Thursday, February 22, 2024

2023 Six Colors Apple Report Card

Jason Snell (Hacker News):

John Gruber wrote: “By the end of the year, every single Mac in the lineup, save one [the Mac Pro], is arguably in the best shape that model has ever been.


Matt Deatherage wrote: “It’s difficult to ding Apple’s Mac performance. With Apple Silicon leading the way, the Mac hardware seems to be hitting all the sweet spots, and even the iMac finally got an M3 upgrade after 2 1/2 years. But they might as well have named the Mac Pro the ‘Mac Elite,’ priced way out of range for most professionals in most jobs. macOS security features that were individually good ideas have become a tangle of dozens of dialog boxes that simultaneously demand immediate attention and won’t respond because other dialogs are popping up.

“Apple pours its Mac resources into technologies we now know are critical to Apple Vision (VRKit, ARKit, Metal). Meanwhile, critical systems like Mail lose old plug-in functionality in favor of extensions that lack key features (and don’t implement their documented features thanks to bugs that go unfixed for years). Even using newer replacements for older kernel extensions (like Rogue Amoeba) still requires kernel access, a security setting that requires two reboots and disables Apple Pay. It’d be nice if 2024 Macs weren’t missing productivity features from 2008 Macs.”


[John Siracusa:] “Apple’s pricing for Mac storage and RAM upgrades has been absurd for decades, but the lack of most other forms of configurability in recent years has really highlighted this problem. Apple seems to be carrying all of its (considerable) Mac profit margins on the backs of these two options, leading to upgrade prices that are often four times higher than market prices for the same amounts of storage and memory.


David Sparks wrote: “The iPad, to me, remains a disappointment not because of what it is but because of what it could be. I use mine often, but also often set it down because the next thing I need to do is too difficult (or impossible) on iPad. When the iPad launched (in 2010), I expected it would be much more than it is now in 2024. It may be unfair to judge a product against expectations, yet I feel, at this point, it is justified.”


Alex Lindsay wrote: “I hate the silver controller and greatly dislike the evolution of the Apple TV interface. It really seems like Apple has given up the simplicity that made the Apple TV great and are slowly falling back to what everyone else does. As someone that has bought every Apple TV since v1 and uses it as my sole entertainment device, it find these developments frustrating.”


[Josh Centers:] “Apple’s developer relations have never been worse and it would take years to repair the damage, assuming Apple even cares.”

Note that the developer relations comments were made before the recent developments with external links, the DMA and marketplaces, and PWAs.

Nick Heer:

My expectations are not that high. I only wish MacOS, in particular, would not feel as though it was rusting beneath the surface.

I’m shocked that the software quality ratings are as high as they are (an all-time high of 3.6/5), with some people even writing 5/5. iOS certainly has fewer issues than macOS, but even there I’m constantly running into bugs as well as well as missing features like reordering Lock Screen widgets that feel like bugs.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Pundit opinion of iPad is in a nosedive, in a year where even ports of Final Cut and Logic couldn’t save it.

iPad is scoring lower than the Mac did in 2016 with the butterfly keyboard debacle, and iPad doesn't even have a debacle to blame.

Here are my responses:

Mac: 3 Mac hardware is in a great place except for the lack of options for displays larger than the iMac. SSD pricing is looking even more unreasonable. It’s a shame that the Magic peripherals still use Lightning. The software side is still a mess, both in terms of reliability and design. I like Safari profiles.

iPhone: 4 The iPhone 15 Pro is great, though I’m not totally happy with the camera processing and depth of field. The iPhone 15 is way too slippery. I still wish for a smaller phone. iOS 17 is fine, though not very exciting.

iPad: 3 No new hardware except for the USB-C Pencil and minimal software improvements. The lineup remains confusing. I still haven’t really found what iPad is good for. It can do a lot, but any given task is almost always better on either my Mac, my iPhone, or my Kindle.

Apple Watch: 4, Wearables: 4 Apple Watch hardware continues to improve, though the software, particularly complications, continues to be a bit buggy. Why can’t on-device Siri do more? Not much happened with AirPods this year. Most models still use Lightning, but they work well.

Apple TV: 2 The hardware and remote haven’t improved. The software is poorly designed and increasingly unreliable.

Services: 1 I continue to have reliability problems with iMessage, and this year it lost several months of conversations. There was also a widespread bug where editing related names in Contacts would delete them from all devices. Siri is still slow and unreliable. The services apps are just not good.

