It was an eventful year for Apple as it finally ditched the Lighting port in favor of the universal USB-C standard. We saw four new iPhones with the 15 Pro Max debuting a 5x periscope zoom lens. Apple also continued its push with the M3-series Mac chips and finally announced its Vision Pro AR/VR headset even though that one is not set to go on open sale before Q1 2024.
Along the way, some products stood out while others faded into mediocrity. This is our take on what Apple got right in 2023 and what didn’t go so well.
Winner: USB-C on iPhone, finally!
USB-C is superior to Lightning in just about every imaginable way, even if Apple was making a nice profit on its legacy port thanks to the Made for iPhone (MFi) licensing program. If it wasn’t for the EU Parliament’s common charger law, Apple would have likely extended Lightning’s life span for another few years but we’re certainly glad that all new phones regardless of their ecosystem will now share the same port.
Long-time Android users may be rolling their eyes but USB-C on the iPhone is one of those monumental shifts that seemed like a distant mirage just a few years ago. Some reports speculated that Apple would go portless on its iPhones before switching to USB-C and we’re thankful that scenario didn’t pan out. As they say “better late than never”. Now if only Apple didn’t limit its baseline iPhone 15 and 15 Plus to USB 2.0 speeds…
Loser: Lighting fades into obscurity
For all the criticism it drew, Lightning also deserves some praise. It was the first “all digital reversible connector for the next decade” as Phil Schiller put it at the iPhone 5 announcement back in 2012. At the time it did offer tangible benefits over the 30-pin connector that preceded it.
Lightning had its technical limitations with its maximum transfer speed capped at 480 Mbps and it did not allow for fast charging beyond 20W (if you consider that fast). Those weren’t dealbreakers back in 2012 but ten years later we had phones with up to 10 gigabit USB 3.1 transfer speeds and over 100W charging.
The more pressing issue with Lighting was that it was exclusively used on Apple devices. If you owned an iPhone or AirPods, you’d have to carry an extra cable just to charge those devices and you wouldn’t get to live that one-cable lifestyle.
You can read more about Lightning and the extensive list of Apple products that used it in our Flashback article here
Winner: iPhone 15 Pro series
A new lighter Titanium casing, USB 3.2 Type-C connectors, the world’s first 3nm chipset and the first 5x periscope camera on an iPhone. It’s safe to say that the iPhone 15 Pro series is a big deal bringing enough upgrades to the table that would tempt even long-time Android users.
Apple is also turning a new page with gaming by making titles like Resident Evil Village, Death Stranding and Assassin’s Creed Mirage available exclusively on its 15 Pro and Pro Max phones. The Action Button was a neat addition bringing a touch of personalization and the slimmed-down bezels around the screen also make the phones feel more modern.
The base iPhone 15 Pro should have started with 256GB storage and limiting the 5x telephoto to just the Max does feel arbitrary but hey Apple is clearly leaving some headroom for next year’s iPhone 16 Pro. Oh and the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus also got some nice updates but Apple is pricing them close to the Pro models as a hidden incentive to go for the more premium devices.
Loser: Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2
The Apple Watch Series has been in a bit of a stagnant state in the last few years and the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 are two of the most incremental updates in recent memory. Both new watches come with the same designs as their predecessors with the marquee features being the updated Apple S9 SiP and Double Tap gesture controls.
To make matters worse, Apple also found itself in a patent dispute which forced it to halt sales of its latest smartwatches just before the Holiday season ended. Our Apple Watch Series 9 review only reaffirms how we feel about Cupertino’s latest wearables and we’ll be waiting to see if things take a turn for the better in 2024.
Winner: Apple M3 chips
The Arm-based M-series chips marked a monumental shift for Apple computers when they launched in 2020 and they’ve naturally evolved to bring more power and greater efficiency over the last three years. The M3 family which launched alongside the 14” and 16” MacBook Pro laptops and all-new 24” iMac brings a big leap in GPU performance with hardware-accelerated mesh shading and Dynamic Caching for demanding apps and games.
You’ll have to spring out for the M3 Pro or M3 Max chips to get noticeable performance gains over the M2 series but then again Apple laptops aren’t cheap to begin with. One thing’s for sure, the M-series chips from Apple are still ahead to their x86 counterparts when it comes to efficiency in day-to-day tasks and the M3 models will stay competitive for years to come.
Loser: Apple in-house 5G modem
After years of development and we can only assume a hefty R&D bill, Apple reportedly abandoned its in-house 5G modem development plans. The goal was simple – cut the reliance on Qualcomm by developing a 5G modem to be used in future iPhones. Apple is Qualcomm’s biggest client to this day accounting for nearly a quarter of the chipmaker’s total revenue.
But how could this be, how could the world’s most valuable company not be able to develop its own modem? Well, modems are arguably the most difficult component to manufacture inside your smartphone and challenging enough even for Apple.
Apple’s expertise from chipset development with its A-series and M-series SoCs could not be carried over to the modem side which according to a detailed Wall Street Journal report Apple’s 5G modem prototypes were at least three years behind Qualcomm’s flagship modem chips. Apple initially planned to have its own 5G modem on this year’s iPhones and later switched its goal to 2024 until it canceled the plans altogether.