2021 is almost over. It won’t be missing. Even so, Apple made us happy with amazing new hardware – but also made us grumpy with some bad things. And then confuse them all with a brand new “soft, non-abrasive” accessory. (Really.)
So here’s our traditional Apple end-of-year recap, giving you one more opportunity to celebrate the best parts of Apple over the past 12 months – and another opportunity to moan about moments we’d all soon forget.
New Apple silicone Macs
The 2020 MacBook Air gave a taste of what was to come from M1 Macs – but it gave us new innards in an old case. With the 24-inch iMac, Apple showcased its design and silicon expertise. The 14-inch MacBook Pro went further, combining great design, professional punch, power efficiency, a Mac user’s wish list and … a notch. We assume you can’t have it all.
Certain decisions Apple made in recent years smelled of arrogance, with notebooks shedding ports and thinness being valued above all else. But in 2021 Apple listened again: the MacBook Pro got its ports and function keys back, thinness took a back seat in battery life, and a terrifyingly terrible Safari design became an option for people with no taste.
In a year of muted iPhone tones, it was great to see the 24-inch iMac bring color back to our tech lives. The colors are subtle on the front but bold on the back, and the collection is reminiscent of the color explosion of the series that followed the original from Bondi Blue. A nice change from deciding which shade of gray you like.
We’ll help you share what’s important
Open any social media app and you will know people don’t need any help with excessive sharing. But Apple has found ways in 2021 to help you share things that mattered, be it with SharePlay, to watch a movie with friends around the world, to keep track of an elderly relative’s important health stats, or to watch digital legacy start to make sure a loved one can access your iCloud data after you pass.
iPad “more Pro”
The iPad Pro continues to be hampered by Apple’s refusal to reach its full potential. 2021 wasn’t the year the device received meaningful support for external displays. But Apple has updated the multitasking system to go from “frustrating clutter” to “actually useful”, radically increasing the RAM cap for professional apps from 5GB to 12GB.
Apple helped you see more with your devices in 2021. The iPad Pro (and later the Mini 6th). Meanwhile, a new macro mode for the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max has made the mundane magical and given you the opportunity to discover beauty in small things.
iPad Mini 6
The iPad Mini has long been offering you the full iPad experience, largely without compromise. But the 6th generation iPad Mini went one step further and switched to the mid-range. It looks like an iPad Air you left in the wash and beats the Air for portability, light weight, and screen sharpness. A black spot for “jelly scrolling”, mind you, which also gives the tablet a “bad” entry.
Apple’s previous “Leave Me alone” button, Do Not Disturb, was effective but cumbersome. In contrast to this, Focus finds that Apple thinks in a nuanced manner about sensible use of the device. Your device will check what you are doing and block distractions accordingly. In a non-Apple-like way, it’s also extensively customizable, letting you choose home screens, apps, and contacts for custom settings that you can trigger with a tap.
Apple wasn’t the first to come up with the tiny tracker game, but AirTags turned out to be welcome in 2021 for anyone embarking on Apple’s ecosystem. Smart YouTubers started sending them everywhere to see how they would fare. (Spoiler: brilliant.) Ordinary people attached them to keys and used Find My to set off an alarm when the keys were left behind. Even the battery can be exchanged without any problems. (AirPods, note.)
We’re talking specifically about Safari on iPhone and iPad, which was neither the most open nor the most browser-capable before iOS 15 / iPadOS 15. But as Apple rethought expansions on all of its devices, Safari suddenly became a playground for ideas, whether you wanted to turn on the search box, block harassment on websites, or have your homepage politely remind you that you already have 56 open tabs.
We also liked:
- Accessibility is evolving, with app settings, masking noises and Assistive Touch for Apple Watch.
- New privacy settings, such as ‘hide my email’ – even if that’s a bit ‘horse is crazy’.
- Temporary additional iCloud storage space When you update your phone, you have 21 days to transfer and review your data.
- The new Apple TV remote controlwhere it is now ‘magically’ possible to know how high it is just by touch.
- Erase all content and settings in macOS Monterey, so setting up an old Mac for resale is a breeze.
Stagnant TV hardware
Even the biggest Apple TV fans said a collective “Meh” when they discovered that Apple’s new black box had barely deviated from the old one – and kept a price tag that is perhaps best described as “ambitious” when compared to it the competition comes up. The device was once called a “hobby” by Apple – and it now appears to be one that the company is getting tired of.