HomeKit/Home Automation: 2 I got my first HomePod. The hardware is good, but I was shocked that there’s a bug where it can’t actually see many of the albums I’ve purchased from the iTunes Store. The automation features are more clunky and limited than I expected given how long the’ve been around.

Hardware Reliability: 5 All my hardware has been working well this year.

Software Quality: 1 Everything on macOS, and to a lesser extent iOS, still feels buggy: the same old bugs that never get fixed, plus some new ones. Bug reports are ignored. macOS Sonoma replaced Mail plug-ins with Mail extensions, but even after three major releases the API still doesn’t work properly. Sometimes Gatekeeper erroneously reports that apps downloaded from outside the Mac App Store are damaged and refuses to open them, with no way to override this except using Terminal—the worst possible first launch experience. Xcode 15 shipped with known bugs that prevented building apps for older versions of macOS, and it took three months for these to be fixed. It has now been almost ten years since Swift was released, and the compiler is still buggy and slow. SwiftData shipped this year in an immature state.

Developer Relations: 2 The same old issues with the App Store, documentation, and communication. Nothing seems to be getting better. Apple does not act as though it really cares about developers or their success, and developers see Apple as more an impediment than a help in building, maintaining, and distributing their products.

Social/Societal Impact: No vote [This is such a sprawling category that I never know how to boil it down to a number.]

See also:


Update (2024-02-23): See also: Upgrade.

Update (2024-03-20): John Gruber (Mastodon):

I’m publishing my full remarks and grades here.

17 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

"might as well have named the Mac Pro the ‘Mac Elite,’ priced way out of range for most professionals in most jobs"

Call it the Mac Dubai

The Apple TV team should spend a couple of years working out of a nursing home until they come up with a UI that makes it as easy for most elderly as cable TV currently is.

"I’m shocked that the software quality ratings are as high as they are"

If you criticise too highly in media, you don't get saved by being beamed up to the mothership with a job opportunity, and your publication doesn't get invited to events, and you don't get review units, and you don't get one on one fireside chats with executives for your podcasts.

Here's another fun fact about how expensive the Mac Pro is - though a current "new" product only last year, and sold explicitly as an "upgradable" Mac, almost every component for the 2019 Mac Pro - storage, graphics etc, is perpetually sold out world wide. Even the 2023 Mac Pro's SSDs are unavailable almost everywhere.

Spot-on take for the most part in my opinion. Personally I would perhaps give Mac a 4 – it's not as bad and unfocused as the iPad and the hardware part is pretty great these days. Also, the good display for the MacBooks sort of trickled down with the introduction of M3 MacBook Pro. Perhaps it's more of a "iPad is 2,5 and Mac is 3,5".

I don't think Apple TV is a 2, the addition of family AirPods alone is a fantastic thing for me. And it's working fine for the most part.

I wouldn't give Apple Watch 4. As much as watchOS looks nice, it absolutely murdered the battery on my Apple Watch. I struggle to get through half of day even with always-on display turned off. It's horrible.

Services work fine for the most part in my experience but I have personally experienced data loss – some files I've had on my desktop disappeared (not from one but two folders so I don't think it was an accidental delete on my part). Everything I have access to is OK, except for that iCloud Drive. Music is sort of better – big improvements in suggestions lately. TV+ is delivering, Arcade is not – the service has been watered down in terms of available games and they're not very compelling. I don't have access in my region to Fitness+ or News, although I've heard that the latter one is a train wreck. iMessage is working OK for me.

Software quality is not great, agreed. I don't know if I would give a 1 but it definitely is in poor shape. It seems to be getting attention in some places and some places only. In Sonoma 14.2 Console was crashing when attempting to stream messages. System Settings are still horrible. watchOS drains battery like mad. There are visual glitches here and there in all systems. Screen sharing through Messages hasn't worked for me the last time I tried it. It all feels very much like a death by a thousand tiny cuts some of the days.

@winmaciek I kind of wish there were separate categories for Mac hardware and software. The hardware is arguably better than it’s ever been, but the software is arguably worse than it’s ever been. I care more about software…and the trajectory is not good in that areas receiving attention generally get worse rather than better.

I find that the Apple TV interface gets harder to use with each revision, and the remote is still not good. I would give it a 3 except that search still doesn’t work half the time, and it needs periodic rebooting.

Services is also a category that maybe should be broken down. A big part of my rating was due to multiple instances of iMessage/iCloud brokenness and data loss. Others gave it high ratings because they like TV shows that I haven’t watched. I haven’t used Fitness+. News is a train wreck. We tried Arcade for my son, but he much prefers Amazon Kids+ on Kindle Fire.

