro once a keyboard is priced in. The iPad suffers, I think, because it has no competition of any kind. Only at the very low end or in niches like E-Ink does iPad have anyone else even selling tablets. And honestly, I think it hurts the overall product.”

Jeff Carlson wrote: “This is getting to be an old record. Hardware great, software still lacking. Stage Manager seems like a nifty idea only partially implemented (and I’ve since turned it off on my 11-inch iPad Pro).”

Charles Arthur wrote: “This would have been higher but for all the madness of the “works with a Pencil, no not THAT Pencil the other Pencil, also not THAT keyboard, the other keyboard” in the latest round of releases. We still seem to be waiting for some big breakthrough – OLED? – that will take the whole thing forward again.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “As always, the software seems to be letting down the hardware. iPadOS continues to feel limited. Stage Manager seems half-baked, and its system requirements are too steep.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “I have not been an iPad user for several years, and 2022 didn’t change that. Even ignoring all of the Stage Manager bugs that shipped, Apple hasn’t come close to a great multitasking design for a primarily touch-oriented UI environment. If Apple wants people like me to take the iPad seriously, it needs to get far closer to the productivity of a Mac experience. And the state of Stage Manager, even today following several OS updates, doesn’t inspire confidence that will ever happen.”

Nick Heer wrote: “The current lineup of iPads and accessories is confusing, but I do not think that was the biggest frustration with iPads for 2022. No, the greatest disappointment has been the rocky launch of iPadOS 16. When Stage Manager was announced, it felt like an appropriate evolution in the iPad story: a bigger, better multitasking experience that took advantage of the most powerful iPads for the most demanding users. Instead, its rollout has been a catastrophe. What was supposed to be an amazing year for iPad Pro users turned into something of a dud. Hopefully it will get fixed in 2023.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “The 10th-generation iPad was the big winner this year with its complete redesign, although it unfortunately comes with a significantly higher price tag that will come back down over time. The M2 iPad Pro models aren’t much more than a minor spec bump as Apple awaits a bigger splash with a rumored transition to OLED, while the iPad Air was a similarly small upgrade and the iPad mini hasn’t received any upgrades since its 2021 overhaul.”

Quinn Nelson wrote: “You know it’s a bad year when the highlight of Apple’s tablet lineup for 2022 is the 10th-gen iPad. It’s not a bad device (at all!), but it has the wrong price and further confuses the lineup. The iPad Pro update was insultingly lazy, Stage Manager is half-baked, and the lineup seems more fragmented than ever. Only the base-model iPad has pro features—like a function row on its keyboard and a landscape camera.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the iPad lineup is a mess. The 10th-generation iPad and M1 iPad Air make the M2-powered 11-inch iPad Pro seem both expensive and redundant. Besides the cost/price confusion in the iPad line, the mismatch of features between the various products makes me think that something in Apple’s plans derailed over the last couple of years. I can’t imagine it was the initial plan to ship the 10th-generation iPad with its function keys and its camera-on-the-correct-side, all just to sell it with the first-generation Apple Pencil. And why didn’t the iPad Pro get some of these changes when it got bumped to the M2? Something doesn’t add up here. Then there’s iOS 16 and Stage Manager. Lots of digital ink has been spilled on the subject, and I think it’s clear that Apple missed the mark with this new feature. It should have spent more time incubating within the company before shipping as the hot mess it still is as of iPadOS 16.2. iPad power users simply deserve better.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “The biggest problem for the iPad in 2022 was its software story. I don’t think I need to get into the details of Stage Manager again or how Apple shipped an incoherent, confusing multitasking interface that gets in the way of getting work done more than facilitating it. I’ll say this: I think it’s great that I can now use my iPad Pro with an external display and have a separate set of app windows on it. The problem is everything else: in practical terms, aside from more concurrent windows onscreen, iPadOS 16 doesn’t let me get more things done on a daily basis compared to iPadOS 15. I want to continue loving the iPad, but I also need to get my work done and I’m tired of having to rely on supplementing my iPad Pro with a Mac mini to do all the things I need to do. At the moment, the iPad seems to be stuck in this limbo of ‘more than a tablet but not quite a desktop-class computer,’ and I think it’s time for Apple to do some soul-searching and make up its mind. The device is called iPad Pro, but this gray area surely doesn’t help pro users at all.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “The 5th-gen iPad Air really started the year strong, putting the M1 into hands of the “not Pro” crowd. Of course, the M2 iPad Pro released later in the year upped the ante even more. The iPad lineup—including the not-to-be-forgotten iPad mini—is really a strong family right now; perhaps the strongest it’s ever been from an offers-and-functionality standpoint.”

Christine Romero-Chan wrote: “The 10th generation iPad is a bit of an awkward one. I love that it’s now USB-C and doesn’t have a Home button anymore, but that adapter dongle for the first generation Apple Pencil? Ouch. It’s also priced weird, too, considering that the iPad Air is not that much more expensive anymore. Also, Stage Manager is still just meh, not very impressive.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “I think the biggest disappointment for me is that the camera on the iPad Pro didn’t move to the proper position at the top of the screen (in landscape) as it did for the 10th-gen iPad. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it will be sorted out next time. Stage Manager is more useful for me on iPad, though not perfect. It’s certainly a lot better than previous multi-window options on iPad, but there’s still room for improvement. I think the iPad product lineup is confusing and in need of some cuts. There’s the iPad mini, iPad 9th-Gen, iPad 10th-gen, iPad Air, and the iPad Pro in two sizes. This is too many iPads. It’s also too many for Apple’s designers, as they can’t seem to keep the design consistent enough between them all.”

Joe Rossignol wrote: “iPadOS 16’s new Stage Manager feature broke Federico Viticci’s heart, and the 10th-generation iPad is a confusing mess.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote: “Had several. Gave them all away. I have no use for the form factor.”

Dan Moren wrote: “That base level iPad is almost a great update across the board…but then they had to go and stick the original Apple Pencil in it. Meanwhile, the Pros don’t the landscape-orientation camera? Seems like Apple’s found itself stuck in the middle of a transition, and despite having a lot of good products, none of them feel like a clear winner right now. Meanwhile, iPadOS still founders, especially with Stage Manager’s continuing bugs. There’s still a ton of unexploited power in the hardware that the software isn’t bearing out, and I almost wish I could just run macOS on it.”

Josh Centers wrote: “I don’t think Apple knows what to do with the iPad. High-end iPads are as expensive as Macs, but less capable. The iPad is just kind of there.”

Steven Aquino wrote: “It feels like Groundhog’s Day with iPadOS every year, standing at odds with the top-notch hardware of the iPad. I’m perfectly happy with my 2021 iPad mini as a consumption device and light work like email triaging. The iPad 10 is the weirdest iPad Apple’s ever made.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “iPad hardware continues to shine, but iPadOS continues to… not. Someday Apple will figure out multitasking on tablets. Someday.”

Wearables and Apple Watch

Wearables: Grade: A (average score: 4.4, median score 4, last year: 4.0)

Apple Watch only: Grade: A- (average score: 4.2, median score 4, last year: 3.6)

Things are good in wearables land. The Apple Watch Ultra refreshed that product line, and AirPods continue to impress as well. (We began asking about Wearables as a whole in 2019, which is why there are two sets of scores in this category.)

Myke Hurley wrote: “The Ultra is awesome. It’s shame that they Series 8 did not get a meaningful jump all around. Still waiting on that redesign. AirPods Pro 2 are stupendously good.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra is the biggest departure from the original’s design that we’ve seen so far, at least in terms of physical design. I’ve been wearing mine daily since it shipped and truly love its combination of larger size, incredible battery life and rugged construction. Sure, watchOS could take better advantage of the larger screen, but the same could be said for iOS, so I’m willing to mostly overlook it. The rest of the 2022 Apple Watch lineup is far more pedestrian, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Year-over-year, the Series 8 isn’t a big upgrade, but if you have a Series 4 or 5 on your wrist, it’s a really nice jump in terms of features. Apple’s AirPods line continues to do well, with the second-generation AirPod Pros 2 being universally acclaimed. I upgraded from an aging pair of AirPods 2 and couldn’t be happier with them. Meanwhile, the costly AirPods Max are now two years old, and due for an upgrade that should include better sound quality, USB-C support and a new carrying case. Really, even just the last one would be more than welcome for anyone who has had to wrestle with the worst case Apple has shipped since the atrocity it sold for the first-generation iPad back in 2010.”

Philip Michaels wrote: “The split between the Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch is how Apple should handle the differentiation between a high-end product and something for a broader audience. If only the watch people and the phone people were allowed to talk to one another.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “The updated AirPods Pro continue to dominate, and as a frequent flyer the upgraded noise cancellation makes a real difference. The Apple Watch Ultra looks awesome, but the battery life still keeps me on my Garmin for adventures.”

Devindra Hardawar wrote: “AirPods Pro 2 were the upgrade I’ve been waiting for. They sound as good as massive Sony earbuds from a few years ago.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “Apple Watch gets high marks for the Ultra, but the Series 8 was the first time I didn’t choose to upgrade every year because it just didn’t offer enough. The lineup of AirPods now is impressive and if you include the Beats line they have offerings for every ear type. Noise cancellation improvements are also impressive.”

Alex Cox wrote: “I giggled when Tim Cook introduced Apple Watch as their ‘most personal device’ in the age of innocence that was 2015. Here we are, and it’s absolutely true. My phone might hold the data my watch gives it, but this thing on my wrist has made me personally healthier and to my surprise, safer. I used to joke that Apple is the only company I’d trust with my menstrual physical, but the U.S. Supreme Court made that monkey’s paw bit into a harsh reality. The AirPods family is by far the best-augmented reality experience you can get for the price with its transparency mode.”

