Should we be thankful for Apple in 2016? [Friday Night Fights]

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thanksgiving
Mmm. Apple turkey.
Photo: Ste Smith/ Tuchodi

Thanksgiving might be over, but with a new year right around the corner, it’s time to think about whether we should be thankful for Apple in 2016.

Friday Night Fights bugIt hasn’t exactly been a spectacular year for Cupertino, but it certainly hasn’t been boring. We’ve gotten a new iPad Pro, iPhone 7 with big improvements, a greater Apple Watch, and the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID.

But was all that enough? Is this a year you’ll look back on fondly as an Apple fan, or is it one to forget? Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we decide whether we’ve been thankful for Apple over the past 12 months.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: 2016 has certainly been an eventful year, but there’s been a lot to be thankful for along the way. Is Apple one of them, though? To be honest with you, I’m not sure that it is.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the year that Apple crashed and burned. It’s still making money hand over fist, and it’s likely that it will be able to get over slowing iPhone sales by diversifying into more service-oriented areas. But is it the exciting company it’s been in previous years? There’s a lot to suggest that this year has been more a case of missed opportunities than job well done.

Apple’s product line is more cluttered and confusing than it’s been in a long time. It’s seemingly lost touch with the demands of its pro user base, and innovations like the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro are dangerously close to gimmicks — rather than leaps forward. Apple is removing ports as fast as Jony Ive can strip the decorations off Christmas trees, but in the process it’s removing neat touches like the MagSafe connector.

The Apple Watch still has yet to live up to its potential, and certainly isn’t convincing large numbers of people that smartwatches are totally indispensable pieces of tech, and neither HomeKit, Apple TV or Apple Music are living up to the kind of world-changing introduction Apple gave them.

Meanwhile, Jony Ive releases $300 books filled with photos of his earlier work, and Apple appears to be scrabbling around looking for the next area to explore: from augmented reality to cars to Amazon Echo-style devices.

As I say, it hasn’t been a disastrous year for Apple, but it’s not been an enormously inspiring one. Certainly not worthy of giving thanks for. But you may disagree…

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I think Apple can sometimes seem boring to us because we write about the company and its products every day. We know what’s coming before it actually arrives so there are no surprises for us. But for the vast majority of fans, it’s not like that. Apple may not be pleasing all of its investors, but it’s hardly losing a whole lot of appreciation from consumers.

We’ve argued over whether or not that Touch Bar is a gimmick in previous Friday Night Fights, and only time will tell. But either way, let’s not forget this is the fastest-selling pro computer Apple’s ever made. It might not meet everyone’s needs, but it’s still selling like hot cakes, which suggests it’s good enough for plenty of others. How many Apple products are truly perfect?

Apple Watch is the best-selling smartwatch on the market, despite being non-essential. Apple TV was never going to be essential; no home entertainment gadget is. Apple Music has attracted over 17 million paying customers in less than 18 months, making it second only to Spotify. For any other company, that would be out of this world.

We all know Apple needs something new in the not-so-distant future, but right now, it’s coping well at a time when tablet and PC sales are falling, the smartphone market is stagnating, and other industries — like smartwatches, virtual reality, and smart cars — are still in their infancy. Apple isn’t falling, and it hasn’t missed out on anything just yet.

I think that’s something Apple fans can be thankful for. Despite any great advances, Apple is still doing what it can to keep its head above the water, and it’s working. Sure, it won’t work forever, but with the iPhone’s tenth anniversary coming up, and Apple investing big in augmented reality and smart car technology, I think 2017 will be different.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: So the answer is to lower expectations? No, that’s nonsense. Apple has always been a company which delivered an outstanding user experience, with both beautiful hardware and software which combined to offer an elegant solution. What’s elegant about a mouse you can’t use and charge at the same time? Or the way that you charge the Apple Pencil by sticking it onto the bottom of the iPad Pro?