I’m right there with you, Michael. It seems that almost every software feature of every Apple product I own and use does not work properly in some way. And I’m not exaggerating. Oh sure, “it just works”, mostly, but get past that vaunted ‘80%’ and “good luck!” And the bugs seem to get rarely fixed, and Apple Support tends to be little more than commiserate, more and more hiding behind ‘privacy’ (with few troubleshooting tools user-side). I couldn’t even give you a list that would fit here of all the issues I’ve documented between my own use and my clients. Sure, Windows and Android are “worse”, but I don’t care, I don’t use those products, don’t pay to support and improve them, and they aren’t on stages saying the things that Apple’s exec team are.

As for the Mac hardware, I believe that the perfect encapsulation of the failure of innovation of Apple is the iMac 24-inch not having the ability to do Target Display Mode. In a nutshell, that speaks multitudes (in my opinion). The iMac 24 has a similar CPU and ports as the Studio Display. Mac users have been requesting a 24-inch external display since the 2010 discontinuation of the Intel 24-inch iMac. Throwing millions of perfectly good 21-inch 4K, 27-inch 5K, and 24-inch 4.5K panels in landfills is bonkers, completely antithetical to Apple’s environmental ‘narrative’… yet that’s what it happening. (Recycled?? Yeah, right, take a trip to any landfill or electronics recycler. That’s fantasy. And all the research reflects that.)

In short, Apple might be a 2.5–3 Trillion-dollar company, but they sure aren’t acting to improve their community with that cash hoard.

I guess the software failures would’ve been a little bit more palatable had the software not been more and more closed and “welded” with each iteration. Silent failure without much of a way to troubleshoot isn’t great. Probably the single biggest reason why it would be difficult for me personally to use the iPad as my main computer. Nuking and reinstalling the device should something go wrong is very much unacceptable.

It’s also kind of fun how everybody except two people hasn’t mentioned FineWoven material. That’s been a small but important defeat – nobody likes it more than leather and the quality is terrible for such a premium offering. I kind of forgotten about it too until I saw Joanna Stern’s one after 5 months today.

@Michael I’m worried about software more too. Years pass and we still don’t know what the story about automation is, for example. Unless Shortcuts is the whole and only story right now…
Also, the gaming push should be taken into account. I get the feeling some of the time that Apple wants to have game developers on the Mac and tries to woo them into creating for the Mac only to half-ass the efforts and focus on something different anyway. We get Kojima for WWDC but only to announce an old game coming half year later. What’s the point?

@winmaciek Thanks for the reminder. I have a FineWoven post in the works.

I'm surprised that Developer Relations is rated 3.0. Based on the comments, it should be closer to 0.

I notice there is a "Environmental, social and societal impact" category. Could they add next year the "Greenwashing, lobbying and tax optimization" category?

More seriously, there is a big missing category in the list: "Customer support". You can't complain that the hardware or the software sucks here and there or that dealing with Apple's subscriptions or services is so bad or that purchasing Apple products can be such a bad customer experience these days and just ignore that usual customers would try to get help from Apple's support. I would personally give Apple's support service a 0-star rating.

The software will get better once they finish porting all their apps over to SwiftUI. All watchOS and macOS apps will share UI code! What could possibly go wrong

More seriously, there is a big missing category in the list: "Customer support".

Interesting. Wonder how Jason feels about that. (Might also roll it into retail? He’s recently expressed that his AVP retail experience was a bit lacking.)

Haven’t had an Apple support experience in years, but back when I last did, I’d probably rate it a 3 or 4.

Anyways, feel free to delete if this is too long, but I thought I’d give it a shot:

## Mac


With the exception of the Mac Pro, which is a round peg to Apple’s “SoC everywhere” strategy square hole, the hardware line-up is great. My M1 Pro still barely breaks a sweat with all the VMs and Docker containers I throw at it. Literally: I go through months of not hearing the fan.

Apple does not have a good story for external displays. The Studio Display is a luxury item. The non-Pro M-series SoC needs support for a third display.

2024 Macs should start at 12 GiB RAM. It’s time.

The software side is *OK*, with some recent wins like Sonoma’s delightful take on Aerial, but not *great*. When was the last time a first-party app excited me the way Garage Band or Pages did in the 2000s?

## iPhone


iPhone hasn’t excited me in years, and maybe that’s OK. It’s a very mature category at this point. Despite Apple’s very fast SoCs, I find that there are places where the UI lags. I dread accidentally a share button, because that sheet takes seconds to pop up. Battery life could always be better.

I wonder if, low sales be damned, Apple should continue to make a mini.