Jean MacDonald wrote: “After the Apple Watch, the AirPods Pro are my most used device. The new ones were worth waiting for. They are easily misplaced, so having a built-in speaker is a big deal. And being able to adjust volume with a gesture fixes the most glaring annoyance of the AirPods since they were first released.”

Carolina Milanesi wrote: “Apple Watch Ultra has set a new standard, and so have the AirPods Pro.”

Josh Centers wrote: “The Apple Watch feels like a finished product at this point. The Series 8 doesn’t add anything significant, but it doesn’t need to. The Apple Watch Ultra is an exciting product. The AirPods continue to be great, aside from their fundamental disposability.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Apple Watch Ultra is the boost I needed to stay interested. AirPods Max are unchanged but excellent. AirPods Pro 2 apparently adds Adaptive Transparency, but has anyone experienced the feature?”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “The AirPods are leading what seems like an entirely new category, and with a steep price. They are THAT good. The latest AirPods Pro aren’t a huge leap forward but they are a solid iteration on a design that works well for most people. The Watch Ultra was a nice surprise even if it was a bit niche with little to grab me. But, that’s the thing about the Apple Watch. It’s easy to use the same watch for multiple years without feeling like I’m missing out.”

Marco Arment wrote: “The second-generation AirPods Pro improved an already excellent product. Apple Watch Ultra was a bold risk to expand the watch lineup, and it worked out very well, with seemingly strong sales and an excellent critical reception. While the Apple Watch Ultra is a great new addition to the lineup, the Series 8 is almost unchanged from the Series 7, which was itself only a moderate upgrade from the Series 6. watchOS still holds back much of the Apple Watch’s usefulness and style, and Apple still needs to give users and developers more flexibility with the design of watch faces and complications.”

John Moltz wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra, while not for me, shows that the company still has the ability to ship a product with some real sizzle.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote: “AirPods Pro 2 hit the sweet spot for me. Sound fine and don’t fall out too often. Silent applause for the noise cancelling.”

Adam Engst wrote: “it’s a little disappointing to see Apple put so much effort into the Apple Watch Ultra, which large swaths of the population won’t even consider because it’s just too big. Perhaps the size is necessary to fit all the tech that Apple crammed in there, but it feels like another situation where Apple is focusing on larger people instead of smaller ones.”

Robert Carter wrote: “Being an audio user, I love the new AirPods Pro second generation. They work well and sound great.”

Casey Liss wrote: “While the Apple Watch Ultra is not at all for me, I’m pleased to see Apple trying new things with the Apple Watch. The incremental improvements in the rest of the line are fine, but I feel like it’s time to do something with the main watch lineup. I think the AirPods Max are due for a refresh, hopefully to right some of the dubious choices the original product made.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “The new AirPods Pro are great. Apple Watch Ultra is a cool expansion of the lineup. However, I had hoped that the baseline watches — the ones that I actually buy — would have gotten more changes than they have done. The Watch has plenty of headroom to grow, but the hardware and watchOS only received very incremental improvements in 2022.”

John Gruber wrote: “Apple Watch Ultra is a splendid new interpretation of what an Apple Watch can be. It’s obviously more rugged, but the larger screen and significantly longer battery life offer serious advantage even for the un-athletic and unadventurous. Titanium is an excellent material, more durable than aluminum and far lighter than steel. (Would be cool if, next year, they offer it in a dark-tinted titanium too.) Software-wise, watchOS has seemingly achieved platform maturity. Apple knows what watchOS is for, users agree, and they continue to polish and improve it. I loved my first-gen AirPods Pro and didn’t think I’d see a need to replace them with the new second-gen model, but holy hell are both the noise cancellation and transparency modes improved. Making the case Find My compatible is a nice addition too. When they were announced in September, I wrote, ‘The new AirPods Pro are the best single expression of Apple as a company today. Not the most important product, not the most complicated, not the most essential. But the one that exemplifies everything Apple is trying to do. They are simple, they are useful, and they offer features that most people use and want.’ Having owned and used them daily for months now, I stand by that.”

Cherlynn Low wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra outdid the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and the Pixel Watch and of the three most anticipated smartwatches this year, it was the only one that really impressed.”

Brett Terpstra wrote: “AirPods are not the best product on the market at their price point. I’m not sure what the selling point for the AirPods Pro actually is.”

Steven Aquino wrote: “Apple Watch Ultra was by far my favorite Apple product of the last year. You don’t have to be a diver or marathoner to appreciate the big screen! AirPods Pro 2 are a worthy upgrade over the originals; it’s a little thing, but that charging status light on the case is a huge help.”

Quinn Nelson wrote: “AirPods Pro 2 are one of the greatest products Apple has ever created.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “I don’t see how they could have done better or more: features, execution, product line, and even pricing. I’m not in the audience for the Ultra, but I bought a Watch 8 this year for all the features it packed into it, and I have no regrets in not owning one between a first-generation Watch (sold after six months) and a few months ago. It offers me all the health features I want, I love the Sleep mode integrated across my Watch and iPhone, and I don’t find myself frustrated with anything. It’s often a delight.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “Temperature sensing on my Apple Watch is so cool. It’s the main reason I bought a new watch, even though my Series 6 watch is fine.”

Rosemary Orchard wrote: “I love my Apple Watch Ultra. I wish it came in a smaller size, but despite having genuinely tiny wrists, it’s awesome.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “The Watch does well on battery life, screen size and speed. The AirPods Pro are a smart move forward. There’s a lot more room to expand into with wearables, it seems like. And maybe there will be more this year? Who knows?”

Eric Slivka wrote: “Love, love, love the Apple Watch Ultra even though I’m not out there doing extreme sports. I am an athlete and love the bigger screen and rugged design for tracking workouts, and it’s simply a great blend of functional and stylish, and it really is a bargain when you consider what you get in comparison to a regular stainless steel Apple Watch. The Series 8 is more of a disappointment with not much new to report, while the updated SE gives a nice budget pick that will serve users well for years to come. And thankfully, the Series 3 has finally been put out of its misery. On the AirPods side, the AirPods Pro 2 are a really nice upgrade with lots of little improvements that really add up. AirPods 3 were a late 2021 update that also brought some really nice upgrades for those buying in 2022. AirPods Max continue to be a bit of a mystery, now lagging behind the AirPods Pro 2 in several features with no sign of an update.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “AirPods Pro are great. Apple Watch is solid, if perhaps somewhat complete. The Ultra is much too big to be appealing to me personally, but is at least interesting and new. I hope to get an Action button on a regular Watch in the future. Perhaps interestingly, I’ve been getting a new Watch every 2 years, and I was due, but I skipped the 8. My battery life is still good, and I didn’t find myself compelled to move up. Maybe on the 9?”

Joe Macirowski wrote: “Maybe one year I can have a watch face that is just full saturation red (no pinks) to use in movie theaters and to bed. This is not that year, but it showing up on a specific face of just the Apple Watch ultra is at least a step into hoping it comes both to other watch faces and all watch models. AirPods Pro 2 are still weak to sweat and water (often temporary) “damage” but when not in that state their improvements and new XS tip size have let them leap over AirPods Max for a lot of my uses.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “Apple should make a new version of the AirPods 2 for people who dislike the redesigned third-generation AirPods. Otherwise, the second-generation AirPods Pro are incredible and I have no complaints.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra feels like a surprise hit. This rugged, unusual-looking device appealed to people who admit they’re not extreme sports enthusiasts. And though some of that has to do with Apple fans typical gravitation toward the newest, shiniest option, the Ultra brought incredibly innovative features and extended battery life. Even the hefty price tag seems justifiable. This year’s mainline watch upgrades were solid, making even the lowly SE a truly viable choice for a lot of would-be Watch wearers. AirPods Pro 2? Good stuff.”

John Siracusa wrote: “I’m sure it’s hard to stay motivated when there’s so little competition in the smartwatch market, but the Apple Watch Ultra gave the product line a well-needed kick in the pants. It’s not so much the feature set as it is the addition of some variety. More like this, please.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “While the Apple Watch Ultra isn’t for me, I appreciate that they’re trying to do something new. I just wish it wasn’t at the expense of the titanium Apple Watch Edition models, which have been my go-to. I skipped this year’s Apple Watch entirely as it didn’t seem to offer anything new for me and I couldn’t justify the Ultra, especially since I’m not a fan of the design. I hope the action button comes to all watches some day, though. As for software, the new low power mode is nice to have, but overall it’s another quiet year for watchOS.”

James Thomson wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra is function over form. I don’t like how it looks, and it’s not made for me, but I definitely respect it. The AirPods Pro team continues to defy the laws of physics.”

Nick Heer wrote: “Leaning into the sports bonafides of the Apple Watch with the Ultra seems like a more realistic direction in which to extend the line upmarket, and the updated Apple Watch SE is an impressive offering at a lower price. Both models made the modest Series 8 updates feel a little dowdy but, while tech products are often expected to change radically year over year, I think the slower pace of Watch updates suits the product and its category.”

Dan Moren wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra might be the best product Apple released this year. Great style, the Action button (which needs to make its way to the rest of the lineup, stat), and a surprisingly low price (which is something you rarely find yourself saying about Apple).”

Christina Warren wrote: “Man, Apple continues to kill it on wearables. AirPods Pro 2 was the biggest surprise and also my favorite Apple product of 2022. Apple managed to improve on an already stellar product. I didn’t think the noise canceling could get that much better. It did. I’d like to see Apple do a similar 2.0 update to AirPods Max, with USB-C support and maybe some fit adjustments (and a case that doesn’t look stupid).”

Michael Tsai wrote: “Apple Watch Ultra and the watch hardware in general seem to be doing well, except that CPU improvements continue to be minimal. The software has had some problems, with complications broken for me for much of the year, the Camera Remote timer delay too short to be usable, and unexplained giant battery drains. AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation has gotten worse with software updates, and I’m now having regular problems with static that never occurred before.”

