Here's what Apple should do to bounce back in 2017
2016 was not a banner year for Apple. It rolled out a series of underwhelming products and faced lawsuits, increasingly impressive competition and wavering sales. After such a weak year, what steps should Apple take to reclaim its reputation and revenue in 2017?
2016's product releases included all the characteristic Apple shortcomings (high prices, fewer expansion ports, lack of game readiness) without the type of drool-worthy innovation or elegance on which the company built its reputation. As a result, it's getting harder and harder to choose an Apple device over one of its competitors. From our point of view, here's what would turn the tables in Apple's favor.
Nail the 10th-anniversary iPhone
2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone. Not only was it an enormous success for Apple, it was one of the most pivotal pieces in consumer technology history. It's unlikely that next year's iPhone will be quite as revolutionary, but in a high-profile year, there's pressure to do the line justice.
That means the iPhone 8 (or whatever moniker is bestowed) should be more than an incremental improvement over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. What will that look like? If rumors are to be believed, it will receive a promising redesign featuring an edge-to-edge display with capacitive TouchID, camera, and home button.
Smartphone photography is already following an intense uphill trajectory, so the next iPhone will need to stick its neck out to stay on top. We're hoping for an updated version of the iPhone 7 Plus' dual-lens camera in all of the 2017 flagships, along with more DSLR-like bokeh effects.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were probably Apple's best 2016 releases, but they didn't bowl us over. Over the years, many of iPhone's innovations have been imitated or improved on by its competition. If Apple doesn't make some exciting improvements to the iPhone, it will continue to blend in with – and even get surpassed by – its strengthening pool of competitors (we're looking at you, Google Pixel).
Give consumers a mobile-inspired laptop they actually want
2-in-1 tablet/laptops, also known as convertibles, are having a moment. These devices unite the touchscreen and extreme portability of a tablet with the full-size keyboard and computing power of a laptop. There are many iterations of 2-in-1s – some are laptops first, while others are essentially accessorized tablets.
Apple bigwigs have publicly dismissed the idea of a touchscreen MacBook, but they are not in denial that mobile inspiration is hitting desktop computing in a big way. The iPad Pro can be outfitted with a Smart Keyboard and Pencil (sold separately), and the new Touch Bar option brings mobile navigation and gestures to the MacBook Pro. Still, neither of these approaches garnered much praise, and the Touch Bar's high price point and low perceived value earned it a slew of condemnations.
The time is right for Apple to release a truly compelling iteration of a convertible. The form factor is popular enough not to raise raise any eyebrows (we can't say the same for nixing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7) but no one has fully perfected it. It's an opportunity to fulfill a consumer desire in a uniquely Apple way. Done well, a powerful 2-in-1 would be a perfect showcase of "designed in California" elegance.
At the very least, the MacBook line needs a facelift. Even though their aluminum unibodies are growing lighter and thinner, they have had the same basic form factors for years. Next to flexible, multi-input machines like the Microsoft Surface Book, MacBooks look almost dowdy.
Streamline the Apple Watch
Apple released the Apple Watch Series 2 last year. Like its predecessor, it's a leader in smartwatches, but that's not saying much, since sales for the wearables are majorly lagging. With its integrated GPS and heart rate monitor, its use as a fitness tracker seem to be its headlining feature.
We don't expect smartwatch trends to change direction much in the coming year, but we hope that new versions of the Apple Watch are more streamlined and sophisticated. With its current bubble-like setting and rounded corners, it's physically reminiscent of an early-generation iPhone. It has a simple design, but it's too big to be truly minimal, and looks out of date.
A smaller version would also make it easier to use as a fitness tracker. To this end, an altimeter should also be added to track elevation during outdoor workouts.
2016 was a year of firsts in virtual reality, but Apple's been on the sidelines so far. Its desktop lineup does not support PC-powered headsets like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, and iPhone is not compatible with the existing mobile VR headsets (Gear VR or Google Daydream).
But VR is gaining momentum fast, especially on phones. Widespread mobile VR compatibility (and possibly even augmented reality technology like Google Tango) seems to be in the pipeline for Android devices, which could leave iPhone in the dust.
Apple has hinted that augmented reality (AR) is where it sees the future, but it would be foolish to continue ignoring VR, and should take steps to embrace this cutting-edge platform. Google Daydream compatibility would be a plus, and seems like a more likely move than launching its own VR headset.
Solve the storage issue and alleviate iCloud headaches
One of the biggest headaches that comes along with using Apple devices? Lack of storage and the consequential wrangling with iCloud.
Across the board, Apple's phones, laptops and tablets tend to come with significantly less built-in storage than their Windows and Android counterparts. In 2016, they did boost the storage levels for both iPads and iPhones, but at the same time, they also hacked expansion ports and jacks off of everything from iPhones to the MacBook Pro. All of your content needs to go somewhere, and it's getting harder to move those files using peripherals.
You can always save data to the iCloud instead of an individual device, which has the perk of making it available across all of your Apple devices. iPhone backups are also automatically saved to the iCloud. However, the iCloud only comes with 5 GB of free storage, and for more, you'll have to pay.
In short, Apple products seemed designed to drive you into purchasing iCloud storage by way of pure inconvenience. Without careful maintenance of your content and settings, you'll be plagued with those "storage full" notifications in no time. And you'll probably get the dreaded "Unable to take photo" message during a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
These annoyances can be avoided with third party apps like Google Drive or Google Photos, but we'd really like Apple to step up. Increasing free iCloud storage would be one way to please long-time customers without disrupting the current ecosystem, but such a move would be downright magnanimous coming from a historically inflexible company like Apple.
To look back on Apple's 2016 lineup, refer to our full-length reviews: