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Apple’s 2023 in overview: the nice, the unhealthy and the bubbly

2023’s done, then. And yet again, it feels like we’re living in a version of Sim City where a heartless player keeps triggering horrifying disasters just to see what happens. Bah. Still, at least in the world of tech, Apple avoided such disasters itself. Mostly.

Here, then, is our traditional end-of-year Apple knees up – Apple’s 2023 in review. It’s time to cheer at the good bits, boo at the bad bits, and stare in a sense of mild disbelief at the bubbly bit.

The good

Apple’s 2023 in review: all the bits Apple got right. Or at least right-ish.

Apple’s 2023 in review non-shock: the new flagship iPhone was really good.

A more pro iPhone 15 Pro

Sometimes, Apple ‘Pro’ products are aimed at pros, but mostly ‘Pro’ stands for ‘best’. We presume iPhone 15 Best would be too on the nose, hence the moniker iPhone 15 Pro. Only this year, Apple’s flagship blower was more pro, thanks to the Action button, its ability to pipe ProRes video and high-res snaps to external drives and, on the Max, the swanky new 5x zoom.

Vision Pro

Apple’s worst-kept secret arrived this summer in the shape of a headset that didn’t exactly feel like it was from the future, but at least pointed to it. Notably, Apple also positioned its new device as an ‘everything’ replacement, and for creativity more than mucking around playing games. Time will tell whether it’s another Mac or a head-mounted Pippin, but for now it looks more hit than miss.

M3 chips

The M1 chip debuted in late 2020. A year went by before Pro and Max variants arrived. The M2 cut that gap to seven months. But this year all three flavours of M3 showed up at once. That said good things about Apple’s ability to iterate and evolve its chips – and also simplified buying decisions, with pro users not having to gamble on how long their preferred silicon would take to arrive. 

MacBook Pro coherence

Good. Better. Best. That for years defined many Apple product lines. But the MacBook Pro had for a long time been all over the shop, with a Touch Bar model seemingly lurking solely so Apple could say the range started at a lower price. No longer. As of 2023, the MacBook Pro line makes sense again. Now, Apple, do the same for iPad.

iMac G3

If we’re honest, we’re just happy the iMac still exists. With it being skipped over for an M2 upgrade, we wondered if Apple was about to do another iPod. But no. Apple’s all-in-one desktop might not have the cachet it enjoyed in the 1990s, but the M3 revamp gave it a well-deserved stay of execution. Pity about the Lightning accessories, mind.

More remaster than remix, but that’s OK with us.

HomePod returns

It was strange when Apple’s big speaker took an extended holiday and all you could buy were its grapefruit-sized siblings. And although HomePod (2nd generation) was really more like HomePod 1.1, we were glad to see it. The new(ish) HomePod kicks out serious sound, integrates well with Apple kit, and looks fab. Now if Apple could just improve Siri, this speaker would be a chart topper.

Pro Apple iPad apps

Either the iPad is as capable as the Mac or it isn’t. And with Apple for years not bringing its own pro-grade apps to the tablet, the opinion had started to shift to ‘it isn’t’. But just like buses, you wait ages for one and two arrive at once. Although, you know, we’d sooner have Logic Pro than an actual bus on our iPad Pro.

StandBy for iPhone

Mobile devices spend much of their time doing nothing. Lazy. With the iPhone 14 Pro, Apple’s spendiest blower got an always-on display, but not a lot to show on it. This year, StandBy turned an idle iPhone – when in landscape and plugged into power – into a display for widgets, or a massive clock you could see from across the street. Handy.

No more Intel Macs

For a time, Intel Macs were great. In certain cases, they still can be. But Apple announced a two-year transition to its own chips in 2020. And, well, that didn’t pan out, unless you’re inside a reality distortion field where two equals three. Still, Macs now all use Apple’s own chips, placing the company’s destiny in its own hands like never before.

Life-saving devices

Getting all serious for a moment, we sometimes hear that tech can change lives – but this year, there were plentiful reports Apple’s saved lives. Two of our favourites: the hiker with a broken leg rescued via the magic of an iPhone and Emergency SOS via Satellite, and a journalist saved by paramedics responding to a Crash Detection call. All these stories remind us how tech can go from being merely useful to becoming truly essential.

We also liked:

How is that iPhone even standing up in this photo?

  • Dynamic Island showed up on every iPhone 15, meaning it won’t be another Touch Bar.
  • Interactive widgets made our Home Screens sing. Or at least marginally more useful.
  • FaceTime on Apple TV turned your entire telly into a giant video chat system. Fab. Also: terrifying.
  • Free Emergency SOS via satellite got extended for another year. Here’s hoping Apple does the same in 2024.
  • Autocorrect improvements now let us write rude exclamations without our iPhone interfering – about ducking time.

The bad

Apple’s 2023 in review: all the things Apple should have thrown in the bin.

The new Mac Proh What’s The Point Anymore?