Lex Friedman wrote: “More than ‘all day’ battery life is a big win. I’m grateful it exists on the Apple Watch. I’m also grateful I still haven’t had to test its crash detection. AirPods Max remain the best AirPods. Don’t @ me.”

Kirk McElhearn wrote: “It’s about time that Apple iterated on the Apple Watch, with the new Apple Watch Ultra model. However, they really need to make two sizes of this model, because it only works for men with large wrists. I would love to see other form factors for the Apple Watch, because there have been nothing but extremely minor changes to the hardware in the past few years.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “The Apple Watch Ultra is the nicest upgrade so far. The case is substantial and so is the battery life. AirPods Pro Gen 2 are a good upgrade and offer the perfect compromise in weight, comfort, fit, noise cancellation, transparency mode and audio quality. I wouldn’t change any of the trade offs Apple made here.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “AirPods Pro (gen 2), alongside the AirPods (not-Pro) gen 3 released last year, really have that product line firing on all cylinders right now. I find use for owning both, though I realize that’s probably not something most folks would try. 2022’s AirPods Pro (gen 2) really found all the sweet spots that these products need, including Find My tracking and improved audio quality at the top of that list.”

Apple TV

Grade: B (average score: 3.6, median score 4, last year: 3.1)

Could it be… a positive trend for Apple TV? In two years its score has risen dramatically. Guess that’s what happens when Apple makes hardware improvements and gets more competitive on price.

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “Slow, incremental improvements… which is not a bad thing, since the last thing you want to do when watching TV is trying to figure out the interface.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “This year’s hardware update was relatively minor, though it was nice to see some lower price points. I do wish the cheaper model could have at least had Thread support for some smart home future-proofing. tvOS continues to be a serviceable platform but could probably use some freshening up to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “Hardware got cheaper. Good! Even cheaper hardware would be good. Getting an update one year after the last one is way better than the four year gap between 4K gens 1 & 2.”

Devindra Hardawar wrote: “Apple finally made the Apple TV 4K cheaper, I can’t help but praise that.”

John Siracusa wrote: “The new Apple TV is smaller, cheaper, more powerful, and ditches the fan from the earlier model. In short, it is what we expect from a tech product upgrade. I still think the remote could be improved, but Apple can (and probably will) coast on its current design for a few more years.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “They’re doing what they need to do and nothing more. Still hoping for a leap forward.”

Adam Engst wrote: “It was nice to see Apple coming out with a better Apple TV at a lower price, finally. I still find the interface of the TV app to be messy and confusing, with more attention paid to fancy effects than actual usability.”

James Thomson wrote: “I am at least glad that the Apple TV is getting more regular updates, and slightly more sensible SKUs, but you could buy the new model and literally not be able to tell the difference. I know this, because I bought the new model. Another year of mostly invisible software changes suggest this is not one of Apple’s favorite children in terms of resources.”

John Gruber wrote: “The best new feature of the new Apple TV hardware is the price. It’s finally in the range where I felt it should have been for years. No, it’s nowhere near as cheap as the HDMI sticks or cheap boxes from competitors, but the real competition for Apple TV is the built-in ‘smart’ software on modern TVs. The current pricing of Apple TV hardware is commensurate with its value. Apple doesn’t get enough credit for making advanced features like Dolby Vision and Atmos audio ‘just work.’ I can imagine numerous ways that the tvOS interface can be improved, but it’s by far the best such interface I’ve seen. I use it nightly and don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “The Apple TV is the simplest device I hate to use. The remote is still an abomination of design over function and I hate using it. Luckily for Apple, a lot of people hate cable TV more than the Apple TV. For the Apple as techno-media giant, the Apple TV should be an embarrassment.”

Casey Liss wrote: “I’m an Apple TV apologist. So, consider that when I say that I don’t think the Apple TV is doing too badly. I think it’s dumb they removed the ethernet port from the cheaper one, but I sincerely doubt your average Apple TV user leverages the ethernet port on their Apple TV. I consume all video media through my Apple TV. The remotes are great now, and I appreciate that the new one charges via USB-C. The software is not perfect, but honestly, it’s consistent, and mostly stays out of the way. Which is all I really want in this context.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “The improvement here (including dropping the lousy version) has been pretty big. OK, you could complain about the fact the lower-specced one doesn’t have Thread or an Ethernet jack. Be my guest.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “I’m knocking Apple TV way down for the terrible marketing decision to make an Ethernet-less model with less storage look attractive because it’s less expensive, and then not including Thread support. Muggles won’t know what that means and will likely buy the less expensive model and miss a very important feature.”

David Sparks wrote: “The Apple TV got a little better (and a little more price competitive) this year. Nevertheless, will this product ever stop feeling like a “hobby” for Apple?”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “The Apple TV still feels like an also-ran even as they keep upgrading models over time. The Home screen remains a mess. Navigation is a mess. The updated Siri Remote is better but still crummy. It’s easy to find innovation elsewhere. At the price they charge, the Apple TV 4K should be not just a HomeKit, Matter, and Thread hub, but a Wi-Fi base station and have better audio output options as well. The pricing by internal memory continues to be ridiculous. I wish they’d step up.”

Dan Moren wrote: “Honestly, it was pretty much a status quo year, even with the release of a new Apple TV, but then they had to go mess around with the Apple TV app and make it harder for people to get to the content they want to watch. Unforced error.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Nice chip upgrade, even better price improvement.”

Quinn Nelson wrote: “USB-C. Need we say anything more?”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “I continue to see no reason to switch from my Roku devices to an Apple TV. The UI is not intuitive to me, and at times is downright annoying, and the box doesn’t offer enough other stuff that I really want one. The Apple TV App on the Roku is also not great, but it gets the job done and does a better job of presenting my other streaming services to me.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “I continue to be somewhat mystified by the Apple TV as a physical product. Sure, they made the remote nicer in recent years and the tvOS UI exhibits all the best traits of Apple software (easy to use, smooth, consistent with other platforms), but at the same price point (if not lower), competition from Amazon and Google is matching (and, in some classes, going beyond) Apple’s offerings with features such as better integration with TV sets (Fire TV Cube) or a better remote (the Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which supports finding the remote via voice and has backlit keys at night). I think the Apple TV is overpriced for what it does, but, at the same time, the tvOS interface is nice and the Apple TV doubles as a HomeKit hub on my local network, which is a good enough reason to continue to use it and upgrade it over time. I just wish Apple was a little more creative with it; maybe I just need to wait a couple of years.”

Alex Cox wrote: “Whenever someone asks me if they should get an Apple TV I just kind of make a verbal ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoticon. The Apple TV’s software is infuriating but not as infuriating as any other TV software I’ve used.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “The most important thing for the Apple TV box was to make it cheaper. And they did that. The two SKU lineup is a little awkward, but the price point is great — it starts lower than the (thankfully discontinued, finally) Apple TV HD started at. Wish it would have been $99 rather than $129 starting price, but I’ll take it.”

Steven Aquino wrote: “I appreciate how Apple tried to clean up the Apple TV box with lower prices and more storage. We have two in the house—the 2017 A10X and the 2021 A12—and they both run extremely well, especially the older one. There’s no reason for us to upgrade, which is an indictment of tvOS and how relatively little Apple has poured into improving it.”

Brett Terpstra wrote: “The tvOS updates this year were pretty handy, from Shared with You to Siri profiles.”

John Moltz wrote: “The Apple TV got a little cheaper and a little faster and it continues to be a product in the company’s lineup. That’s about the best you can say for it.”

Marco Arment wrote: “The Apple TV was updated.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “New hardware is nice, but while I prefer the OS to many alternatives it still doesn’t feel like a fully complete Apple experience.”

Christina Warren wrote: “The surprise Apple TV update in late October was great. The Apple TV is still expensive but it’s way more accessible than before. I do have complaints about tvOS. What they did to Up Next is gross and indicative of the worst types of growth hacking. But at least Apple finally remembered it has a set-top box.”

Josh Centers wrote: “Apple TV hardware received a surprising amount of love this year, and the price has finally entered the realm of reality. The Apple TV is still very much a niche hobby—and probably always will be—but it’s a fine product for what it is.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “Apple doesn’t seem to know what to do other than add a faster processor. The software seems to be designed around Apple’s business needs rather than what customers would want. The remote still needs work.”

Nick Heer wrote: “Pricing that actually seems reasonable on some really good systems. tvOS is still janky.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “The newest version of the Apple TV 4K continues Apple’s long line of set-top boxes that are overkill for almost anyone’s needs. At least they haven’t messed up the remote in a little while. tvOS feels the most stagnant (or stable, if you’re a glass half-full kind of person) of all of Apple’s operating systems, as the TV app continues to be a bit of a confusing mess and the company still unable to get more streaming services to play ball with Apple’s user interface … cough Netflix cough.”


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

Services scores ticked up a bit this year, and panelists cited a strong performance from Apple TV+ (especially “Severance”) and the convenience of the Apple One bundle.

