“Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want,'” the late Apple founder Steve Jobs said many years ago. “But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they will want before they do.
Even after Jobs passed away, Apple followed this strategy religiously. Almost too religiously – phasing out convenient MacBook features like function keys, MagSafe charging, standard ports, and touch keyboards for experimental new additions. In their place we have the TouchBar, Butterfly keyboard, and slimmer form factors. But lately, the company has been course-correcting, undoing several bold transitions it’s made over the past two iterations and, more importantly, giving people what they want instead of telling them.
More form over function
Apple ditched the cylindrical trash can body of the Mac Pro, which couldn’t handle the heat, in favor of the good old cheese grater built in 2019. A few months later, it killed its Butterfly mechanism for a scissor switch keyboard. This was followed by the introduction of the iPhone 12 mini, a powerful little phone for those who cling to their iPhone 5 for life. Perhaps the most significant sign of Apple’s change of heart was the MacBook Pro 14, which ditched the polarizing Touch Bar and offered traditional ports and MagSafe charging instead of just USB Type-C. Whether the departure of iconic design chief Jony Ive in 2019 has anything to do with it, we can only speculate.
It’s no surprise that Apple’s renewed strategy was on full display at its annual developer conference, WWDC 2022. The pace of software and hardware announcements had a recurring theme: the company is now more willing to listen and respond to user requests.
New Macbook Air M2, for example, finally offers a much better 1080p webcam, restores the MagSafe charging port (and bundles a braided cable in the box), and even offers a long-awaited design refresh, replacing the classic wedge shape with the new Apple’s signature square look. The 35W charging brick included with the $1,499 model fulfills another request with its extra USB-C port. However, if you buy the base model, you’ll have to pay $20 to upgrade or you can buy it separately for $59.
Apple also introduced several software capabilities that were sorely lacking in its operating systems. With each major release, Apple opens up the look of iOS and allows users to customize more aspects of it, and iOS16 is no different. He plays catch-up Android’s Material You engine by offering a series of customization tools that allow you to adapt the lock screen to the font and color of the time. You can choose backgrounds from an organized gallery, add mini widgets for weather, alarms and other information, and set customizable photo screensavers.
That’s not all. The latest macOS update, Ventura brings an obvious addition: it lets you use your iPhone as a camera, ending inferior Mac webcam streams and having to rely on third-party services. It’s probably a year too late, but I’m glad it’s finally made its way into Apple’s Continuity suite of options.
The iPad is no exception either. iPadOS 16 ushers in a bunch of timely abilities – some of which we talked about in our exam — for Apple to realistically advance its laptop-level ambitions for its tablet.
Most importantly, the new Stage Manager multitasking experience enables smooth, desktop-like layered windows on iPad with the M1 chip. In this setting, you can easily browse your recent apps, resize their windows, and group open instances for different projects. On top of that, Stage Manager fully supports external display so iPad owners can hook up a monitor and expand their iPad desktop using up to four apps simultaneously on a larger screen.
iPad apps will no longer be just expanded versions of their iOS counterparts. With the latest “desktop” app APIs, developers will be able to integrate some standard macOS desktop elements into their iPad apps so you won’t feel lost when switching to keyboard and mouse input. The undo and redo experience, for example, will be more consistent, toolbars will be customizable, the find and replace command will work the same system-wide, and more. Oh, and there’s finally a Weather app on the iPad.
Apple’s in-house apps have also gained some conspicuously absent perks. On iMessage, you can delete and edit messages. The Mail app can now go hand-in-hand with Gmail in several ways: there are options to schedule and snooze emails, get reminders if you forget attachments (how did that take so long?) and search inboxes without worrying about typing in the exact syntax. The Fitness app is coming to iPhone, so you no longer need a apple watch to close these rings of viral health.
Arguably, the most vital result of Apple’s shift to a less rigid strategy is that it’s far more inviting to open up industry standards. The new software updates support two of these standards: Matter, which will enable cross-platform support for smart home devices, and the FIDO Alliancea consortium working towards a passwordless future.
Apple’s restored focus on meeting basic customer needs today instead of turning abruptly to the potential technologies of tomorrow is refreshing to say the least. I can’t wait to see how it now tackles new and bold ideas while trying not to repeat previous mistakes for its next generation of devices and software. All that’s left is a calculator app for the iPad and a mouse that doesn’t have an awkward, inconvenient charging position. Is it too much to ask?