Saturday, January 30, 2021

2020 Six Colors Apple Report Card

Jason Snell:

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.


The iPhone is Apple’s most important product, but given the seismic changes in the Mac in 2020, the panel was a bit more restrained with its praise—though the iPhone still managed an A grade.

I was a bit surprised by that, as I think the iPhone 12 lineup is strong across the board, and the iPhone 12 mini is my favorite iPhone in a long time.

John Gruber said, “This one is easy. The M1 Macs mark the best moment in Mac hardware history. Apple silicon is that big a deal.”

John Siracusa said, “If you’re not going to give Apple top marks now, then what are you saving your praise for? Daring new Mac designs will have to wait for 2021 or later, but for now we can all rejoice in the unmitigated good of the M1-based Macs. Hallelujah!”

I gave a 4 for Mac hardware because, although the M1-based Macs are the best Mac hardware news in a long time, they came at the end of the year and have not yet spread throughout the lineup. 2020 was another year of the 16-inch MacBook Pro having poor input devices and no matte display. Apple doesn’t sell a Retina display for normal people to connect to it, even though it degraded non-Retina text rendering and icons. And pricing remains a problem in general.

Brent Simmons said, “Apple’s software quality should be so very much better. They’re meant to lead the world in software quality — they should be showing us developers and the rest of the industry how it’s done. But there is so much disappointment here. Whenever I contrast with the brilliance of the new ARM Macs I want to cry.”

The general consensus seems to be that Big Sur is more reliable than Catalina. I’m not sure whether that’s the case. It certainly introduced its own new issues, which I spent much of the summer working around and much of the fall helping my customers with. Rosetta 2 is good but less reliable than Rosetta 1, in my experience. The Mail data loss bug remains unfixed and continues to ensnare new users. There may be scattered improvements in Big Sur, but I don’t see any evidence of turning the corner towards focusing on quality. The general pattern is that each year more stuff breaks, and most of it is never fixed. Structurally, the yearly schedule is unchanged, and there remain multiple parallel systems to maintain (AppKit, SwiftUI, Catalyst, iOS apps on Mac, Apple Silicon vs. Intel). July 2019 is long gone, but the Catalyst apps still aren’t “really good.” SwiftUI on the Mac is more a frustrating promise than a reality.

Myke Hurley said, “Yes the 15% cut exists, but what a terrible year for developer relationships. If we would’ve said the cracks were showing before, I think things are starting to crumble. It has been a year of uncertainty, bad decisions, and bad PR management. 2020 has started a new trend of issues that are now bleeding into antitrust.”


Marco Arment said, “Apple seemed to dramatically ramp up enforcement on their draconian in-app-purchase rules this year, possibly to boost services revenue, and made unnecessarily offensive statements about developers in the press and legal filings. Later in the year, the reduction of the 30% cut to 15% for many small developers was unexpected but welcome relief, even though it was probably only done to politically defend against mounting pressure from large developers, regulators, and lawsuits.”

The Small Business Program is, for some developers, the best App Store news in a long time, but it was overshadowed by the unprecedented number of App Store–related scandals in 2020.


Update (2021-01-30): See also: John Gruber, Nick Heer.

Update (2021-02-05): Colin Cornaby:

I’m kind of surprised software got rated so highly. Normally I’d say iOS is holding that score up, but this year the initial iOS releases and tvOS have been not very stable.

Also surprised to see Big Sur as better than Catalina. For me it’s been some new bugs, some fixed.

Meek Geek:

I would corroborate this. In the past, Macs seldom kernel panic, nor degenerate to a point to where you reboot to fix problems. Sigh, Federighi-era macOS.

John Gruber:

If I had it to do all over again, I’d change this grade from a B to a C. At the time I voted, I was thinking only in terms of reliability and bugginess, and I do think 2020 was a decent year for Apple on that front. But as I revise these remarks today, I’m reminded of all the UI and interaction designs and changes in iOS and MacOS that are just bad. There’s a real sense that Apple’s current HI team, under Alan Dye, is a “design is what it looks like” group, not a “design is how it works” group.

5 Comments RSS · Twitter

Beatrix Willius

In former times i had one kernel panic in a year or 2. Now I have a kernel panic a week. On a brand new M1.

A bug from July has "recent similar reports: more than 10" and "potential fix identified for macOS 11". It's a hard crash in the notification center.

Is a DTS supposed to have any reaction?

The M1 is a wonderful computer. Absolutely silent. Compared to the Air from 2020 which was totally loud under BS. After BS killed the Air from 2017.

In the past, Apple has told me that DTS is not really meant for Apple bugs, and after you've filed a radar, blowing a DTS issue on it doesn't really do anything.

So, sadly, when we run into a showstopper bug, we can't just pay Apple 50 bucks to get them to fix the OS. I wish it worked that way, but it doesn't.

DTS helps with Apple bugs in that sometimes they can give you a workaround to avoid the bug. And they can confirm that what you are seeing is in fact Appleā€™s bug rather than you doing something wrong.

I see that Big Sur 15.2 has dropped. Do you have any idea if the Apple Mail data loss has been fixed in this new version? My wife is a Apple Mail user with multiple imap and gmail accounts, and the risk of her losing mail is the main reason why she is still on Mojave.

cheers, Liam

Not sure if this helps, but I switched my mail to using eM Client on Windows. They also have a Mac version. The Windows version is great and rock solid (I've never used the Mac version). It even interfaces with my iCloud Contacts and Calendar. It's a paid app and worth every penny. The newest version that came out a month ago allows custom theming too, which makes it super easy to customize the layout, highlight and list colors, etc.

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