Paul Kafasis wrote: “I got off Dropbox and fully into iCloud Desktop in 2022. It’s worked well over all, but my god would I like a ‘Force Sync’ button. Every few months, sync gets stuck for a hours to days. Figure it out, Apple! I’m using Apple Pay more and more, and I appreciate that. I especially like using it on transit systems, like the NYC subway. I turned off my Apple TV+ subscription. I’ll buy a month or two when Ted Lasso returns, and watch Severance then too. I don’t need or want Apple to try to be HBO.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “The Apple One bundle is convenient, and is actually saving us money as a family. Before, everyone was doing a hodgepodge, and now it’s all in one lump sum, and lower than the separate activities.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “TV+ continues to improve its content offering, but Arcade seems almost exclusively child orientated, a missed opportunity to take gaming somewhere new.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “After years and years of begging, users of iCloud Photos have finally heard their cries answered in the form of Family Sharing. I turned it on so my wife and I can share photos, but now have a mountain of work ahead of me to sort out duplicates and add metadata to photos that are missing dates, GPS information and more. To my great sadness, Album support is lacking in the family library, but it’s forcing me to add tags and the other metadata mentioned above for easier searching. I’m sure that as soon as I finish that work in 2027, Apple will add Albums to the product. In terms of other Services, TV+ and Fitness+ continue to be bright spots, with both receiving regular content. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well run both seem to be run. That’s in sharp contrast to Apple News, which is stuffed with some of the worst ads I’ve ever seen. As someone paying for Apple One, I should not see them. The rest of Apple’s Services are not something I think about regularly, which is probably how things should go. iCloud is keeping all of my notes, contacts, events, bookmarks, iMessages and more in sync, quietly in the background.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “Apple TV+ can’t compete with some of the heavyweights in the amount of content it has to offer, but it has had some quality offerings and it comes with a relatively cheap price tag. Apple Pay remains fantastic as merchant adoption continues to increase, while Apple Card is a convenient and very Apple payment option, but it really needs to expand beyond the U.S. I still don’t find myself using Apple News+ or Apple Fitness+ much, but I appreciate the Apple One Premier bundle that gives me access to them for the times I do use them without me having to pay for them separately and feeling like I’m wasting my money.”

Alex Cox wrote: “Services is always a hard category to think about with Apple. Apple Pay? Amazing. Apple Music? Yikes. Everything else? Kind of in between. I worry about the push to market services, but I’m sticking with the Big Tech I know.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “Severance, For All Mankind, Slow Horses, Spirited, Mythic Quest. Most of my favourite content of the year came from TV+. And FINALLY end-to-end encryption for iCloud.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “Apple TV+ is simply killing it right now. And the updated security for iCloud is a paranoid security pro’s dream come true.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “Services is growing like crazy, but lots of it is actually good. TV+ has made some excellent shows (Slow Horses, Severance). Fitness+ is a really useful service. Music and iCloud just chug along in the background, Apple Pay works. The only thing that freaks people out, justifiably, is the way that pay-for-play seems to be seeping into everything.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “Wondering where the promised Apple Classical music offering is.”

Robert Carter wrote: “Services have really matured. I am trusting the cloud more these days.”

Casey Liss wrote: “I don’t like that I feel like they’re just nickel-and-diming all their customers to death. It seems like everything new must have a services component, or it never sees the light of day. I especially don’t like that one of the richest companies in the world felt like it needed to raise the price of Apple One by $3, just because it could get away with it. 🤮 Also, iCloud storage. Holy shit. It’s 2023 and we’re still defaulting to 5GB. That feels so punitive and cheap. However, in terms of performance, the services are doing well, and I enjoy most of them. iCloud Photo Library has been very stable so far, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Shared Photo Library being the same. I very much enjoy Fitness+, though I wish they’d explore doing programs, rather than just an endless supply of one-off workouts. Apple Pay is accepted almost everywhere I frequent — if Kroger would just get on board I’d almost never have to use a physical card anymore. Apple Music as a service is pretty good, though the Music app is a complete dumpster fire. Anything I’ve spent the time to watch on TV+ has been great, though I’m extremely sad we didn’t get any new Ted Lasso in 2022. I’ve even found myself occasionally using News+ and Arcade, which are two services I didn’t expect to ever crack open.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Apple One Premier is a good value despite the price increase, but the software experience for literally every service really needs attention.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “iCloud+ was a smart update that continues to pay dividends. They brought iCloud Private Relay out of beta. The security upgrade to Advanced Data Protection was unexpected and a boon at no extra cost. AppleCare+ switching to unlimited repairs definitely improves its value as an offset to risk. Apple TV+ had a lot of great programming in 2022. I’m not sure Apple’s weakest service offerings improved much, but the good ones stayed good or got better, and some are quite great now.”

John Gruber wrote: “2022 was a mixed bag. I’ve been a fan of TV+ original content from its inception and it continues to get better. Severance was my favorite season of a TV series since Mad Men ended in 2015. Apple Music has a great catalog but a lousy confusing software interface — quite possibly Apple’s worst app. iCloud is underrated — many people internalized the ‘Apple is bad at services and syncing’ narrative from a decade ago and don’t realize how good the company has gotten at it. iCloud is secure, fast, and reliable today. iCloud backup for iPhones and iPads is a remarkably good and essential service — not just for disaster recovery, but also for seamless migrations from old to new devices. It’s starting to feel downright miserly, though, that Apple is still offering only a mere 5 GB of storage at the free tier, and have left the paid-tier storage allotments unchanged since like forever.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “A bit of a mum year for Apple’s content services — not much new to speak of. TV+ continued to expand its content lineup — with Severance being the standout success — but I wish the pace of rollouts was faster, still. The movies slate is particularly lacking. TV app remains woefully behind where it needs to be. Big props for shipping iCloud Advanced Data Protection though, and hence finally delivering an end-to-end encryption option for iCloud backups.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “Advanced Data Protection was unexpected and welcome.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “I continue to have reliability problems with iMessage and Siri. The apps that go along with the media services just aren’t very good. Apple Maps is still not as good as Google Maps in the areas where I go, but it does seem to be improving.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “I can’t think of a single miss Apple made in the services segment. TV+ is creating a huge amount of fantastic content. Fitness+ has included unique workouts like a series called Yoga for Runners along with continuously updated content. Apple Card continues to delight in notifications, visual effects, and especially support when someone tries to hijack your card. I use essentially every service from Apple and they all delight, even a credit card.”

Adam Engst wrote: “Overall, Apple has done an extremely good job with Services, though some are better than others. Apple Card remains awkward in a number of ways, Apple Music still doesn’t help much with music discovery, and Apple News+ remains overkill for all but the most hard-core of news junkies. That said, Advanced Data Protection for iCloud is a welcome addition, and using Apple Pay on the Apple Watch still feels like living in the future.”

Christina Warren wrote: “The price raise was fine. I’m glad iCloud now has end-to-end encryption for backups and iMessage.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “Apple is still killing it with TV+ content, and I’ve used Fitness+ quite a bit. Apple Music is fine? Apple News+ is sometimes really nice to have? Apple Pay is very convenient, particularly from my watch? For the most part I barely think about these things, which sometimes is a good thing (particularly with Apple Pay — It Just Works, like in the old days).”

Kirk McElhearn wrote: “I guess this is the space where I will mention that Apple has not kept their promise for a classical music app this year. My speculation is that Apple didn’t realize just how bad the metadata is for classical music in their library, because one of the main elements of classical music app needs is search. Without good metadata, there’s really no point in a classical music app.”

Cherlynn Low wrote: “Fitness+ has a uniquely inclusive approach to workouts, while TV+ continues to shine with excellent content like Severance, Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest and more.”

Josh Centers wrote: “TV+ seems to be hitting its stride, even though I don’t watch TV. I am deeply disappointed that the classical music app never materialized, because Music is a poor front-end for that genre. I am concerned Apple is going to be overly focused on pushing out new, unwanted services to milk its customer base.”

John Siracusa wrote: “Apple’s services continue to shake out into the must-haves and everything else. Among the must-haves, iCloud’s free storage tier remains embarrassing, and the Apple Music app on the Mac is in dire need of some love. But otherwise, they’re doing well. Apple TV+ sometimes seems plausibly poised to be “cheaper HBO” rather than “expensive NBC.” (Actual HBO fumbling the ball doesn’t hurt.) Apple Pay and the Apple Card quietly just work, which is ideal. The services that are struggling are surely helped by being part of the Apple One bundle, but I do wonder how long Apple will want to carry that weight.”

James Thomson wrote: “Many great shows on Apple TV+, including Severance, which I didn’t expect at all. Everything else felt like it was just in gradually decaying maintenance mode.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “A price increase for Apple Music, a broad and deep roster of Apple TV+ shows, and not much new from other services. 2022 feels like a very mixed bag for this part of the business. It is worth pointing out that Apple Fitness+ gained Audio Hints, making workouts significantly more accessible to users with disabilities.”

Nick Heer wrote: “Apple’s services portfolio is increasingly compelling. But my experience with all of them is unfortunately filtered through client apps which are buggy, frustrating, and overly interested in upselling. It is a shame because Apple is clearly doing good things: a film distributed by the company won the “Best Picture” Oscar in 2022! iCloud Advanced Data Protection has brought long-awaited privacy improvements, too. Good things are happening in services, but system applications feel neglected despite being core to their experience.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “The secret sauce of Apple’s services is that they seem optional but to really enjoy their premium devices, you kind of need them.”

Marco Arment wrote: “Apple TV+ continues to expand and delivers consistently great shows. Most other services are either quiet-but-massive success stories, like iCloud, Photos, and Messages, or they’re completely forgettable and seemingly surviving merely from their platform advantage — which is fine, to the extent that they’re not hurting or precluding competition.”

