From iPhone going properly pro to Apple’s vision (or should that be Vision?) of the future
Well, that 12 months went by in a blip. And it was another busy year for Apple. It’s traditional for writers on all things Apple at this time of year to sit there surrounded by tinsel and turkey, cynically griping at everything Apple got wrong, while basking in their own amazingness.
We’re not going to do that. (Well, OK, maybe a little bit of basking.) Instead, we thought it would be more fun to end the year on a positive spin, and remember what Apple did during 2023 that made our hearts sing.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max zoom
The previous two generations of iPhone Pro Max had a 3x zoom. How different could a 5x zoom really be? Very. We adored this enhancement in photographic capabilities, and it let us capture all kinds of shots that would have otherwise been impossible, from wildlife to cityscapes. As ever, the final snaps are pin-sharp and look fantastic. We’ve not been so excited about iPhone photography since Apple let us zoom in the other direction with macro shots on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
The Action button
Taking a leaf out of the Apple Watch Ultra’s book, this year’s flagship iPhones replaced the mute switch with the Action button. And, get this: it was customizable! Not only could you choose from a bunch of pre-defined Apple actions, but also you could have the button trigger custom shortcuts. Clever people duly set about crafting amazing concoctions with fancy menus and loads of options. It made us giddy to think Apple was embracing phone customization, even if only a little bit.
USB-C on iPhones
Lightning long outstayed its welcome on iPhone, and so we were glad to be shot of it this year. Well, at least on phones. Inexplicably, it still clings on in Apple’s desktop accessories. Anyway, USB-C makes traveling with gadgets easier – one cable to rule them all. It makes it simpler to share kit between devices, from games controllers to external SSD storage. And on high-end phones, it allows for proper pro-grade workflows in photography and movie studios. Something for everyone, then.
Dynamic Island everywhere
Dynamic Island was clever, turning a deeply disliked element of a modern smartphone – a screen cut-out – into a virtue. But in 2022, it was only on iPhone Pro and iPhone Pro Max. This year, it appeared across the entire iPhone 15 line. This expansion in audience reach should encourage more developers to make use of Dynamic Island, helping it thrive, rather than disappearing with a quiet whimper, like the MacBook Pro Touch Bar.
Final Cut and Logic on iPad
A major – justified – criticism of Apple has been not bringing its pro apps to iPad. The argument went that why should any developer take Apple’s tablet seriously if Apple wasn’t doing so itself? In 2023, Apple didn’t bring just one pro-grade app to iPad – it brought two: video editor Final Cut and digital audio workstation Logic. They’re not quite the full Mac apps, but they’re close enough. And in fact, their touchscreen smarts make them useful for creativity in situations where a Mac perhaps wouldn’t be.
The history of widgets on iPhone suggests Apple isn’t sure what they should be. It pushed back against full-fledged apps-as-widgets during their first incarnation and then neutered interactivity for their second, turning widgets into little more than display panels and glorified buttons. But this year, interactivity returned. This means you can now perform more actions directly from your Home Screen, freeing up time and keeping you from getting distracted by the apps themselves.
Visions of the future
It’s easy to get jaded by the tech industry treadmill, but take a step back and you realize exciting technology is moving at a rate of knots. There were two standouts from Apple this year, which will impact everything else it does. The M3 chips blazed ahead in terms of power and efficiency, and will doubtless soon head to high-end iPads, while informing lower-end chips for years to come. And Vision Pro offered a glimpse of where Apple sees the future of computing – fully immersive AR devices we wear rather than carry.
Apple’s life-saving technology
Our final pick is the many stories about Apple technology saving lives. The most startling reported a man drove into a canyon and was rescued after his iPhone’s Crash Detection feature kicked in and used Emergency SOS to call for help. Elsewhere, Apple Watch continues to keep people alive via Fall Detection and heart monitoring. All these incidents show how technology can move beyond mere ‘usefulness’ and truly matter. On that note, it was therefore great to see Apple extend free Emergency SOS via satellite for another year. Here’s hoping it quietly does the same in 2024.