My 2023 Apple Report Card

Last month Jason Snell published his annual Six Colors Apple Report Card for 2023. As I’ve done in the past — 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 — I’m publishing my full remarks and grades here. I’m late publishing this year because I forgot to last month. On Snell’s report card, voters give per-category scores ranging from 5 to 1; I’ve translated these to letter grades, A to E.

Mac: A

By the end of the year, every single Mac in the lineup, save one, is arguably in the best shape that model has ever been. (Spoiler: the exception is the Mac Pro.)

When Apple Silicon debuted at the end of 2020, Apple started consumer-grade models first, with the regular M1 chips, and the M1 Pro/Max/Ultra chips followed the next year. That pattern repeated with the M2 generation. But at the end of 2023, Apple debuted the M3 generation of Apple silicon starting with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros (with M3 Pro/Max chips), along with a lesser 14-inch MacBook Pro with the regular M3. It makes more sense for the MacBook Pros to get a new generation of chips first than for the MacBook Air. And these are the best MacBook Pros ever.

The 24-inch iMac skipped the M2 generation but got an update to the M3, along with Apple making it as clear as possible that they have no plans to make a 27-inch iMac with Apple silicon. I’m OK with that — I think a Studio Display with a Mac Mini is a better solution. And those who miss the iMac Pro of the Intel era are better off with a Studio Display and Mac Studio.

The Mac Pro is the only sour note in the lineup. It finally came to Apple silicon (hooray), but spec-wise it’s pretty much a Mac Studio with advanced I/O options (boo). If your work requires high-end I/O, that’s great. But if not, it’s hard to see anything the Mac Pro offers that the Mac Studio doesn’t, other than a higher price and consuming a lot more space on or under your desk. Even if this first Apple silicon Mac Pro is a disappointment though, I say it’s great news overall, because it’s a sign that Apple still wants the Mac Pro in its lineup. At some point in the next year or two, I expect Apple to unveil a Mac Pro with specs that race ahead of the Mac Studio. It’s just obviously the case that Apple silicon isn’t there yet.

MacOS 13 Ventura and 14 Sonoma have both been fine releases. Reliable and (mostly) familiar.

iPhone: A

The new iPhone 15 lineup is great, especially the 15 Pro models, which Apple changed from heavy polished stainless steel to lightweight brushed titanium. The weight reduction is dramatic, and the titanium feels so much nicer in hand.

iOS 17 (can you believe it’s up to 17 now?) feels like what it is: a stable mature operating system. Apple has gone through two major transitions with iOS: the ground-up UI redesign with iOS 7 (can you believe that was 10 years ago?) and the all-screen, no-more-home-button system redesign with the iPhone X. Nothing major has changed since, and nothing seems to need to. The switch from Lightning to USB-C was, overall, no big deal controversy-wise, and enabled new features like recording ProRes video directly to an attached SSD.

iPad: C

That there was no new iPad hardware this year makes it hard to give it a high grade, so a gentleman’s C it is. Worse, the existing lineup is rather confusing. iPadOS remains fine, but to me still seems like the no-man’s land platform: nowhere near as capable productivity-wise as a Mac; nowhere near as portable as an iPhone. Next year better bring clarity and some “wow” to the iPad lineup. I’d love to see a completely rethought Magic Keyboard — perhaps a combination keyboard/trackpad that works just as well with a Vision Pro as with an iPad?

Watch: B / Wearables (including Watch): B

The Series 9 models don’t look any different from Series 8, and the Ultra 2 doesn’t look any different from the Ultra 1, but inside, the new S9 SiP chip provides noticeably better battery life — which at this point is really one of the platform’s only weaknesses.

WatchOS 10 is the biggest re-think of the software platform ever. Far more colorful, a bit more “computer on your wrist”, and I think widgets are generally more useful on Apple Watch than apps are.

AirPods Pro 2 are just terrific, and the new Adaptive noise control mode is amazing for my day-to-day usage.

Apple TV: B

No news on the hardware front this year, but it wasn’t needed. The big change in tvOS is moving the iTunes Movie and TV stores into the TV app. Overall that’s a wash for me, but it’s slightly irritating insofar as I really only ever buy or rent movies nowadays — my TV-show-watching goes through streaming apps. But the “Store” tab in the TV app gives prominent placement on the main screen to a row full of popular TV shows. All I want to see are movies.

The best change in tvOS this year, though, is that the circular up/down/left/right wheel on the remote now works like it should have all along: you can run your finger around it in circles to scroll and scrub, just like using the scroll wheel on an iPod of yore. No idea why it didn’t work like this all along, but I’m sure glad it does now.

Services: B

Lots of great shows and movies on TV+. Slow Horses, Silo, Hijack, For All Mankind, and Killers of the Flower Moon were all standouts.

iCloud remains secure, fast, and reliable. So much seamless continuity (including via Continuity-branded features) across devices.

But I’ll repeat this gripe from previous years: it’s miserly that Apple is still offering only a mere 5 GB of storage at the free tier, and have left the paid-tier storage allotments unchanged since like forever. I wonder how many zillions of iPhone users out there don’t have device backups because they only have a free iCloud account with 5 GB? The Apple One bundle is a good deal, but the free iCloud tier should be genuinely useful for backing up a modern iPhone.

HomeKit/Home: C

I’ll repeat my line from last year: Big picture, this whole thing still feels like it’s always poised to get good “next year”. 2023 wasn’t that year (again).

Hardware Reliability: A

No news is great news in this category.

Software Quality: B

I’ll keep it short: I have concerns and complaints about aspects of the direction Apple’s software design is headed (or in some ways, has been now for years), but their software reliability has been very good for me.

Developer Relations: C

Third year in a row with the same comment: Resentment over App Store policies continues to build. Frustrations with the App Store review process seem unimproved. Apple’s goal should be for developer relations to be so good that developers want to create software exclusively for Apple’s platforms. The opposite is happening.

Social and Societal Impact: A

Another repeat comment, but another good year on this front: Climate/carbon is the societal area where a company like Apple can and should make the most difference, and I’m hard-pressed to think how they could be doing more than they are, practically. 2023 saw the launch of several entirely carbon-neutral Apple Watch configurations.

We’re living in sensitive times on other social issues, and Apple seems to be managing that very astutely and honestly.