2015 was a big year for Apple, the company unveiled a lot of new first-generation products, services, and accessories. There’s a lot to cover and this could easily become a long 3,000 word post (post edit: it is), but we’ll only be going over the essentials.
Starting in March with Apple’s Spring Forward event, the company first started with the controversial 12-inch Retina MacBook. The machine launched with three different colors, space grey, silver, and gold with a re-designed, thinner keyboard and with a force touch trackpad. And let’s not forget the 12-inch Retina display with a resolution of 2304×1440. In addition, it’s worth noting that this machine has no fans whatsoever and a single USB-C port. Rumors of this computer had been around for several months, most thinking it would be a revamped MacBook Air. For the most part, rumors were speculating a repackaged 13-inch MacBook Air with Retina Display.
During that same event Apple gave us more information on the Apple Watch, including pricing, battery life, and availability. The product, which was originally unveiled to the world in September 2014, had a somewhat butchered launch. The Watch was only available online at launch and most models were unavailable on day one, and for the ones that were available at launch, they soon became unavailable. What’s even worse was that Apple had a one month window between the unveiling and ship date. Even that couldn’t help them keep up with demand.
Months later after the launch of the Watch, the company previewed watchOS 2, something most hoped would help save the Watch. With watchOS 2, the company promised native applications, third-party watch complications, and other nifty features such as Time Travel. However, the software was butchered by the S1 SoC built into the Watch. To this day, those of us who bought the Watch are happy with it, but we’re hoping for a more refined second-generation Watch. If asked, I’ll respectfully respond, “No, if you don’t think you need the Watch, you probably don’t. But if you want one and it appeals to you, get it.” I’m not saying the Watch was DoA, but it had its shortcomings like any other first-generation Apple product.
Skipping ahead a few months, September hit and Apple unveiled more products than expected in a single keynote. Kicking off the keynote, Apple introduced new Apple Watch Sport bands and two new finishes (gold and rose gold), a new Space Black Apple Watch with black sport band, and a few refinements to the classic buckle and leather loop bands. Nothing spectacular, but if you are looking to get a Space Black Apple Watch but don’t want to shell out the $1200, now is the time to get the Watch. The company also launched the Hermès Apple Watch, which is the first major partnership Apple is doing with a fashion company to make an exclusive Apple Watch.
The next thing on their list was iPad. It had long been rumored that Apple would be working on a larger 12.9-inch iPad, allegedly iPad Pro. At this point we were asking when, rather than what. On this day Apple unveiled what we now know as the iPad Pro. Pretty much every rumor was true, from the 12.9-inch display to the fact that it only runs iOS and not a modified version of OS X. The iPad Pro has four stereo speakers, a fast A9x processor, and everything you’d expect from an iPad. But there’s two caveats, Apple launched the $99 Apple Pencil and $169 Smart Keyboard alongside the iPad Pro to make it stand out from its older siblings. The iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 32GB model and goes all the way up to $1079 for the 128GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model. The iPad Pro began shipping in November.
Speaking of long awaited products, Apple finally showed off the fourth-generation Apple TV as well. It had been three years since the company last updated the Apple TV. The new Apple TV has a brand new user interface, redesigned remote with Siri support, and a much needed hardware bump to support the new App Store for Apple TV. The remote can take voice commands, control volume for your TV or stereo system, and navigation is much easier with a large touchpad on the top of the remote, and the best part? The Siri remote has a built-in rechargeable battery which will last for months on normal usage and charges via a lightning cable. The fourth-generation starts at $149 for the 32GB model and $199 for the 64GB model.
And of course, it can’t be a September event without talking about iPhone. Oddly enough, it was the last thing on Apple’s list. The company unveiled iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, the second 6 series of devices. From the outside, the iPhone looks almost identical to its predecessor (minus the S badge on the back and the new rose gold color), but on the inside a lot has changed. Without formerly addressing it, Apple responded to the whole bendgate issue of the last generation iPhone by using a new custom 7000 series aluminum alloy to strengthen the body of the 6s. On top of that the new iPhone 6s got the obvious processor bump, camera enhancements (the iPhone can now shoot 4k video at 30fps), and an all new display technology they call 3D Touch. 3D Touch allows the user to press harder on the display to invoke different actions. Apple calls 3D Touch the “next generation of multitouch.” On the Home screen, you can 3D Touch an icon to get quick actions. In messages or mail you can peak (take a glance) at a thread and if you’re interested in it you can pop (open the thread) by applying a little more force.
