2018 was a landmark year for Apple, one that saw the Cupertino company soar to new heights as a business, including a span that saw it surpass $1 trillion in market value to become the first US company to hit that mark.
And yet, even as Apple’s stock rises higher than ever, the year as a whole for the company was oddly subdued, with new software and hardware that either largely maintained or bought outdated products back to the status quo, but didn’t really see the company move the innovation marker forward.
The year started out with more of a whimper than a bang, with the delayed HomePod speaker finally shipping in early February. The speaker itself was great from a hardware perspective, but a $350 price tag, some furniture-staining incidents, and limited software support have seen Apple’s entry into the smart speaker space languish while rivals like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have thrived.
On the iPad front, we saw two very different updates for Apple’s tablet: a new, budget-friendly entry level iPad with education in mind, and the high-powered iPad Pro upgrades from the fall. The hardware is still some of the best tablet hardware in the business, at least compared to other mobile operating systems like Android. But Apple has, more than ever, insisted that the iPad is a full computer replacement… and whatever your feelings on that pitch, the software in the current form of iOS 12 still isn’t there yet, no matter how powerful the hardware behind it is.
In fact, the company’s major software updates — iOS 12, macOS Mojave, and watchOS 5 — were some of most low-key updates from Apple in some time, instead taking the time to lay the groundwork for more substantial upgrades in the future.
iOS 12 may not have brought many big features to the iPhone or iPad, but it was free of the seemingly endless stream of bugs that last year’s iOS 11 suffered from. Instead, this year’s update added a welcome speed boost, especially for older devices. Screen Time is also a timely addition — even if it’s still a limited tool, at least Apple is starting finally to think about the impact these devices have on our lives.
Similarly, macOS Mojave may have similarly failed to wow — dark mode isn’t exactly a reason to rush out and upgrade, the foundation Apple is laying here for further crossovers between iOS and macOS with the addition of Marzipan app frameworks could lead to some big changes farther down the line.
2018 was an interesting year for the Mac, too: Apple’s mainline computers, like the iMac and the MacBook Pro didn’t get a ton of love, with the later only getting a slight spec boost and update in June. But on the other hand, Apple did finally give users what they’ve been asking for for years in an updated Mac Mini and MacBook Air.
But the fact that Apple is still slow to update its computers to the latest and greatest internal specifications still remains concerning. Sure, a new MacBook Air is great, but if Apple can’t maintain specs to keep up with the times, it’ll quickly be outclassed by the competition again. And the fact that major products like last year’s iMac Pro and Touch Bar-less MacBook Pro went the entire year without even a spec upgrade isn’t exactly an encouraging start. Instead, the MacBook made headlines for hardware problems with its butterfly keyboards, which Apple eventually had to fix with a new protective membrane on its updated models. The newest, most powerful Core i9 MacBook Pros also suffered from a bizarre missing “digital key” that resulted in degraded performance until Apple issued a hasty patch.
The Apple Watch got the most attention of any of Apple’s hardware this year, and after several misfires, it seems that Apple is finally zeroing in.
As for the iPhone, it’s still the biggest and most crucial part of Apple’s business, but this year Apple seemingly took the year off with its iPhone updates. The iPhone XS and XS Max might be the nicest hardware Apple has released, but the changes are incredibly incremental compared to last year’s iPhone X. And the iPhone XR, while certainly the most powerful “base” model iPhone around, costs more than the cheapest new iPhone from last year. And despite improvements to the camera, Apple is still stuck playing catch up to Google’s Pixel software. Instead, it had to fix the new iPhones’ “Beautygate,” where a glitch in Apple’s photo processing software resulted in highly over-processed pictures.
And of course, there’s the still-missing AirPower charger, which Apple announced back in 2017 alongside the iPhone X. AirPower still hasn’t shipped, and in addition to not providing any update, Apple has almost completely purged mention of it from its site, suggesting that there are bigger issues with the product.
Given that this is a report card, marks have to be given to Apple for what it didn’t do this year: unlike companies like Facebook or Google, Apple didn’t suffer any major breaches in security or scandals where it was revealed to have given access to the personal information of millions of users. Which sadly is something that needs to be lauded. Privacy and security have long been a selling point from Apple, and in 2018, where it seemed like almost every day was an endless series of security issues, the company’s comparatively spotless track record speaks volumes.
All in all, Apple had a fine 2018, shoring up some of the holes in its lineup and building a better foundation for the future. It may not have been the most exciting year, and there are still big questions about whether or not Apple can continue to evolve its strategy going forward or whether it will continue to progress on the improvements this year or simply let those products languish in obscurity for another half-decade. But hopefully, 2019 will start to provide some answers to those questions — and some new leaps forward.
Final Grade: B
The Verge 2018 report card: Apple
- Still industry-leading when it comes to security
- Stable software
- Solid, if safe, product updates
- Hardware issues
- HomePod fizzled out
- Sales momentum seems iffy