## iPad


I could never figure out how to fit this platform into my life. Something about it makes it the nicest way to read your social media timeline, but does that make a $1,000 or even just $500 piece of hardware?

It seems Apple is torn between wanting to make “what if Mac, but touch” and wanting a much more arcade-like computing experience, and you can’t really have both. They’ll face these challenges — and perhaps kneecap themselves — on the Vision Pro as well.

## Watch


watchOS 10 made some bold changes to muscle memory, and I still struggle to get used to them. I do think they’re a net win. Swiping up to see a currently-running timer or workout is a decent solution to the “I want complication X, but only while it has useful information to show me” problem that had been there. However, 10 also reduced my battery life by about a third.

So far, it doesn’t seem that the changes in 10 were enough to entice more third parties to come back. Overall, this platform seems to have arrived at a health and fitness state. This is mostly done well, but you can have *way* cheaper alternatives if all you need is to track a workout.

## Apple TV


Apple seems to be increasingly treating this as a billboard for their own service, *even when you’re already paying for it.* Not just a conflict of interest but also an experience that hurts the brand.

I do think “like a stick, but premium” is the best they can do with their puck. (Maybe better integration with HomeKit stuff.)

Their service, aside from trying a little too hard to sell itself, continues to have some top-notch shows.

## Services


Great content on TV+.

Music continues to be bad. Not just in that Spotify seems to be better at suggestions, but also in that the app, especially on the Mac, is neither reliable nor fun to use. Nor does it have iTunes’s early-ideals of “there’s lots of stuff; let’s conquer it by having many great ways to find what you’re looking for”.

iCloud+ mostly just works for me. Hide my e-mail is nice. I find myself having to disable Private Relay a lot because it just doesn’t handle developer/VPN scenarios well (which is indeed tricky). Like so many features of late, it feels like it shipped as a 1.0 and was never revisited.

There’s is another conflict of interest here: if iCloud didn’t exist, perhaps Apple would have better stories for backing up your iPhone at home, or for archiving old photos on an external disk.

## HomeKit


My Control Center widget still sometimes randomly decides it can’t control the bedroom lights, perhaps because of some kind of connection timeout.

The Home app on the Mac doesn’t feel like its developers use a Mac.

Apple doesn’t seem to have a strong story here.

## HW reliability


Pretty good, as it should be with premium pricing.

## SW quality


We’ve had worse years, but it’s not *great*.

Too many paper cuts contribute to a picture of “it *should* be better”, and cries for a release cycle where Apple focuses on fixes, not features.

Quality is hard, and Apple has perhaps bitten more than it could chew in terms of software breadth and depth. visionOS only compounds this issue. However, there *is* something they could do with few resources: *give us more diagnostics.* Don’t optimize so much towards the happy path, because when we do fall off of it, we *really* fall off.

## Dev relations


There’s always an air of excitement post-WWDC, and I don’t think that’s just PR spin. They truly do bring some good ideas to the table each year. They also *tried* to get feedback on how third parties are doing with visionOS apps.

But, they’re a growing behemoth, and their perspective on what they’re owed is often absurd.

## Environ/social


All over the place. I do think there are portions inside Apple who try hard to do good. I hope their environmental goals pay off, and our pressure on competitors as well.

I’m no expert, but I do sometimes feel that making hardware more repairable, 1990s-style, would also make it more environmentally friendly. (But it would also make it less attractive, bulkier/heavier, have more frequently-failing moving parts, etc.)

## Wearables


I upgraded my Beats Flex — which were fine for podcasts but near-unusable for music — to AirPods Pro. They’re good. The ANC and Adaptive modes are nice, as is integration with Find My. The switching between Mac and iPhone doesn’t always work right, but close enough.

But oddly enough, the $50 Beats Flex simply have a *safer*, more intuitive approach towards keeping them around your ears than the $250 AirPods Pro. They’re slung around your neck, and they even pause when their ear bud ends magnetically come close to each other. I find something about that beautifully simple, and miss it.

Speaking of Find My, I got an AirTag for my keys. Good stuff.

@Sören The slow iOS share sheet is an annoyance for me as well. On macOS I can set a default to make the animation faster. But I have a 15 Pro and I think twice about sharing because I know it’s going to be slow, especially in those apps that require a second tap to open the system share sheet.

I do find it a remarkable achievement that 10 years in the Swift compiler still sucks.