How can you suggest that no home entertainment product is ever going to be essential? Netflix and Amazon have both launched original TV show after TV show which has come darn close to disrupting the television industry as we know it.

It doesn’t help that other companies seem to be willing to take risks that Apple just isn’t: the Amazon Echo was a new category of product that’s taken off in a big way, and as much as it pains me to be in thrall to Microsoft, it’s doing some very interesting things combining the desktop and mobile OS experience.

All you’re telling me here is that I have too high expectations. Why not actually list the things that Apple has done this year that you’re thankful for? Because, while they certainly exist, I don’t think this has been a banner year for the Cupertino company.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I didn’t say anything about lowering expectations. But Apple can’t possibly rollout revolutionary smartphone upgrades every year, or serve every consumer with a single laptop that does it all. It’s a great company, but it’s not that great.

Like I said, its products aren’t perfect, and this isn’t something new. While Apple was growing into the behemoth it is today with Steve Jobs at the helm, there were plenty of other failures, like the wildly expensive 20th Anniversary Mac, the G4 Cube nobody wanted, the ridiculously pointless iPod Photo, and the disaster that was Ping.

Not everything Apple delivers can be a smash hit, and not every year can be a spectacular one. Sure, rivals like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are doing exciting things now, but Apple is far from dead yet. It has plenty of time to fight back, and I have faith that it will.

As for the Apple TV, I think it’s easy to argue no home entertainment product is essential. We’re tied to computers and smartphones for all manner of things. They’re necessary to our daily lives now. TV shows and movies just aren’t for a lot of people, and there are plenty of other places to find them without a $149 set-top box.

I’m thankful for a lot of things Apple has done this year. I’m thankful my iPhone now has great stereo speakers, an even greater camera, and that it’s water-resistant. I’m thankful my Apple Watch is now waterproof, and no longer becomes useless when I try to load an app.

I’ve made three big purchases from Apple this year — iPad Pro, iPhone 7, and Apple Watch Series 2 — plus a whole bunch of accessories. I didn’t get those things because I needed them; I bought them because I wanted them. And I haven’t bought that many products from any other company, even though the likes of Microsoft made more exciting moves this year.

You’re right; it hasn’t been a banner year for Apple. But again, not every year can be.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Of course there have been mistakes along the way, but I feel like Apple has been headed in the right direction — and a lot of the devices you point out, like the TAM and G4 Cube, were beautiful products, even though they didn’t sell.

For me, what’s been disappointing about Apple this year is that it’s failed to capitalize on extremely promising categories. The aforementioned Apple TV and HomeKit both were touted as game changers, and instead they’ve virtually been forgotten. A lot of the focus seems to have gone, and the vision Apple had in previous years seems to be suffering as a result.

I don’t want to be too down on Apple, but I’ve always decried being a blind fanboy who buys things just because they’ve got an Apple logo on them. In the past I’ve bought Apple products because they’re the best in their category. I still feel that about a lot of what Apple does, but the gap is narrowing — and I don’t think Apple’s done much of anything in 2016 worthy of making people sit up and pay attention.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Apple Pencil is a beautiful product. So is the Magic Mouse. And Apple has always offered so-called “game-changers” that didn’t deliver and were eventually forgotten. That doesn’t mean they were bad products or that Apple didn’t capitalize on them.

Apple TV certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but it’s near impossible to create a set-top box that does it all. I haven’t bought an Apple TV in years because Netflix is built into my TV and Apple doesn’t own the rights to the content I watch. And it never will, so Apple TV will never be essential to me.

As for HomeKit, how many people do you know with automated homes? Some people might have one or two smart home appliances, but until everything’s smart, a single platform that controls it all just isn’t necessary. I don’t think anyone expected HomeKit to be a major success anytime soon.

I think we should turn this debate over to the readers now. Have you been thankful for Apple in 2016, or do you think it’s been a disappointing year worth forgetting? Let us know down in the comments.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?