2016 hasn’t been Apple’s best year by a long shot. While the company is still making money hand over fist and has seen its Services division go from strength to strength, Apple also consistently stumbled for the first time in years.
While we remain loyal to the Apple brand, here are our picks for the year’s biggest disappointments.
Apple’s 2016 disappointments
Declining Apple revenue
From unpredictable global events to Wall Street’s insistence on undervaluing Apple stock, this one’s not totally Cupertino’s fault. With that said, a lot of other factors on this list certainly contributed, with Apple ultimately failing to generate the kind of excitement seen in previous years.
One thing that’s for sure, however, is that this was Apple’s first annual revenue decline since 2001, the year that ended with Apple introducing the first-gen iPod. In 2016, iPhone sales finally started to fall, the iPad continued its downward slide, and Macs failed to live up to expectations.
Yes, Apple is still making an insane amount of money and, absolutely, its Services division is doing very well indeed. But falling revenues are pretty much the epitome of “disappointment” for a company. And this year Apple experienced them.
Lack of love for the Mac
Tim Cook recently made a bid to convince us that exciting new Macs will arrive next year, but there’s no getting around the fact that 2016 has been a poor year for the Mac division.
From a consumer perspective, the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar was the most notable disappointment, but the lack of exciting upgrades for the iMac didn’t help, either.
The fact that Apple is seemingly moving further and further away from the pro market (the MacBook Pro is anything but a “pro” machine, while the Mac Pro hasn’t been upgraded since 2013) means that, for the first time in years, a number of people have called for Apple to consider farming out the Mac license to third-party developers who may care more about it.
The last time that happened? The bad old days of the 1990s.
A recent report claimed that the Mac division has lost clout within Apple as resources get poured into the money-making iPhone products.
A disappointing iPhone 7
With falling revenue and a lack of emphasis on the Mac, you’d expect that this year’s iPhone would have been a massive chance for Apple to prove itself with the best iPhone in years.
Was it? Not really. Instead, we got the third iteration of the slippery, 2014-era iPhone 6 design, with minor incremental improvements. Yes, the camera upgrade was nice, but the iPhone 7’s reviews epitomized the “yeah, it’s OK” type of responses that are unfortunately becoming par for the course for Cupertino.
This year also marked the first time Apple refused to announce opening weekend sales for a new iPhone. Yes, that’s partly because the company knows it can’t keep pushing for bigger and bigger opening weekends every year. But this move told a macro story as well: The iPhone isn’t a device capable of surpassing its own highs each and every year.
With a major form factor rethink and OLED displays apparently in the offing for next year’s 10th anniversary iPhone, it seems like Apple saved some big upgrades for the birthday edition. But, still, since your average punter doesn’t exactly care about stuff like that, couldn’t Apple have pulled out the stops a bit more this year?
Apple Watch Series 2 doesn’t convince the world smartwatches are essential
I’ve defended the Apple Watch many times. Asked whether it’s a disappointment, I point people toward stats like the fact that it’s a big seller even by regular (non-smart) watch standards, and that it outsold the iPhone in the devices’ respective first years.
But unless you were desperate for GPS or swim-proofing, there was nothing majorly compelling about this year’s offering. Arguably more damningly, Apple pulled back on its previous fashion ambitions and focused on fitness this time around. Sure, a fashion device doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot to readers of a tech blog (not throwing shade at any of you!), but it sure felt like Apple lost interest in its new product line.
With no sale figures released by Apple yet, and the latest watchOS suggesting Apple knows it got the interface wrong the first time around, this was far from the year that Apple convinced naysayers that the Apple Watch was a device we all need to own.
Apple TV becomes an afterthought again
For a long time, Apple TV was considered a “hobby” by the folks at Apple. Then it started hitting sales milestones and the company acknowledged that it was difficult to continue classifying the streaming device in such frivolous terms. The fourth-gen Apple TV, released in 2015, was supposed to break with this label once and for all, and show us that Apple was serious about the TV business.
Except it hasn’t. Defend the Apple TV all you like, but comparing Apple’s approach to the cord-cutting TV market with its change-the-world attitude about the iTunes Store a decade ago shows that this is not really a market Cupertino cares much about.
Apple hasn’t been able to broker major content deals. Its new TV app doesn’t offer anything unique. And, in an age in which Netflix and Amazon are teaching us the value of original content as a subscription driver, Apple’s TV effort is woefully lagging.
While Apple dipped its toe in the original content pool, this took the form of hip-hop documentaries for Apple Music subscribers rather than Cupertino’s answer to The Crown or Stranger Things.
Lack of innovation
Aside from its nadir in the 1990s, Apple never was a company that jumped blindly into new markets to beat everyone else to the punch. Instead, it’s picked the right time and place to launch products — and found that magical nexus between technological advances and public readiness.
In other words, we’re not looking for (and don’t believe that it’s possible to create) a new product of iPhone levels of word-changing-ness each year.
However, this year has seemed frustratingly short on innovation. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s True Tone display is genuinely great, but when you’re referring to this as arguably Apple’s most successful piece of innovation this year, that’s a problem.
Apple appears stymied by not wanting to take big risks — and while it’s failing to do so, it’s being outshone in certain areas by competitors like Amazon and Microsoft, who are creating hardware like the innovative Amazon Echo and the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Surface Studio which, though not perfect, are far more exciting than many things Apple is working on.
Meanwhile, instead of areas like smart homes and VR, which would fit nicely within the Apple ecosystem, the company appears to be messing around with (and maybe abandoning) an Apple Car.
Has there been a less innovative year from Apple since the company’s late 1990s turnaround?
AirPods’ delayed launch
This one is a bit tougher, since Apple eventually shipped AirPods — and the wireless headphones rank up there with the best innovations of the year (even if they do look pretty odd). However, the massive AirPods shipping delay after the devices got announced during September’s iPhone event seemed telling for a company that rarely makes that kind of slip-up.
That wasn’t Apple’s only frustrating delay, either. With seemingly every Apple launch these days frustrated by limited supply and constrained availability, the once fantastic logistics chain has hit a roadblock.
Will 2017 be better for Apple?
Any story about disappointments on Apple’s part must acknowledge that this is a company that managed one of the biggest turnarounds in history after critics wrote it off. Apple remains tight-lipped about upcoming products, so there’s every chance that the new year could address some (or even all) of these concerns.
Do you think we’re being unfair about 2016? What have been your biggest Apple-related disappointments? Leave your comments below.