The last time I worked with their APIs, it was LIDAR/Swift. My impression was that nobody had really thought carefully what to make public and what to hide. The data was available if one hacked into the datastructures, and became available in later (minor!) versions of the OS. But it wasn't as if someone had thought what 3rd party developers would need before the release. In other words, the whole "ship it now, fix the bugs later" idea even applied to APIs. It gave me a very different feeling from the way I felt Cocoa had been thoughtfully designed. It reminded me of x86 after having coded 68000: a hodgepodge collection of extensions, and weird rules which make it hard to write fast assembly. But at least x86 has the excuse of being 50 years old, not just a couple like the LIDAR API, and the x64 extension did clean a lot of things up. I had also a very similar feeling about Swift and Swift UI: half baked. I found it off putting.

So my sense is a lack of software design and beauty... of mediocrity. It may look pretty on the outside, but it's rotten on the inside. A bit like the Chinese movie "Curse of the Golden Flower". Such a shame for such good hardware.

I think Apple has just completely given up on power users -- the kind that want control and configurability over the OS, apps, extensions, scripting, etc.

Mac hardware is great. The OS keeps devolving. I wish they'd port great ideas from the Mac to iOS, instead of porting bad ideas from iOS to the Mac.

iPad had so much promise. I haven't bought a new one since late 2018, and just sold it. Not sure if I even want a new one. Wish my Macbook could run any iPad app and not just the ones where devs checked the "Allow this app to run on a Mac" -- fewer than 20% of my favorite iPad apps show up as available to run on my Macbook Pro. iPads have also gotten ridiculously expensive, though if they release an iPad with an M2 and 128GB of storage for $450 I might be tempted (probably won't happen).

I recently got an Apple TV 4K. It's much better than the Google TV (or whatever it's called) built into the TV set, and I personally think the remote is fine (can't think of anything to complain about it). But using the ATV interface is needlessly confusing. My main complaints are that it's often difficult to tell what I've highlighted in the navigation interface for the ATV+ app, because the only indicator is that the highlighted show/icon (not sure what to call it) is slightly larger. Can't they put a green halo around it or something more obvious? Oh and there's too much crap to skip on ATV+ shows. "Skip ad for the accompanying podcast", "Skip ad for other ATV shows", "Skip recap", "Skip intro". Like why isn't there a setting to just "Play the current episode from the beginning without any filler" and "When episode is over, skip the credits, and immediately start the next episode".

Also it's insane that I adjust the volume to my desired level when watching ATV+ content, but then when I switch to YouTube the volume is 10x louder. I thought Apple was full of people who care about audio?

@Ben There is an accessibility setting to make the Apple TV selection highlighting clear. I agree that without that it can be hard to tell.

@Someone Completely agree that we really need fewer client journalists for Apple, or at least more non-client journalists. You can't get honest takes otherwise, just murmurs of disapproval and moderation of criticism.

completely agree with many here about deterioration of macOS. It's so sad. The hardware truly is wonderful, but it's so let down by an OS that increasingly disrespects its users and especially its power users, is stupidly opaque, is full of bugs and only seems to travel in one direction, namely, toward being like iOS. Because honestly, if they want to get there faster, they could absolutely port iPadOS to the Mac ...

I actually like my watch, albeit, without any real third-party apps besides Just Press Record, which Apple have recently made (nearly) redundant with the Ultra's action button. I think my only grievance is that the Audiobooks app only supports store-bought books. Which is really shitty, but a small grievance considering everything else it does when my iPhone isn't on hand or in pocket.

> by an OS that increasingly disrespects its users and especially its power users, is stupidly opaque, is full of bugs

That would work for iOS too.

I had to spend 10 minutes this week-end to change a wallpaper someone else iPad and iPhone using the latest iOS/iPadOS versions (I personally use a way older version of the OS for Apple's cameras which are bundled with a phone):
- couldn't find the old export item for a photo in Photos to set an image as the wallpaper (It's not listed in Apple's support documentation, so maybe it really does not exist any more): this is dumb or I'm dumb.
- there's apparently no way to change the wallpaper in the application for an existing "background" setting. You have to create a new one. At least, the obvious buttons in the UI to change it just do not work (e.g. the (...) one): this is dumb.
- so I had to create a new background and set it to be the current one. This is dumb.
- there's apparently no way to remove an existing background in > Wallpaper UI. This is totally dumb.
- no documentation can be found on Apple's website through a simple google search to explain how to remove a background. You get a result to a page that explains you how to add backgrounds. At least, there are results from other sites.
- there's no way to remove a background from the lock screen as described in the tutorials on the web as long as you don't use Face ID or Touch ID. I just had the unlock code. This is totally dumb.

So, basically, something you could do in 10 seconds in older version of iOS is now just a terrible UX.

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