I think I’m safe to write this now. Surely, there won’t be any more surprise Apple releases in 2023?
My concern is justified. In January, we unexpectedly received new Macs, and a few weeks ago Apple superseded those surprise January Macs with yet another bunch of new Macs, making those previously new Macs obsolete Macs.
Confused? You’re not alone.
There has also been constant speculation about new iPads that never materialised, and the ever-present danger of yet another set of new Macs appearing from nowhere just months after everyone has spent a fortune on short-lived new Macs.
It’s been a weird year for Apple. We’ve had some superb new releases, but there have also been a couple of less-than-stellar launches. Add to that a fourth consecutive quarterly sales slump and an increasingly confusing Mac lineup, and there’s quite a lot to talk about.
The best Apple product of 2023
Let’s start with the good stuff. There was plenty of it this year, after all.
If I had to pick one favourite Apple product of the year, it would be the M2 Pro Mac mini. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for Apple’s diminutive desktop powerhouse and that M2 Pro version is the epitome of what it’s capable of in its current form. And you only need the base model – trust me.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max comes a close second. Apple’s latest flagship smartphone has reignited my love for what remains their most important product. The Titanium design feels like the peak of what the current form factor is capable of, and it’s still the most impressive expensive smartphone on the market – not least because of the incredible ecosystem of which it is intrinsically a part.
Other highlights this year include the specced-up 24-inch M3 iMac (which I got to see in action at Apple’s UK HQ, and which finally confirms exactly what that lovely new design is capable of), the AirPods Pro update (finally, USB-C – and an opportunity to replace my stolen pair), and the 15-inch MacBook Air.
The latter is one of Apple’s most impressive laptops – if you’re prepared to spec it up beyond the base M2 model, which I’ve grown to accept as being somewhat below-par, performance-wise (more on that soon).
The worst Apple product of 2023
The good news for Tim and Co. is that my list of the worst Apple products of 2023 is much shorter than the good stuff. And calling them ‘worst’ feels a bit harsh, to be honest – but in this day and age, you have to earn your clicks and engagement, bro.
My first pick has nothing to do with the product itself because it is one of Apple’s greatest triumphs (and apologies) in recent memory. It’s the MacBook Pro – or, more specifically, the M2 version. Launched unexpectedly in January, the latest updates to Apple’s unbeatable pro laptops didn’t even last a year before being superseded by the M3 versions, which were announced just nine months later.
This doesn’t make the M2 MacBook Pro a bad computer; it is blisteringly quick and will last the test of time for anyone who invested in one. But that doesn’t make the pain those buyers feel any easier to bear.
The M2 has vanished from the MacBook Pro lineup on Apple’s website – it is history; replaced by a chip the company claims features the largest leap forward in graphics performance. The M3 has, literally, booted the M2 out of the back door without so much as a “sorry, mate”.
The M2 chip feels like an episode Apple would rather move on from, swiftly. Why the release dates for Apple silicon have become so short and inconsistent across the Mac lineup is anyone’s guess, but the chip shortage and continued supply constraints are probably to blame.
Those external factors, coupled with a tumultuous industry reaction to the M2 chip’s performance have resulted in one of – if not the – shortest reigns of a MacBook Pro chip generation ever.
I can’t skip over the Apple silicon Mac Pro, either, I’m afraid. The decision to simply throw an M2 Ultra chip into the existing, huge casing and remove everything else from the Intel days has resulted in a cavernously empty, expensive Mac which desperately needs a new form factor.
Away from the Mac, things weren’t great for the Apple Watch, either. The Series 9 remains the best smartwatch on the market by a country mile, but the Apple Watch Ultra gang (of which I am resolutely a member) were left feeling rather shortchanged in 2023 with such a tepid Apple Watch Ultra 2 update.
A brighter display and a new chip with limited real-world benefits were all we received. No meaningful battery improvements, and no black version (yes, I’m that shallow). In 2024, we need more from what is, arguably, one of Apple’s most exciting recent products, please, Tim.
Lastly, and while this is a questionable entrant in this section, it needs to be mentioned. The lack of any iPad updates in 2023 has been frustrating – not least because the iPad mini is so badly in need of a refresh and I’m bored of fending off questions about it within my YouTube comments section.
Apple’s revenue slump
Apple has just experienced a fourth consecutive quarterly decline in sales. It’s the longest slowdown in sales since 2001 and appears to be the result of sluggish Mac demand, a tricky smartphone market in China, and those pesky supply constraints.
Forecasts for Mac sales in Apple’s last quarter fell short by over a billion dollars, with the new M3 iMacs and MacBook Pros launched too late to join the party and, possibly, tickle those numbers.
It’s been a rocky road for Apple’s march into China, too, with iPhone bans being implemented in certain workplaces and competition from the likes of Huawei proving difficult to fend off. Add in the continued challenge of getting the right parts at the right time for most of the product line-up, and you can imagine how frustrating Tim Cook’s early morning routine must have been this year.
It’s also fair to suggest that the complete absence of any iPad updates in 2023 may have contributed to the sales slump. Quite why Apple has disregarded its tablet lineup this year is anyone’s guess, but I’m fairly sure those sales numbers would have been boosted a little with the introduction of some much-needed new iPads. And, by that, I mean the iPad mini 7, obviously.
In 2022, Apple netted a record $394 billion dollars in revenue. This year, that number fell by 2.8%. Concerning? Well, it’s challenging times, isn’t it? Equally, these are still biblically huge numbers, and Apple’s annual revenue has quadrupled over the last ten years.
They’re certainly not heading to the local food bank just yet, and I’m sure we’ll see a return to growth in the next couple of years – but it’s impossible to escape the ‘slump’ narrative in 2023.
Conclusion: was it a good year?
Product-wise, 2023 was, on balance, a great year for Apple. We’ve got the best MacBooks from which to choose in the history of Apple’s laptop lineup, the iPhone continues to be the most impressive premium smartphone on the market, and the Apple Watch still dominates the wearable sector.
Equally, I could only pick out two ‘worst’ Apple products of 2023, and both are still brilliant devices (the Mac Pro is disqualified, I’m afraid).
It’s the confusion surrounding Apple’s chip strategy, and the seeming lack of attention given to the iPad which makes 2023 a troublesome year for Apple – not to mention that continued decline in revenue.
I’m going to mark this one down as ‘satisfactory’. We’ve seen the peak of current hardware, the promise of what’s to come next, and what I would guess is the result of external factors on an ambitious silicon roadmap.
That leaves me with some pretty big expectations for the Apple 2024 releases.
Looking ahead to Apple 2024 releases
There are two Apple products I’m looking forward to in particular next year. The first is guaranteed – Vision Pro. I’ve remained largely quiet about this since the announcement, bar airing my reservations about spatial computing. Regardless, I can’t wait to get my hands on that super expensive headset to see what all the fuss is about.
I’m also eagerly awaiting the arrival of the iPad mini 7. There are rumours we may not see this until 2025, but I’m hanging on in quiet desperation for that to be untrue. All I want is a ProMotion display, updated internals, and a mini Magic Keyboard, please, Tim.
As for the rest of the Apple 2024 release schedule, we can probably expect to see M3 versions of the Mac mini and Mac Studio, updated MacBook Airs, OLED-equipped iPad Pros, and a new pair of AirPods Max with – wait for it – new colours and USB-C charging.
Excited? I am!