The biggest and most obvious service Apple launched this year was Apple Music. For nearly a year now, we’ve been hearing rumors that Apple wanted to get into the music streaming business, specifically the high fidelity market with iTunes. We’ve even heard rumors that Apple tried to reduce the price of it’s music streaming service but the record labels simply didn’t budge. On June 8, Jimmy Iovine and Eddy Cue took the stage and announced Apple Music. It’s your typical Spotify, with a twist. Apple, as the number one music store in the world, launched Beats 1, an always on, worldwide radio streaming to over 100 countries. Beats 1 does not require a subscription. At a glance, it seems like Apple Music is just like any other music streaming service, $10/month with relatively standard streaming quality. However, once again, because it’s Apple this allows them to do some “only Apple can do” things such as take advantage of Siri. With Apple Music simply ask, “Play Happy” or “Play the top songs in 1993.” This extends to Siri on your Apple Watch as well.
Besides Apple Music, there were a few smaller services announced from Apple this year. ResearchKit, the iCloud pricing change, and iCloud Drive on iOS are a few honorable mentions.
This year was very beta for Apple. A lot of first generation products, but the company also threw us a few unexpected accessories this year. By farther most controversial (and surprising) accessory from Apple this year has to go to the iPhone 6/6s Smart Battery Case. Priced at $99, Apple thought they could use the existing Apple silicone case design and strap a battery on the back. It comes in charcoal grey and white and is only available for the 6/6s and not the larger 6/6s Plus. Inside the case is a 1877mAh battery that can charge your phone up to 80% from 0%, according to Apple. The case charges via a lightning cable (one of the, if not the first) with a small amber/green LED indicator tucked inside the case. Otherwise, to check the battery on the case, it’s available when you first plug in your iPhone to the battery, or via the Battery widget in the Notification Center.
If you own an iMac or Mac Pro, Apple has finally updated its Magic accessories this year with all new Magic keyboards, mice, and trackpads. All three accessories now include a rechargeable lithium-ion non removable battery that charges via an included lightning cable. You can pair each device via the traditional Bluetooth method or by simply plugging the lightning cable from your Magic accessory to your Mac. The mouse remained the same for the most part (minus the lightning port which is on the bottom), the keyboard ditches the hinge on the top which allows it to sit flat on a table, and most notably, the Magic trackpad now includes a force sensitive glass panel, with a much larger surface area. All three products also got a price increase with the Magic mouse now being $79, keyboard at $99, and the trackpad at $129.
Released alongside iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard are essential for the iPad Pro. Without one or the other, the iPad Pro quite literally is just a larger iPad, which isn’t a bad thing. However, if you work in design or graphics and are looking for a tablet to work with, the iPad Pro paired with the Apple Pencil is a must. On the other hand, if you use your iPad as a primary document editor or do a lot of email, the iPad Pro is also a great buy paired with the Smart Keyboard. The biggest caveat is price, couple the 128GB iPad Pro (let’s be real here, 32GB isn’t feasible for this type of device), with an Apple Pencil or Smart keyboard and you’re looking at spending $12-1,300. In that case, getting a 12-inch MacBook or even an entry level MacBook Pro would be more feasible.
Speaking of iPad accessories, the Apple Smart Case has been broken up into two separate parts for the iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro. Previously, you had multiple options: Smart Cover + Silicone case, Smart Cover on its own, Silicone case on it’s own, or a Smart Case, which was the Smart Cover plus the Silicone case made into one piece. That’s no longer an option, which means if you wanted something similar you’d have to spend roughly $140 as apposed to $80 for a Smart Case.
Somewhere during the summer Apple launched what looked like an iPhone dock, however due to its nature worked with any Apple product that supported lightning and came in a simple white plastic shell for $39. Later in the year, nearing the launch of the iPhone the company released an aluminum model with finishes to match the new iPhone colors–space grey, silver, gold, and rose gold which cost $49. A lightning cable is not included, but just like previous docks, it has a headphone jack on the back to passthrough audio (due to the dock blocking the headphone port on the iPhone). Though it is possible to charge an iPad though this, it’s not recommended.
Last on the list of accessories of the year is the Apple Watch dock made by Apple. Starting at $79, the dock can be used both while the watch is laying flat or on its side for nightstand mode. The dock comes with a 2 meter lightning cable (plugs into the side to supply power), comes with an integrated magnetic charger, and is only available in white.