David Sparks wrote: “I’m a little surprised at how much I’m enjoying Apple TV+. I don’t watch much TV and am picky about sitting through an entire series of anything. Apple TV+ released several shows this year that I enjoyed. I still am uncomfortable with Apple’s increasing focus on services. It inevitably makes other things worse. For example, the 5GB of free iCloud data is now over 11 years old. If you’re keeping score, that’s longer than the Beatles were together.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “I’m very happy with Apple’s expansion as a services company in the past few years. In fact, I hope Apple does even more and continues to grow in this field. Offering native apps for their services on different platforms is key to attracting customers who may like Apple’s service offerings without actually using Apple hardware. The company has long offered native apps for Apple Music and Apple TV on Android and smart TVs, but as of this month, they’ve even rolled out native Windows clients for Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Devices (not to mention the previously announced iCloud integration for Windows). I applaud this decision as it shows an understanding (and acceptance) of the fact that people may like Apple’s content but, at the same time, prefer non-Apple hardware. I’d go even further and say that Apple should make a native Apple Music app for Amazon’s Fire TV devices (there isn’t one at the moment, which surprised me while setting up my Fire TV Stick). Looking ahead at the future, I’m very optimistic that Apple’s services division understands the importance of integration across different types of hardware, and I think we’ll continue to see similar announcements in 2023.”

HomeKit/Home automation

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

Holding steady isn’t what you want to see when your grade is a D+. Everyone seems to be waiting for the Matter shoe to drop and make things better, but until then, our panel remains largely unimpressed. Apple’s false start when it came to rolling out its new home architecture didn’t help matters.

Aleen Simms wrote: “I love the home automation HomeKit brings, but Siri and HomeKit are flaky together.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “The HomeKit Architecture upgrade didn’t change anything for me personally. Luckily it didn’t break my Home, but I also didn’t notice the performance/reliability improvements they were promising.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “2022 felt like a year in waiting for HomeKit, with Matter rolling out at the end of the year. It promises cross-vendor support for a wide range of products. For HomeKit users, it should unlock the world of Amazon-backed products… assuming vendors actually bother to update their existing products. Time will tell how successful that undertaking is. In terms of the Home app itself, the new design is an improvement, but like many Apple software products, it feels like too many things are behind hard-to-find menus. I mostly interact with my HomeKit products via Siri or Shortcuts, so at least I don’t have to spend too much time in there.”

Robert Carter wrote: “I am impressed with the VoiceOver accessibility that Apple has created for HomeKit.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “Reliability is just so poor, and debugging it is nearly impossible. I hit multiple issues in 2022 with HomeKit, and I found myself terribly frustrated. I want to use it more, and to like it more. When it works, it’s magical. When it fails, it’s maddening. It fails too often. Maybe Matter will help?”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “Home is abysmal. The UI is a hot mess, devices come and go at will, programming seems to be forgotten randomly. I have two devices that are properly programmed with actions, but they do their own thing, completely ignoring the schedules. I love the concept, and have a ton of HomeKit devices. But it’s very frustrating that it doesn’t ‘just work.’ Is Matter here yet?”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “The Matter transition continues to be rough, and will hopefully work itself out in 2023. The Home app is still a bit of a mess.”

James Thomson wrote: “Clearly things are going on deep down in the HomeKit pond, and at some point we may have a wonderful cross-platform smart home future, but everything remained pretty stagnant on the surface. The Home app was rewritten though, and made it just slightly harder to switch my lights on and off.”

Josh Centers wrote: “Home has had a lot of trouble this year, but Apple should be credited for making some big moves: implementing Matter, redesigning Home, and working quickly to improve iOS 16’s initially shaky reliability. It seems to have some life again.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “Apple leading the Matter effort is a big plus. The new iOS 16 Home app is a pretty good UI upgrade over what was there before. Sadly, still waiting for the full home strategy to come together — no new home hardware from Apple this year at all (outside of Apple TV).”

John Siracusa wrote: “The wait continues for Matter to come and solve all the interoperability and reliability woes that plague this entire sector. Apple’s abortive effort to overhaul its pre-Matter Home system is a black eye in an already grim year for this part of the business.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “Since I haven’t really found a home app I like better (and I have 100+ home automation devices and 15 years of custom code) I’d say Apple is doing okay. But having to roll back their updated framework release was not good.”

John Moltz wrote: “Apple redesigned the Home app to make it tolerable. I still think the company needs to make its own devices because setting up and maintaining third party kit is still annoying.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “HomeKit and the Home app are still a mess, and I’m currently still trying to recover from a situation over a month ago where my home suddenly had no owner and I’ve struggled to reset everything and re-add dozens of devices. Here’s hoping Matter makes things easier, but it’ll take a while to get there.”

Marco Arment wrote: “HomeKit is slowly — very slowly — getting better. Hardware support is weak, but very, very slowly increasing. Reliability is a mixed bag, but seems mostly limited by the quirks and quality of the individual hardware peripherals, not HomeKit itself. The nascent Matter standard promises to improve nearly everything about HomeKit, but we haven’t seen much from it yet.”

Alex Cox wrote: “Apple keeps taking one step forward and two steps back with its ambient computing strategy. I don’t like speculating about the inner politics of the company, but I hope that their HomeKit teams are able to collaborate and get more resources (especially as nerds and normal consumers alike become increasingly frustrated with Amazon’s slurry of IoT devices).”

Zac Hall wrote: “HomeKit lost the best garage door opener and irrigation controller due to apparent lack of interest and reliability, but the Home app is a little better? The lack of lighting icon choices from the company that makes SF Symbols is a glaring issue.”

John Gruber wrote: “Progress continues, clearly. Anecdotally, the HomeKit stuff in my house seemingly works more reliably than ever. It’s great that Apple contributed HomeKit to serve as the foundation for the open Matter standard, and that Matter devices are now starting to come to market. But big picture, this whole thing still feels like it’s always poised to get good ‘next year’. 2022 wasn’t that year.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “2022 marked the official arrival of the Matter automation standard and the rollout of a new home architecture to improve wireless communication between devices and accessories. Except a few things here didn’t quite go as planned. Apple had to pull its “underlying architecture” for Home. It surely looks like Matter support for the HomeKit framework was going to need a little more time in the oven. I’m excited about Matter, but I would have expected Apple to have a smoother rollout on their side of things. Then there’s the Home app, which received a substantial redesign in 2022 that made it easier to use, faster, more compact, and nicer to look at. I like it. I think Apple has done a good job slimming down the experience while making different accessories easier to recognize with new icons and key data points (such as security status or temperature) quicker to see at a glance. In my opinion, the best aspects of Home’s native integration with iOS remain Siri and Control Center: they’re both incredibly fast ways to control accessories and scenes with some visual feedback shown onscreen, which is not something I can say about Alexa. But we still don’t have interactive Home Screen widgets for the Home app.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “Still disappointing. HomeKit never quite works correctly two days in a row. Apple doesn’t seem to be doing its own thing that we could all rely on, and the integration with other companies is never quite perfect.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “I use HomeKit mostly to handle the lights in my apartment, and, for that, it works wonderfully.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “So close to a better score here, but a botched Matter rollout is not a great start for Apple.”

Quinn Nelson wrote: “The new Home app update is praised by everyone save for those that actually have to use it. Don’t get me started on automation limitations, failing to add new categories part of Matter, the iOS 16.2 update that was pulled, etc.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “As you add devices to HomeKit, it feels ever more kludgy. I now have two cameras, a thermostat, garage door open/close detector, and others, and the app in iOS/iPadOS and macOS just feels lackluster. The interface requires diving through options, and not all the features of some devices can be handled through HomeKit. (My thermostat requires a separate app to manage several features that HomeKit ignores.) Shortcuts and Automation could be improved to work better with HomeKit triggers and sensors. Overall, a lot more work to bring it up to, say, iOS standards.”

Casey Liss wrote: “HomeKit’s strongest skill is its ability to fail in new and exciting ways while never giving any actionable information to fix it. It rarely gives any information at all. I cannot overstate how infuriating it is to have something not work in your home, but have no way to find a solution. The automations in HomeKit are… okay. I wish we were given far more flexibility with the automation. Users are only allowed to use a subset of the things Shortcuts is capable of, which is a real bummer. The Home app is way better than it was, but it’s still slow, often fails with no explanation why, and is still clunky as hell. HomeKit is so very clearly an afterthought to Apple, and I wish it wasn’t, because it has so much potential.”

Dan Moren wrote: “Well, that turned into a real snafu. There was a nice Home app redesign, but it was overshadowed by the so-far anticlimactic Matter launch and, more significantly, pulling the promised architecture update, which was supposed to be more reliable, because of reliability issues. Feels like Apple really doesn’t know what it’s doing here.”

Hardware reliability

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

Apple’s solid A grade for its hardare maintains itself. If there’s an area where there’s largely consensus that Apple’s doing it right, it’s here. Clearly there’s a lot of goodwill left over from the resolution of the keyboard problems in late-2010s laptops.

Josh Centers wrote: “Apple hardware is in a great place.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “My Mac hardware itself has been very reliable, but I count problems with iOS and audio on the Studio Display under hardware reliability. Hardware can regress through firmware updates; my AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation doesn’t work as well as it used to. My iPhone’s battery seems to be failing after a little more than 2 years, though iOS reports it at 88% health.”

Dan Moren wrote: “A continued bright spot. Hardware is still second to none, even there are a few head-scratchers. (The Studio Display’s webcam, for example, and the reliance on Center Stage with no manual controls.)”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “Apple hardware is nearly always solid. When it isn’t, it’s news. I wish they made their products more durable, but overall, they do well.”

Alex Cox wrote: “When it comes down to it, most of my frustrations with Apple’s hardware reliability might not even be the hardware itself. Their Macs are everything I could have hoped for. The HomePods are everything my ears hoped for, but their function as an assistant leaves much to be desired… is that the software? The microphones? Faulty something or others? I don’t know! Also: I will continue to complain about how iPhones are too big and heavy.”

Philip Michaels wrote: “Look, I’m still using a MacBook Air with flakey A and P keys, which maddens me, and 2022 was the year another iPhone of mine gave up the ghost because its Lightning port became wonky. I don’t think Apple builds things to last.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “Can’t think of any crazy hardware gates for 2022. It probably does help that Apple’s new hardware launches for 2022 were relatively conservative — almost every new product Apple featured the same chassis design as the previous generation.”

