Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:
It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.
This is the fifth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 12 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5 and optionally provide text commentary per category.
It’s always a pleasure to share my thoughts about Apple’s past year in Snell’s annual report. Not only is it a great read – at this point, it’s also a fantastic historical resource collecting years of commentary about Apple.
You can read Snell’s complete report card here. For context, I’ve included my full responses to Snell’s questionnaire below.
On the Mac:
I don’t have anything particularly good or bad to say about the Mac. I appreciate the release of new hardware such as the 16-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Pro, but those products are not for me. As a heavy iPad user, however, I need to point out my favorite feature of macOS Catalina: Sidecar. In one fell swoop, Apple has allowed me to stop using my previous setup for creating an additional display for my Mac mini through the iPad. Sidecar’s performance is great, it’s natively integrated with iPadOS and macOS, and because it’s “just another display” under the hood, it worked with my existing window management automations (built using Keyboard Maestro and BetterTouchTool) right away. Sidecar is my favorite macOS feature in a long time, which says a lot about what I need from the Mac, I guess.
I wasn’t a fan of 2018’s iPhone XS camera and the look of photos processed with Smart HDR. With the iPhone 11 Pro hardware, Apple fixed nearly all of my annoyances with its predecessor’s camera: colors are more vivid and true-to-life; Smart HDR is less aggressive and “fake” than before; Deep Fusion, when it works, produces some incredibly crisp images; there’s a general sense of more freedom granted by the iPhone 11 Pro camera, whether it’s about the new ultra-wide lens or the excellent night mode. The camera was the main protagonist of this year’s iPhone upgrade; the iPhone 11 Pro camera has made me fall in love with taking pictures on my iPhone all over again.
On iPad and iPadOS:
A sleeper year for hardware, an important year for software with the release of iPadOS and bifurcation of Apple’s mobile operating system. Time will tell whether having a separate iPadOS will pay off for iPad aficionados craving annual updates to the tablet’s OS; Apple’s promise is enticing, but we need to see if the company can keep up the pace at WWDC 2020. The iPad is entering its second decade in 2020, and despite its relative maturity, there’s still plenty left to address, from refinements to multiwindow (which is arguably a tad confusing in its first version) and the Files app to bigger questions that are looming large over the iPad’s role in Apple’s ecosystem. Will the iPad continue to be “just a tablet” with an optional keyboard in its second decade? Will we see Apple move toward a more hybrid approach with features inspired by and modeled after laptops? Something else entirely? We can’t know yet, but I want to believe the foundation set with iPadOS in 2019 provides Apple with a launchpad to explore these different opportunities. In terms of hardware, I really hope to see an even bigger iPad Pro eventually, with more than one USB-C port, proper support for external displays and pointing devices, and a “pro” version of the Smart Keyboard.
Between AirPods 2, the Series 5 Watch with always-on display, and AirPods Pro, Apple has only cemented its role as the leader in the wearable revolution with breakthrough products that are actually shipping today. I absolutely love my AirPods Pro: their noise cancellation rivals bigger, more expensive over-ear headphones. I would love to see more Watch band options for the Apple Watch in 2020; the current line-up is starting to feel a bit stale and boring.
An okay debut for Apple TV+, a decent year for Apple Music in terms of new features (time-synced lyrics!) and content (more curated playlists, updated more frequently), and a terrible start for Apple News+. The company nailed it with the initial rollout of Apple Arcade, but now they need to keep up the pace and show us why we should continue to pay for new games each month.
The Home app continues to be affected by an awful design that makes it way more difficult than it should be to quickly manage your accessories and see the status of your home at a glance. In 2020, I’d like to see a complete makeover of the Home app’s UI with a focus on speed and customization, as well as new initiatives from Apple to encourage third-party manufacturers to adopt HomeKit and Siri integration more quickly.
And lastly, some thoughts about the future of Shortcuts:
As I mentioned multiple times on MacStories, I’m curious to see where Apple will take the Shortcuts app in the future. Now that the app is integrated with the system, will Apple go back to shipping features designed for power users who rely on the app to get work done? Or will they go down the road of simplification to try and make Shortcuts more accessible for the masses at the expense of advanced users? So far, neither of these things have really happened, which makes me wonder whether Shortcuts may be going through a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. The addition of automation features in iOS 13 makes me optimistic about the fact that Apple understands the potential of Shortcuts for advanced use cases and that there’s lots more still to come.