Conclusion (from all Editors)
Editors were asked what they’re favorite and least favorite product (whether it be software, hardware, design decisions, etc.) of the year was, and their general thoughts for Apple this year.
Peter: 2015 was a very “beta” year for Apple. The company released their first ever wearable (the Apple Watch), the 12-inch MacBook, iPad Pro, and fourth-generation Apple TV. It wasn’t a bad year for them, just a year of “it’s our first attempt, buy it, tell us what’s wrong and we’ll refine it.” It wasn’t the greatest, but you can bet 2016 will be an incredible year for Apple.
In terms of my favorite product of the year, it’d have to be the 12-inch Retina MacBook. Although most will complain about it’s slower processor, the keyboard or the 1 USB-C port, I say it’s a solid machine. It’ll do most every day tasks and then some. OS X truly is optimized for this MacBook and I hardly, if ever see any stutter on the MacBook 12-inch. Even if it’s not the most powerful MacBook you can buy, I believe it’s the first truly innovative Mac laptop we’ve seen since the introduction of the Retina MacBook Pro, and if that’s any indication Apple will take inspiration from the 12-inch MacBook and carry it over to it’s other Mac laptops.
The worst “product” from Apple this year (in my opinion) would probably have to be Apple as a company. As much as it pains me to say it, this wasn’t the best year for Apple. They’ve made a lot of mistakes that hurt the company’s reputation (Magic mouse charging port, frame rate issues on the iPhone 6s Plus, late remote app update for iOS, Apple watch lag, and the confusing Apple Music interface, just to name a few). Everything from Apple this year just felt rushed just for the sake of getting it out the door. I believe Apple is spreading itself too thin and is trying to stick with tradition a little too closely (yearly OS updates, for example). Now would be a great time for Apple to slow things down a little bit and put the fit and finish into their products, something they’ve been known to do.
Josh: Apple has branched away from the simpler times we saw when Steve Jobs was alive. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything bad for the company. What it DOES show is that Apple is trying to build a lot more roots: tvOS, watchOS, Apple Watch, iPad Pro, along with the existing products that continue to be refined. There are some growing pains that come with the process, and there were a lot of things that still need to get off their feet. (Apple Music?) But, this is a year of activity that will lead to a very interesting 2016. How will Apple improve on what they accomplished and released thus far? I’m excited to see.
Favorite: Apple Watch. Yes, this is a first generation device, and it definitely has a lot of rough edges. Honestly, I think there is plenty that can be improved. But it also is a product with a lot of potential that, with future hardware generations, will be a great wearable companion. As someone that hasn’t worn a watch in years, the Apple Watch has surprised me and helped me to see that one does not always have to have their phone in hand to stay connected.
Least Favorite: iPad mini 4. This is mainly because the mini 4 now matches the specs of last year’s iPad Air 2, which was given a much better introduction. From a technical standpoint, one would think that the mini 4’s specs could have made it into the mini 3. While the mini 4 is a great upgrade for an owner of either of the previous minis, the general lack of interest from Apple only leads me to believe that the mini doesn’t play as big of a part in their iPad strategy as it once did.
Mallorie: 2015 has been a great year for Apple. The Cupertino company released a lot of great new products and services this year, such as the iPhone 6s and the iPad Pro, just to name a few.
While I didn’t feel the need to upgrade from an iPhone 6 Plus to an iPhone 6s Plus, I do think the updated features (namely 3D Touch and Live Photos) of Apple’s latest smartphone are truly remarkable and while may not be necessary features, are great additions.
Where do I even begin with the iPad Pro? iPad Pro is a great asset to the iPad lineup. iPad Pro is perfect for those who don’t need a “traditional” laptop and likes the iPad experience, but wants a larger display. The only thing offsetting about the iPad Pro is the price point.
While Apple did release a lot of great products this year, Apple also released a lot of “beta” products as well, such as the new MacBook and the Apple Watch.
The new MacBook is super sleek and extremely portable, but with the price point in combination with a low-performance processor and only one port, it (in my opinion) is anything but great. I could probably live with only one port since there are a lot of adapters out there, but the processor, for what I do on a daily basis, would certainly not suffice.
Apple Watch is without a doubt a great product in general; however, there are many things Apple could improve with the next generation Apple Watch. For instance, being able to leave my phone at Home and use my Apple Watch as a stand-alone device would be ideal.
As stated, Apple has had a superb year. So many foundations have been established this year to make way for new and better products this coming year. I, for one, am ready to see what Apple has up their sleeve for 2016.