Brett Terpstra wrote: “My Studio is the most reliable Mac I have, and I’m going on 3 years with my current iPhone and have yet to have a moment where I think I need a new one. Solid performance.”

Nick Heer wrote: “There were two main hardware problems this year which captured headlines: the camera in the Studio Display sucks, and the Mac Studio has a whiny fan. It felt like a slide from the past couple of drama-free years, but not to the egregious extent of the butterfly keyboards and, no, I do not think it is past time to keep bringing that up.”

Zac Hall wrote: “A midnight finish will reliably collect more fingerprints than a crime scene investigator, but actual reliability is strong post butterfly era.”

Christina Warren wrote: “I had to get my AirPods Max and AirPods Pro 2s serviced in the same week. They gave me a hard time in the store about the AirPods but did the swap. Doing it online for the AirPods Max was the way to go.”

Brent Simmons wrote: “Apple is doing wonderfully on hardware — all of it, as far as I can tell.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “Apple has pretty much perfected their work with both aluminum and glass over the years, and now that the Butterfly Keyboard is gone, I don’t have any real complaints here. Users can even get their own parts now through the Self Service Repair Program! What a world we live in.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “No major issues for me in 2022. AppleCare continues to generally be a smart buy for peace of my mind, but thankfully I haven’t needed it recently.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “The only Apple device I need to reboot regularly is my iPhone 14. That’s a terrific endorsement of the Mac.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “Pretty solid for me – though my three-year old Watch died abruptly while on holiday when the touch screen wouldn’t take touch. ‘Oh we see this a lot… I mean, this is the common problem we get.'”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “The last time I had a hardware problem on any of my Apple devices was in 2016 — and I’ve had a bunch since then. Since Apple stopped making The Bad Keyboards, things have been pretty solid.”

John Moltz wrote: “Overall, I think Apple’s improved its hardware reliability since the butterfly keyboard era.”

John Gruber wrote: “Anecdotally, no hardware problems for me last year other than my old, much, much-used and still-used 2014 MacBook Pro suffering a swollen battery. A much-used 8-year-old device finally suffering a problem is a sign of how good Apple’s hardware reliability is.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “We haven’t had any hardware issues with any of our Apple stuff since the infamous butterfly keyboard era.”

Software quality

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

Apple holds steady with a B- grade, and the panelists are concerned, but restrained in their criticisms. There’s a general sense that Apple’s infrastructure is getting worse, but that things are not completely falling apart. And yet there’s a lot of trepidation, highlighed by the introductions of the System Settings app on Mac and on the rough introduction of Stage Manager.

David Sparks wrote: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Apple is turning up the dial on their productivity software. Notes, then Reminders, and now Mail are increasingly more powerful and useful. This year we got another entry with FreeForm. I’m super curious to see if there is more to this in the future.”

Robert Carter wrote: “Apple sometimes takes too long to fix important VoiceOver bugs. On the other hand, they have worked hard on Braille access this year.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “Most things feel kind of buggy, and the Mac is in a particularly bad state, with a large number of small bugs (many persisting for years) and some debilitating larger ones.”

John Gruber wrote: “I still have the same concerns about the direction of Apple’s software design that I did last year, especially on the Mac. But I think their software reliability has been excellent. Consider the numerous features under the Continuity umbrella. Features like copying something on your iPhone and being able to just paste it on your Mac, and vice-versa. Or starting a new message in Mail on your iPhone and using Handoff to finish writing it on your Mac. Those features have been around for years, but it seems to me they work more reliable than ever. I appreciate that.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “As much grief as we’ve given Apple for poor OS updates in the past, it has to be pointed out that most releases this year were not crippled by show-stopping bugs. It’s true that, especially in iOS, many features were delayed until later-year dot releases. And it’s possible that more of these are coming. Stage Manager is the greatest exception.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Considerably light on software improvements, but the iPad got a Weather app.”

Joe Macirowski wrote: “In the Big Cat naming era, System Preferences was a destination I urged switchers to take a complete tour of because they would encounter every standard Mac control in its proper use. If System Settings can be considered a tour of modern Mac UI controls, then modern Mac UI controls are not in a good place. The whole thing feels like somewhere between ‘not thoroughly considered’ or ‘the team was unable work with the relevant UI frameworks teams to achieve a better result than this for one reason or another.’ That doesn’t really matter to me, because the bad thing shipped.”

Dan Moren wrote: “A decidedly mixed bag. I feel like I’ve seen more buggy and inexplicable behavior than ever, but everything generally still works. Is this a case of more complexity leading to more edge cases and more bugs that don’t get caught, or is Apple stretched too thin? It’s hard to say.”

Devindra Hardawar wrote: “It’s very nice to see Apple change up its multitasking philosophy with Stage Manager.”

Brent Simmons wrote: “Every year it’s the same thing — but now the achievement gap between the hardware and software is really glaring.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “iOS has been fine for me, as has iPadOS. I haven’t felt any great need to use Ventura.”

Josh Centers wrote: “Apple is overly focused on marketing new features that are esoteric, irrelevant, half-baked, or poorly communicated. Meanwhile, technical debt accrues. I desperately wish Apple would slow down and take time to polish and declutter its operating systems.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “2022’s flavors of iOS and iPadOS hold pretty strong, and I’m impressed with their stability and interoperability. In fact, that latter point may well be Ventura’s saving grace: the increased seamlessness with which all our Apple devices now interact is perhaps something too easily overlooked. This is the Apple Way, of course, and perhaps the shining reason so many of us initially chose this platform, back whenever that first happened.”

James Thomson wrote: “Apple’s rewrite of the Settings app on Ventura just showcased the limitations of SwiftUI and a vertical design that only makes sense on much smaller devices. Features like Stage Manager got delayed, and even then still arrived with both design and reliability problems.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “The macOS Settings app needs some attention, and the Password manager in particular needs some serious UX improvements. I transitioned to it from 1Password with iOS 16 and while it’s good enough most of the time, there are a lot of easy improvements they could make. The Home Architecture Upgrade situation was unfortunate and certainly another hit to their reputation.”

Shahid Kamal Ahmad wrote: “All the OS upgrades seem to go smoothly on all devices, which is an exceptional achievement. I find pretty much all bundled Apple apps a bit basic and while I’d love to be more stripped down in my software approach, I turn to third party alternatives for most software.”

Federico Viticci wrote: “Most of my concerns about Apple’s software quality this year are about the poor, unfinished, confusing state they shipped Stage Manager in. I’m not going to rehash all that. Instead, I’d also point out that I was hoping to see more improvements on the Shortcuts front in 2022, and instead the app was barely touched last year. It received some new actions for built-in apps, but no deeper integration with the system. I continue to experience crashes and odd UI glitches when working on more complex shortcuts, and I’d like to see more polish and stability in the app.”

Casey Liss wrote: “Some things have gotten better for me — longstanding bugs are either squashed, or happen far less frequently, particularly on macOS. However, I must acknowledge the utter disaster that is Stage Manager. I can’t believe it shipped. Apple really needs to take their foot off the accelerator pedal on new shiny, and spend some time shoring up the things they’ve already shipped. Same as it ever was.”

Christine Romero-Chan wrote: “Lock/Home Screen customization on iOS 16 is the worst.”

John Siracusa wrote: “The relatively uneventful rollout of macOS Ventura was a blessing, but System Settings is a sore spot. Each new or overhauled feature added to macOS increases my fear that Apple no longer knows how to make good Mac software. While iOS reliability remains good, the Stage Manager debacle on iPadOS continues that platform’s years-long struggle to define itself.”

Eric Slivka wrote: “A lot of iterative improvements with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. Stage Manager took its lumps during the beta period and I still haven’t found it super useful. Freeform looks cool but it’s also not something I’ve found reason to use. I like the new Lock Screen customization in iOS 16, but still waiting for Live Activities to take off.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “It’s been years since I’ve had a Mac experience a kernel panic or even had an Apple application crash on a regular basis… with the exception of the macOS version Freeform, which I could make crash 100% of the time when interacting with text written on an iPad. Seeing as that’s a 1.0, I’m mostly willing to forgive that. Apple’s software issues are more subtle than crashes and reboots. It’s the little things that bother me, like the mis-match of features found in the Mac and iOS version of Reminders, or how the Mac version of Messages still struggles to catch up with iCloud upon its first launch after sleeping over a long weekend. On another note, I fully understand that Mac developers have to choose between Cocoa, Catalyst and SwiftUI as Apple continues to make its slow transition away from Objective-C and its traditional methods of building apps, but I continue to be disappointed with SwiftUI on macOS. Look no further than Ventura’s new System Settings app to see just how badly this technology falls short at this point. I’m not convinced that a UI toolset designed for touch will work well on the Mac without a massive amount of additional work on Apple’s part. Whether an app is written in SwiftUI or not, the trend of Apple’s designers hiding controls and features behind buttons and menus continues to add unneeded complexity to macOS in particular. UI clutter is bad, but it’s far lesser evil than UI confusion.”

Nick Heer wrote: “It seems like longer software update cycles should give Apple’s engineers more time to solidify features, but quality is oftentimes still frustrating. To paraphrase Merlin Mann’s metaphor about email: every problem is a pebble. While some are bigger than others, this big bag of rocks is weighing down all the Apple stuff I own. I don’t think the bag was ever empty, but it has been heavy for quite awhile, and I am very tired.”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “Ventura and iOS/iPadOS 16 were substantive improvements that had issues on release, but improved. I think if the version that shipped in December had appeared in September, I’d give them a 5. I have no idea why they released Freeform; it’s not up to the standard of any comparable tool.”