This wasn’t a year when a software update automatically hurled your Apple kit into the heart of the sun. But all too often it felt like using Apple’s software was like getting endless paper cuttings. Widgets didn’t work, then they worked – and then they didn’t. Spotlight in Mail has failed repeatedly. The iCloud sync hamster kept falling over. Just bad luck? Judging by online forums, no.
The March of the Notch
The 24-inch iMac has escaped the notch, but the new MacBook Pro line has not. The notch isn’t bad, and perhaps a necessity to incorporate a better camera into a laptop with a thinner bezel. Moving the menu bar up into this area was the most elegant solution available. Even so, we’re still not interested – and Apple had better not added a notch to the iPad.
Shortly after the introduction of the new iPad Mini, people began complaining about “jelly scrolling,” which means that half of the screen lags when scrolling and snaps back when stopped. The phenomenon is not new, but was more noticeable with the iPad Mini as it affects the device in portrait mode. However, if you haven’t noticed such scrolling, don’t look for it because you can’t remove it and you’ll see the problem forever on other 60Hz displays.
Delayed operating system functions
The problem with an annual operating system release cycle is that it creates expectations that everything will be ready the first day. Apple has to rethink how it announces things like this because 2021 was the year of the delayed feature – to the point where the much-touted Universal Control (which lets you move a cursor between multiple Macs and iPads) doesn’t rock until 2022 now will.
The direction of Apple Arcade
Despite what critics would have it believe, there are great titles on Apple Arcade. The problem is that Apple has apparently given up on what originally made the service unique – a combination of great mobile exclusives and interesting experimentation. Most of the new additions are freemium junk minus IAP or renamed premium titles that you may have already run out. And there are still no classic coin-op arcade titles. Boo and hiss.
The epic lament
We can’t sum up this mess in this small space. Suffice it to say, when Epic and Apple slapped each other in the face with lawyers, no one looked good. But one of the worst things about it was Apple’s increasingly disingenuous arguments about the dangers of sideloading, which hardly shrank from suggesting adding apps outside of the app store could end civilization itself.
Apple’s stance on streaming games remains terrible as the App Store rules require that each title be a standalone app – which is not required for Netflix TV shows, for example. Web apps are the way forward, according to xCloud, but The Verge discovered emails from the Epic lawsuit that showed Microsoft was trying to bridge the gap. Apple wasn’t interested, leaving iOS lagging behind Android as the leading gaming platform.
The year had barely started when Apple gave in on a threat to boot the excellent amphetamine utility for “encourag”[ing] Consumption of […] illicit drugs “. iDOS was later kicked off the App Store for allowing file access. The App Store’s search ads continue to penalize app creators. Even an announcement about possible lower App Store fees felt more like a response to regulatory threats and the Epic lawsuit as sincere.
The iPad weather app
Trick entry, because there is no iPad weather app! Which is kind of the point. However, Apple now has an iPad weather widget that when tapped opens Weather.com in Safari. Apple has said in the past that its lack of an iPad weather app is because it “wants to do something really great in this area.” But that shoddy iPad user experience – especially given Apple owns Dark Sky – seems embarrassing now.
We didn’t like either:
- iPhone mini sale Still in the bathroom reportedly – although this isn’t Apple’s fault, just an Apple-related complaint. (We think Apple’s little iPhone is lovely.)
- Shuttering Primephonicwhile Apple is working on its successor. Why don’t you leave it in the meantime?
- Macs do not get a center stage, although the function is arguably even better suited for the Mac than for the iPad.
- Flash still presentso that we have to juggle leads and dongles instead of doing everything on USB-C.
- Foreign feature delay will be continued with sporadic rollouts of important functions. We’d love to take a look around Apple Maps. We have to stay with Street View in Google Maps …
An apple cloth
In October, Apple launched a new product that wasn’t cut from the same fabric as its other products. It was a real cloth. Specifically, it was the polishing cloth that was developed for the “safe and effective” cleaning of the screens of your Apple devices. At £ 19, you don’t have to cut your shawl to buy one. The catch: It sold out within days and delivery estimates now extend well into January. Presumably the person who placed the first order had cloth ears when they were told what a hot seller would be with a piece of “soft, non-abrasive material”.