Report Card: Grading Apple in 2013
2013 was a huge year for Apple, both in terms of hardware and software. iOS got a massive facelift and OS X broke free of the cats for the first time ever, while the Mac Pro got new life and the iPads continued their commanding lead in the consumer tablet space. But not all of Apple's product lines were so lucky, so let's take a look at how each of Apple's offerings fared over the past year.
It was a big year for the biggest Mac, with the new Pro being shown for the first time and eventually going up for sale just a few days ago. The Pro is a beast of a machine with a ridiculously compact design that surprised just about everyone. That power comes with an enormous price tag, but we kind of expected that, didn't we?
The iMac and Mac mini didn't get quite the same attention, with the iMac receiving a timely processor upgrade in the fall, and the mini getting absolutely zero attention whatsoever. It would have been nice to see the tiniest Mac brother get a little bit of love at some point in the last 12 months, but everyone is so busy gawking at the Mac Pro that they barely noticed anyway.
With the introduction of the 13-inch MacBook Pro w/ Retina coming in late 2012, Apple spent 2013 upgrading the processors of both the Pro and the Air lines. Some pundits seemed sure we'd see a Retina-equipped Air at some point this year -- and boy would that have been great -- but it was not to be. However, the jump to Haswell chips for both the Air and Pro was welcomed with open arms. Overall, Apple's notebooks kept pace with the refresh cycle (and maybe even jumped a bit ahead), but did little else.
The iPad got arguably the most attention out of any Apple product in 2013, with the company introducing us to both the all-new iPad Air as well as the iPad mini w/ Retina. Then, while we were all still digesting the fact that the two iPad minis would exist side-by-side, Apple dropped the bomb and brought the Retina mini into processor parity with the iPad Air, making it a ridiculously capable little slate.
The Air is really what made the year for the iPad, and the fact that Apple was able to shave even more weight off of what was already a pretty light device is really a testament to their engineering wit -- or perhaps proof that they are indeed dabbling in black magic.
When the year began, Apple had three distinct iPads on offer, and that seemed to be more than enough. As we enter 2014, there are four.
Oh, the iPhone. When the year began the blogosphere was filled with theories that a bargain-basement iPhone was inevitable and nobody knew what Apple truly had up its sleeve when it came to its top-of-the-line offering. TouchID, the A7 processor, and slow-mo video made the iPhone 5s a huge hit, and the not-so-cheap iPhone 5c seems to be carving its own niche while proving that Apple isn't in the business of making "bargain" products.
It was a good year for the iPhone. Not the best it's ever had, but certainly one of the better off-years the Apple smartphone has seen.
I'm not convinced Apple even remembers that they still sell the iPod. Ok, that's not true, but without a single significant upgrade in 2013, the iPod line is definitely looking a bit long in the tooth. In the past 36 months, Apple has introduced two new iPods in total (7G Nano and 5G Touch), with the Shuffle and Classic continuing their stagnation.
Apple still leads the pack when it comes to the shrinking media player market, and opinions seem to range from "they shouldn't do anything" to "they should just stop selling the iPod." The latter simply isn't going to happen, and the former isn't exactly Apple's style, or at least it hasn't been until lately. Is there still innovation to be mined in the media player space? If we don't see Apple prove it in 2014, maybe there isn't.
It was a relatively slow year for the Apple TV despite the new model launching in January. As the months rolled on the box got access to WatchESPN, HBO Go, Crackle, ABC, and a few others, but nothing that suddenly made it significantly more desirable than it was a year prior.
iOS 7 was obviously the biggest change this year when it comes to Apple software. The new face of mobile did away with almost all of the skeumorphic design elements that originally helped make iOS so appealing, and added a whole bunch of eye candy on top. There was a vocal minority that absolutely despised the changes -- and a vocal majority who noticed significant battery life decline -- but in the end the change was for the better.
OS X no longer has its feline flair but Mavericks added a good deal of usability improvements that breathed a bit of new life into the aging platform. New notifications, Maps, and Tags are just a few of the things that gave Mac users incentive to upgrade. Oh, and Apple decided to make Mavericks free, so that probably helped as well.
iWork and iLife got a facelift as well, but some of the tweaks made to bring in new users left veterans feeling a bit miffed. Apple has begun bringing back some of the functionality that was originally removed, but the company said it would take a full six months to finish adding everything it plans to.
iTunes Radio is the biggest news in the music section, giving (almost) all iTunes users on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV access to free streaming radio with customized radio stations based on their interests. This is great for iPhone and 4G iPad owners, but since streaming requires an internet connection (obviously), it's not of much use on Apple's dedicated music players unless you're in WiFi range.
Overall, the positive changes strongly outweigh the negatives, but some of the transitions could have been a wee bit smoother.
Giving the entire company a grade for its efforts in 2013 is significantly more difficult than grading any of its various products -- and likely involves even more opinionated stances -- so we'll leave that to you. Let us know what you loved and loathed from Apple over the past year and feel free assign some grades of your own.
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