Alex Cox wrote: “I love iOS 16, which makes the lack of powerful first party software on the iPad Pros even more frustrating than last year, which sure is saying something.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “Sometimes my work Mac gets weird and annoying and I reboot it. What is this, Windows? And the new System Settings app. I do not like it. I do not think I will ever come to prefer it.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “In the reliability category, I think Apple’s software is worth the price of entry. They still fall down when it comes to features. How is the Files app on iOS and iPadOS still so awful? Why is Apple Mail so barebones? Why does Siri fail more than it works? A lot of Apple’s software functions like it’s 10 years old. Even their “new” collaboration features in the work apps (like Pages & Numbers) feels like it was invented in a parallel universe that never had Google docs.”

Adam Engst wrote: “Everyone involved with System Settings for Ventura should be reassigned to work on fax drivers.”

John Moltz wrote: “We’re in a real awkward phase for macOS. While the previous System Preferences app was no great shakes, the new System Settings app in Ventura is jarring. I’m not a fan of summarily ditching long-time Mac conventions such as check boxes in favor of iOS controls. But maybe it’s leading to touch-enabled Macs so I will wait to see how it shakes out.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “iOS and MacOS updates seemed generally fine. The aforementioned HomeKit debacle is not good. There’s too much “It just works!” that doesn’t always work, and Apple still isn’t putting in the ability to enable folks to handle those failures manually.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “I find I have to reboot my iMac (with M1 processor) several times a week because of various freezes.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “It feels like stability is better, but the attention to detail isn’t quite there like it used to be. System Settings on MacOS is a mess, Stage Manager is… struggling, and there are plenty of features that aren’t quite there yet.”

Christina Warren wrote: “I think this improved some over the past, at least it felt that way. I still yearn from the days of macOS a decade ago, but here we are.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “macOS keeps improving, though the lingering bugs are annoying. iOS has gotten quite good, and the bundled apps are generally first rate. FreeForm is an intriguing new app that has replaced Keynote for me when I need to quickly sketch out an idea or chart.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “Stage Manager. So close but yet so, so far.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “Personally, Apple’s operating systems have been running fine for me this year. iOS 16 was a relatively big update in terms of features, and I encountered relatively few bugs.”

Marco Arment wrote: “While I question many of their design choices on macOS, Apple’s overall software quality and reliability have significantly improved over the last few years.”

Developer relations

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

Another hold-steady year, at a not particularly impressive score. Many seem resigned that Apple’s approach to App Store policies will only be changed by government force. Apple’s controversial addition of unpleasant ads to app pages was cited repeatedly. Things have been worse in this category, but it feels like a lot of resignation combined with waiting for changes to be forced upon Apple.

Myke Hurley wrote: “I think it was very interesting how they handled WWDC this year. Clearly a lot of thought went in to making this something for the developer community. But continued monopoly tactics drag this score down. The new ads in the App Store was a major fumble this year.”

James Thomson wrote: “WWDC continues to evolve its form in pandemic times, and we got slack channels and more to try to replicate the in-person experience for a wider audience. While the day-to-day developer experience arguably improved, high level policies continued to drag down the average. Terrible highest-bidder advertising across the App Store devalued Apple’s own excellent editorial work, and they ended up fighting multiple regulatory bodies across the world, all in the name of maintaining revenue they consider their Jobs-given right.”

Brett Terpstra wrote: “Loving the Small Business program at Apple (that gives me an extra 15% on my sub-$1m apps, which is all of them), and reviews have been timely and helpful.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “It still irks me that the bug reporting system is a black hole—send in bugs, get back nothing 99.5% of the time.”

Dan Moren wrote: “There were some ups and downs, but 2023 will be a big tell because of all the increasing regulation from governments around the world. Ads in the App Store got a lot of blowback and rightfully so.”

Casey Liss wrote: “Apple has had innumerable opportunities to do right by developers, both big and small. It is becoming inarguable that the only way Apple will do what’s right for anyone but Apple is by legislation. That legislation is coming. Naturally, this relates to things that maybe shouldn’t be regulated, like USB-C in iPhones. But some things I find easier to swallow, like loosening Apple’s monopoly over the App Store. I am tired of Apple making developers — including me — feel like we owe them for the air we breathe. While it is true that I wouldn’t be able to make apps for iPhones if there were no iPhones, it is simultaneously true that the iPhone would not be what it is without developers. Apple should remember that. I’ll also take this opportunity to bang the same drum I’ve been banging for years: documentation. While Apple is finally making positive steps in this department, there’s still a dire lack of documentation. And often the documentation that is provided is surface-level, with no description beyond what can just as easily be gleaned from the name of the thing you’re looking up. There’s almost never any discussion about how to use an API, and even more rare is a discussion of best practices on how to use something. It’s absolutely maddening.”

John Gruber wrote: “Repeating myself from last year: Resentment over App Store policies continues to build. Frustrations with the App Store review process seem unimproved. Apple’s goal should be for developer relations to be so good that developers want to create software exclusively for Apple’s platforms. The opposite is happening.”

Michael Tsai wrote: “Pretty much everything to do with the App Store needs work, as does the documentation.”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “It’s harder to think of a harder self-own than Apple’s rollout of additional App Store ads in late 2022. The App Store was instantly flooded with ads for low-brow titles like gambling and hook-up apps. Seeing those ads instantly made the App Store feel like a worse place to be, but having them placed at the bottom of an individual app’s page was simply a bridge too far. It’s like Apple was trying to burn goodwill with developers with the move. Apple continues to be willing to die on the hill of its 30% cut of App Store purchases. Things like additional price points or the 15% commission on subscriptions that are older than one year are nice, but the market — and government regulators — are ready to see Apple’s iron-fisted control over the App Store loosen. There are a couple of bright spots here, though. Being at WWDC with developers was a welcome change after two years of COVID forcing the conference to be online-only. The Developer Center is a physical promise on Apple’s part to communicate better with developers. The ‘Ask Apple’ Slack-based Q&As are a good step in the right direction as well.”

John Siracusa wrote: “Not much has changed since last year, so I think my previous assessment still applies: The past several 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.”

Marco Arment wrote: “The App Store in-app-payment policies are so unreasonably anti-competitive that major world governments are stepping in to regulate Apple with far-reaching laws that could do much more harm than necessary. Apple’s refusal to give an inch is a major strategic error that will result in regulators taking a mile.”

Christina Warren wrote: “There are still far too many arbitrary decisions being made, too many scam apps and games getting promoted, and too much of a disconnect between developers and Apple. But I do see Apple trying and I think that is great. I say this with the disclosure that I work in developer relations at GitHub, so I’m not unbiased in how I feel about how Developer Relations should be done.”

Benjamin Mayo wrote: “It was about the same as 2021 until the Apple Store ads debacle, which sounded bad when they announced the new placement slots in August, and turned out to be even worse with what shipped in the fall. Showing casino and gambling apps next to top-tier iOS software was incredibly embarrassing, and disrespectful to the developers who made them. Apple eventually ‘paused’ those categories of ads from appearing, but it remains in limbo.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “Just fix the App Store experience for developers please. We hear too much about broken review process.”

Brent Simmons wrote: “The iOS App Store, as it is currently constituted, continues to be a terrible deal for developers and users. Apple’s mismanagement and greed is hurting its reputation, and it’s not like this is the money that makes the company successful. Apple could afford to go in a healthier and freer direction. They could start by stopping lying about what software distribution was like before the App Store.”

Dave Hamilton wrote: “Maybe it’s just from my perch, but the past year seems to have seen Apple struggling yet again with developer relations. We had a good run for a while, but now it seems like we’re veering back towards the old days where Apple’s default position towards the average developer is antagonistic, at best. I hope someone in power to course correct over there recognizes this sooner rather than later. If they truly are going to release an AR/VR platform this year, they’ll need to woo developers with a very different attitude than we’ve seen as of late.”

Zac Hall wrote: “This is the year Apple opened a physical Developer Center, then put ads for competing apps on developer product pages.”

Adam Engst wrote: “Will App Store approvals ever work properly? Perhaps it’s a hard thing to get right, but if Apple is going to keep banging on about how important it is for security, there have to be fewer stories of legitimate developers having trouble getting apps approved and scammers sliding them through with no difficulty.”

Societal and social impact

Grade: B- (average score: 3.4, median score 3, last year: 3.2)

As always, our panelists see what they want to in this category. Apple talks a lot about its values, but how does it live up to that talk? Apple’s attempts to prevent its retail employees from unionizing was mentioned several times. But the company also received praise for its introduction of Advanced Data Protection.

Josh Centers wrote: “Apple talks out of both sides of its mouth on social issues. It proclaims environmentalism while manufacturing ultimately disposable products in countries with looser environmental regulations than in the west. To be fair, they have made some inroads on improved repairability. Apple touts its social gospel while enacting anti-worker policies around the world. Jobs was no better on that front, but at least he was honest and unpretentious about it.”

Steven Aquino wrote: “I’m giving Apple a top rating based on accessibility alone, which obviously matters greatly to me. The short film they put together at the beginning of December highlighting disabled people using their products is a poignant reminder of my community’s basic humanity, and Apple TV+ continues to be overlooked when it comes to disability representation on screen. Apple doesn’t get nearly the credit they deserve on that front.”

Philip Michaels wrote: “Apple’s environmental efforts continue to be commendable. Apple’s unwillingness to weigh in on anything happening on Texas with regards to the governor’s targeting of trans kids continues to be cowardly, especially given the amount of business Apple does in that state.”

Alex Cox wrote: “I don’t think Apple always being in mainstream news is detrimental. I might find it annoying that there are a dozen puff pieces for every trickle of a headset rumor, but if it keeps people excited enough to also pay attention to Apple’s privacy policies and App Store controversies in order to make it a better company for consumers, so be it!”