Mac Pro

The question on everyone’s lips after WWDC 2023 was why anyone should buy a Mac Pro. Alas, there were few answers. Apple’s revamped giant cheese grater finally replaced Intel chips with Apple silicon, but the related lack of upgrade options (even for RAM) made it a pointless purchase for anyone who didn’t need PCI slots and a slew of internal storage. 

No new iPads

The iPad’s update cycle is more sporadic than the clockwork annual iPhone refresh, but it was nonetheless surprising to see no new iPads during 2023. We’d hoped Apple might refine the increasingly confusing line-up and at the very least quietly retire the 2021 9th-gen with its Home button, Lightning port and massive bezels. Instead, the company added a third Apple Pencil and gave everyone a chart to make sense of them.

iPhone 15 Pro overheating

It’s not ideal when your phone feels like an oven door when you’ve been doing barely anything with it. Certainly not cooking a chicken. Yet the iPhone 15 Pro Max started off decidedly toasty. Fortunately, Apple quickly figured out what was going on and fixed things. But that this happened at all narrowed our eyes and made us grumpily mutter something about quality control.

No desktop mode for iPhone

We earlier said nice things about the pro nature of the iPhone 15 Pro. Now we’ll say something less nice: it’s bad that the thing still doesn’t have a desktop mode. Apple’s reason for this is likely money, or perhaps money. But there’s no good reason why a modern pro-grade iPhone shouldn’t be your one device to rule them all.

Lightning’s continued existence

People forget how revolutionary Lightning once was. A charging cable you could plug-in either way around and it still worked? Magic! But also yesterday’s news. USB-C has done the same for ages now, and so most folks were tired of Apple kit still using a slower, outdated, proprietary system. Naturally, then, Apple kept it alive with Lightning accessories for the latest iMac. Fume.

Warning: don’t put your iPhone in a hot wash or this might happen. 🙁

No more iPhone Mini

We saw this coming. Last year, Apple replaced the iPhone Mini with the iPhone Plus. This year, the dinkiest iPhone was unceremoniously removed from the line-up. We loved that little iPhone, and had hoped it might return as the next SE. Alas, all signs point to that device being more like an iPhone XR or iPhone 14. We’d best get used to needing bigger pockets. And hands.

Dark Sky’s death

One of the first things Apple did this year was make good on its promise to shut down Dark Sky. The app had been removed from the App Store in September 2022, and stopped working this January. A few months later, the superb web version was gone too. And the likelihood of Apple Weather replacing it online? Outlook: not sunny. 

Selecting watchOS 10 faces

Redesigns are always divisive when they involve shaking up how things work at a foundational level. And so it proved with watchOS 10. There were good bits: better use of screen space; a Smart Stack for quick information access; a Snoopy watch face. But that was countered by removing the ability to easily swipe between faces – switching now requires a lengthy long press/swipe/tap dance. There’s not even a user-configurable setting.

Apple service price hikes

Apple was hardly alone raising services prices in 2023, but that didn’t make such changes any easier to take. The Apple Music voice plan was killed off. New and pricier iCloud tiers arrived – and existing ones didn’t even get the slightest of storage bumps. Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ and Apple News got new monthly prices best described as ambitious. Even Apple One, which once felt like a bargain, now comes across as a mite spendy. 

Sideloading

Regulators are circling and sideloading kicked off in 2023 as the next big fight. Reports suggest Apple would do the least possible to comply, presumably only enabling it in the EU and after users jump through multiple hoops. Everyone else? Well, you still won’t be able to install whatever you like on the devices you paid thousands of bucks for. Which in space year 2023 and beyond feels absurd.

We also didn’t like:

Don’t look at the screen and you’ll never know you’ve only got 8GB of RAM.

  • 8GB lingered as the base RAM for the M3 MacBook Pro. Apple claims it’s just like the 16GB that goes to another school.
  • Apple ads on X continued for too long. And will likely quietly start up again. When is enough enough?
  • Stupid FaceTime gestures made us set off virtual fireworks during an important call. Huff.
  • Apple Music Classical came to iPad months after iPhone – and even Android. It’s still not on Mac. Tsk.
  • Service instability made us want to catapult iCloud and HomeKit into a ravine.

The bubbly

Apple’s 2023 in review: the last bit, which – unfortunately – doesn’t involve Champagne.

A typical American using a messaging app, apparently. Or not wanting to read Apple’s 2023 in review.

Messaging issues bubble up

Green bubble issues are a genuine concern in the US, where iMessage is more popular than elsewhere. And there were attempts to solve this problem in 2023, by getting iMessage everywhere. Nothing Chats failed dismally, but Beeper Mini managed to reverse-engineer Apple’s tech and get iMessage working on Android. Only for Apple to fix something and burst everyone’s bubble(s). A game of cat and mouse ensued. By the time you read this, Beeper Mini might be fully working again – or not. Expect this one to bubble under long after 2023 is but a distant memory.

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