As anyone who drives knows, it’s easy to get a car to 60 mph, but tough to top 100 mph and nearly impossible to break 200 mph. Yet to the driver inside a car, the thought is always, "what’s another 20 mph on the speedometer?" It’s hard to appreciate that the engine is already sweating to get you going this fast—that maintaining speed takes work, too.
This is the state of Apple in 2017. It’s the year that, Wall Street be damned, Apple needs to take its foot off the accelerator, kick the tires, and make sure the wheels aren’t about to fall off the car before it can crush the land speed record again.
In 2015, Apple released three new pieces of hardware—the Apple Watch, the oversized iPad Pro, and the vastly updated Apple TV. None of the three really caught on en masse. Then in 2016, Apple announced AirPods—a wireless earbud deemed ugly by the Wall Street Journal that, due to fundamental engineering problems like "how do these things hear me when I’m talking in a crowded room?" was ostensibly delayed to a 2017 release. Meanwhile, Apple scaled back the largest ambitions of its secretive self-driving vehicle program. Rumor has it the company will no longer build its own vehicle, but a system for car manufacturers to incorporate into their own designs.
And amid all of these delays and misses, Bloomberg reports that the Mac team is in trouble, having "lost clout" with Jonathan Ive and the company’s software team—even though Tim Cook promises Apple hasn't forgotten about the Mac. But you don’t need Mark Gurman’s insider sources when you can spot the wreck from the sky. The Mac Pro—the flagship of Apple desktop hardware—hasn’t been updated since 2013 (not even with a faster processor option). The Macbook Air has a worse screen and yet is somehow, confusingly, faster than the more expensive Macbook. The new Macbook Pro has a Touchbar that looks like something dreamed up by an intern at HP. And all the "new" chips are actually already old.
The most iconic thing that Apple does—building computers—is being done poorly, even lazily.
Of course, it’s easy to understand why. The world has gone mobile—we buy iPhones now!—and Mac sales represent just 10% of Apple’s gargantuan business. But laptops and desktops are still important. It’s where most of us still spend most of our day doing the real grind work. There are 800 people inside Apple dedicated to the iPhone’s camera. You’re telling me a few of those folks can’t spare a weekend to call up Intel and get some new Mac Pro processors?
Microsoft, smelling blood in the water, has given up on phones but focused on the future of the laptop and desktop. Its Surface line is not only selling well to the mainstream, it’s experimenting aggressively to score the Photoshopping, Maya-ing, and AutoDesk-ing market, too. After fighting a 10-year losing battle against Apple on almost everything it does, Microsoft is going for the blind spot Apple now takes for granted: the creative class.
Losing the baseline computer business could have a ripple effect across Apple’s other products, of course. Anyone who is compelled to trade in an Apple product for a discount on a Surface seems more likely to toss their iPhone for Android, too.
But even more so, Apple’s computer business is the canary in the coal mine. It’s demonstrating how, in pursuit of the future—that next iPhone-sized paradigm—the company is forgetting to address all the lingering issues across its wide product line.
Apple, in 2017, please fix the deep and impactful problems that affect your users on a daily basis. Even if they're boring.
My iPhone doesn't talk to my Macbook any better than it did in 2008. Sure, I can sync my contacts wirelessly now. But iOS and OS X continue to be two distinct ecosystems that would prefer to pretend the other didn't exist. If you’re not going to combine them, could you at least get them working together better than they do right now?
Siri is still just a parlor trick. She should be the portal to anything I want to do in my life. And she needs to be a whole lot smarter. I can look up the bad weather on my own. I need a personal assistant to spot the resulting plane delay, contact the airline company ASAP, and have an Uber waiting outside at just the right time to leave for my new flight.
Your UI lacks a logical consistency, and Force Touch on iPhones proves this as well as anything. The core technology is fantastic, yet, I have no idea when I can press into something and when I can’t. Sometimes you signal, and sometimes you don’t. Are you trying to hide interactions or surface them? I don’t think you know how your UI is supposed to work, so how should I know how your UI is supposed to work?
What is iCloud? That is, beyond a push notification that bothers me all the time about upgrading to iCloud? Seriously though, sometimes it’s a web interface, sometimes it’s an app setting, sometimes it’s a tab in another program. You know why Dropbox works as a mental model for the user? It’s a box where you drop stuff. It’s nothing so amorphous as a cloud.
The iPhone shatters easily. Its short battery life leaves us nervous every day. And your solution to both problems is selling a battery case that looks like something off a failed Kickstarter campaign.
You claim to allow the sharing of apps between families. But the truth is, in-app purchases—which, in the case of recent apps like Super Mario Run, are actually the only means to purchase the app itself—don’t apply. Why allow these dark pattern loopholes when they hurt the user? Why not just be transparent about how your platform works?
These are just a few lingering issues with Apple product design that point to the same eventual problem: Apple has worked so hard to give us the next innovation that it’s forgotten to polish its old ones. And so each additional Apple product someone buys actually highlights the incongruity of user experience and how poorly all of these pieces snap together, rather than rewarding the loyal customer with greater functionality coupled with mindless cross-connectivity. Honestly, it may be a good thing that 2017 won’t bring us a fabled Apple Car, if that means Apple might focus on all of the problems with its existing products it still has left to solve.