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “Apple’s weird insistence on in-person work remains a sticking point: they have over two years of delivering incredible products and results and think that demonstrates a necessity that people risk their health for certain levels of mandatory office time. It seems very 1950s. Apple’s attitude towards unions is unacceptable, though easy to anticipate. Apple wants the flexibility to control its workers, pretend to give them the best, and then have relatively arbitrary circumstances under which they can change their work or fire them. Apple could stand the scrutiny of unionized workers. I haven’t heard boo this year about eco stuff—it feels like the pandemic suppressed many of those concerns, at least briefly.”

Carolina Milanesi wrote: “I still expect more from Apple. Sustainability and accessibility are good but there is more to be done in inclusion. Social impact shines in response to disasters.”

Cherlynn Low wrote: “Finally making iPhones repairable, changing up the design of the iPhone 14, as well as continued dedication to accessible products make Apple a leader here.”

Zac Hall wrote: “Bless Tim Cook’s heart for ending a war with the new Twitter CEO before it actually started.”

Joe Macirowski wrote: “Apple is simply anti-union in principle in both their words and actions. While many other social issues plaguing Apple (China, green-ish energy, diversity) are uphill battles against inherited sins of the father (some of whom are still executives), being anti-union over such small demands and failing to see the value in being perhaps the first company to exceed demands of prospective unions to thwart their formation is not a social issue with large inherited components that are slow to change. The beans were counted and the most profitable retailer per square foot decided chose to not strive to be equally far ahead of the competition on the treatment of the workforce powering it. Shameful. Without stating my thoughts on side loading and iPhone charging ports and regulation, it’s a failure of Apple to self-regulate well enough to keep these issues from become worth any large government’s time. The walled garden is full of subjectively scammy apps that an overbearing human-including review process should be rejecting since the same process seems to be able to never miss an app that attempts to link out to digital storefronts.”

Robert Carter wrote: “I love Apple’s public commitment to accessibility.”

Shelly Brisbin wrote: “Apple’s accessibility updates this year were pretty good this year, as was Apple’s much-appreciated decision to feature accessibility-related announcements in a context of their own. Most coverage of ongoing labor strife in China focuses on the impact on iPhone shipments. Given the closed nature of Chinese society, it’s difficult to tell if the company has had a positive or negative impact on working conditions for Chinese people who build iPhones. But it’s a topic on which more shareholders and media observers should press Apple leadership.”

Rich Mogull wrote: “This was the hardest category to score. Advanced Data Protection is a huge step up for privacy and security, as was Safety Check and Lockdown Mode. Apple is also more directly engaged in protecting journalists, human rights advocates, and others. On the other hand, they have an anti-union position and are still nearly completely reliant on China and thus can’t keep their human rights stance there. To give Apple credit, they are slowly working to unwind that dependency. On the whole they did better this year, but still have room to go.”

John Gruber wrote: “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.”

John Moltz wrote: “Apple has created a very antagonistic relationship with its retail employees and it’s unnecessary. If Microsoft can commit itself to having a positive working relationship with unions, Apple can, too.”

Allison Sheridan wrote: “I appreciate Apple’s continuing efforts to protect our privacy up to and including Advanced Data Protection.”

Gabe Weatherhead wrote: “Apple took a lot of justified heat over their return-to-office transition. You can tell what a company’s core values are based on what they are willing to sacrifice.”

Myke Hurley wrote: “I think Apple could be doing a lot better with their trade-in program. They should be offering much larger amounts for their devices, to further encourage recycling.”

Casey Liss wrote: “Advanced Data Protection is excellent, and I’m very pleased to see it land. Apple’s environmental efforts are still some of the best. Apple has continued to diversify speakers during their presentations. The executive board is still overwhelmingly old white guys though. China continues to be a point of extreme concern for me. This starts with the obvious things like having a tremendous manufacturing bottleneck. However, I’m finding it harder and harder to shrug off Apple’s continued kowtowing to the Chinese government’s every whim. I wish so badly that I could say ‘Apple universally stands up for human rights.’ Instead I have to say ‘Apple stands up for human rights [as long as it’s not financially burdensome to do so].'”

Stephen Hackett wrote: “Apple continues to do important work in the areas of environmental conservation and social issues, but the back-and-forth over its return-to-office plans and its willingness to look the other way in China continue to be troublesome, if not downright hypocritical. Apple needs to do better the world over, not just in parts of the world far from its factories.”

Paul Kafasis wrote: “Apple is far better than most companies, but that’s a terribly low bar.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “The quiet attempt to shift production out of China has been subtly managed: not blowing any trumpets, except perhaps about any manufacturing that’s going to happen in the US. But work going to Vietnam or Brazil rather than China? Very quiet.”

Jessica Dennis wrote: “Apple pays a lot of lip service to DEI but we don’t really see that reflected on the Leadership page. And there’s that thing with the virtual slave labor in assembly plants. Likewise the environment — Apple says the right things, but we all know by now that carbon offsets are fake, and the fact that they tout removing accessories from the box for iPhones as a green win is just obnoxious.”

Marco Arment wrote: “Apple continues to face friction with significant numbers of its employees on a broad range of issues. Apple is still so reliant on China that they often need to cooperate with the Chinese government in extremely uncomfortable and morally questionable ways.”

James Thomson wrote: “Remote working policies continued their Corporate Culture Knows Best approach, only now they actually did make people return to the office to the detriment of many.”

Lex Friedman wrote: “Seeing Tim go on walks with Elon isn’t quite as aggravating as seeing Tim bend the knee to Trump. But until and unless Apple can decouple itself from China, all the recyclable elements in the world won’t negate its overall societal weaknesses.”

Brent Simmons wrote: “Apple’s commitment to accessibility continues to shine.”

Nick Heer wrote: “Apple’s continued dependence on China has once again become a liability. It continues to do favors for a government intent on suppressing its own people’s expression as they protested aggressive anti-COVID measures. Those measures resulted in demonstrations at factories manufacturing iPhones. If Apple’s management was not embarrassed by its deference to authorities, it seems to have been ashamed of its difficulties delivering some iPhone models in its most important quarter. That likely explains rumors this year of Apple working to reduce its dependence on manufacturers in China. Even if you ignore all the China-related news, Apple was repeatedly accused of union-busting tactics. On a more optimistic note, Apple announced better security for iCloud users while also saying it has discontinued development of the previously announced on-device photo scanning. Also, its accessibility strides this year were impressive, particularly the Door Detection feature.”

Final comments

Glenn Fleishman wrote: “Apple had a great year but some seeds from the last decade of its future failings are starting to pop their heads above the soil. Their commitment to working and selling in China while adhering to government requirements that involve repressive actions against citizens that violate fundamental human rights and rights to privacy is a fault that I don’t know how they could have avoided as such nor how they navigate out. They’re building and working with new partners in the U.S. and India to diversify risk, which is smart, and puts them in countries with nominally more democratic ideals. (India is at the crux of a shift that might lead them into something closer to what the former Yugoslavia was like than how China works now.) Apple could wake up one morning and find billions of sales gone and an inability to manufacture in China because an executive said “Taiwan is an independent country” in an unguarded moment. That feels like a dangerous position to be in, while Apple also fails to uphold fundamental rights. I’ll note, however, that the ADP iCloud offering ostensibly will be allowed in China—I don’t know how they square that with end-to-end encryption.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote: “Apple needs an inspiration kick in the pants.”

Rob Griffiths wrote: “With the exception of the Mac Studio, I found most of 2022 somewhat ‘meh’ as far as Apple goes. Here’s hoping 2023 will bring more better Macs, and perhaps some truly new stuff (as opposed to just iteration number 15 of a given design).”

John Siracusa wrote: “Any day could be Mac Pro Day!”

James Thomson wrote: “I don’t know how much Apple’s internal focus has been on headsets and cars, but I hope we start to see some results from that soon.”

Charles Arthur wrote: “It felt as though Apple managed to stay out of the headlines for controversy in 2022, and that’s probably how they like it. (The retreat on local scanning for CSAM is an example of ducking away from controversy.) But maybe that also indicates a company that isn’t pushing ahead with things? Sure, if The Headset happens then there will be a lot of talk. But in the main, there’s a feeling—again, like after the Watch and before the AirPods—that we’re waiting for something to erupt again.”

Michael E. Cohen wrote: “Unlike many large corporations, Apple seems to have retained a vestige of its principles and commitment to the common good. Could do better, but could be far worse.”

Brian Mattucci wrote: “Despite some surprises (Mac Studio), it seemed like Apple was playing it safe this year with some underwhelming hardware refreshes (iPhone 14, iPad Pro) and some unexciting software releases.”


I didn’t vote in the survey. Thanks to all of those who who participated: Shahid Kamal Ahmad, Steven Aquino, Marco Arment, Charles Arthur, Shelly Brisbin, Jeff Carlson, Robert Carter, Josh Centers, Michael E. Cohen, Alex Cox, Jessica Dennis, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Adam Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Lex Friedman, Rob Griffiths, John Gruber, Stephen Hackett, Zac Hall, Dave Hamilton, Devindra Hardawar, Nick Heer, Myke Hurley, Paul Kafasis, Joe Kissell, Andrew Laurence, Casey Liss, Cherlynn Low, Roman Loyola, Jean MacDonald, Joe Macirowski, Brian Mattucci, Benjamin Mayo, Kirk McElhearn, Philip Michaels, Carolina Milanesi, Rich Mogull, John Moltz, Dan Moren, Quinn Nelson, Rosemary Orchard, Christine Romero-Chan, Joe Rossignol, Allison Sheridan, Brent Simmons, Aleen Simms, John Siracusa, Eric Slivka, David Sparks, Brett Terpstra, James Thomson, Michael Tsai, Federico Viticci, Christina Warren, and Gabe Weatherhead.

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

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