If Apple won’t deliver on hardware, then it will have to on software
As 2022 proves challenging, the company needs to adapt and step up its game — how?
Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2022 is just around the corner - less than a day away, actually - and, just like every June of years past, speculation is running rampant on the Web about what the company is planning — and isn’t planning — on revealing during this event. There is a notable difference regarding this particular WWDC, though: it will be happening under circumstances that are less than ideal for Apple, in a context that is not about software alone. Yes, although WWDC has traditionally been about iOS, macOS, iPadOS etc. the company has taken that opportunity to show off some new hardware too over the years.
This time, though, it seems that Apple will have to follow a more balanced, careful approach — and the way its executives will choose to do that may very well shape the company’s public image over the next few years.
Problems catch up, strategies change
The reasons behind all of this are simple and not at all unusual these days: manufacturing problems and mass production instability. A number of reports from different sources, practically confirming each other, point to Apple finally being hit by the same problems every other tech company (even non-tech companies!) seems to be having over the last two years: extensive COVID restrictions in manufacturing facilities in Asia, delays upon delays of delivering chips in volume, slow progress in new nodes testing, low yields in difficult processes… the list goes on.
The Cupertino giant certainly deserves credit for the amazing feat of avoiding these issues for more than 18 months: it was Tim Cook’s legendary control over Apple’s supply chain and the company’s dominant market position that shielded it for this long. But problems have inevitably caught up and now it seems that we’ll be having an Apple year that is quite different from past ones.
All evidence points to the company’s next computer chip, the M2 processor, being only a small step forward in terms of performance and efficiency compared to the current M1 processor: not only will it be based on the same architecture, but it will also be built through the same manufacturing process (node) offering precious little advantages as a result. Since the A16, Apple’s next processor for iPhones and iPads, is built in the same factories following the same processes, this chip is also expected to not be anywhere near as impressive an upgrade over the A15 as the previous chips have been.
Supply chain sources and several media outlets believe that the aforementioned computer processor is more like an “M1 Plus” than a true M2 chip and that the actual next-gen chip (the one built on a new process with all the benefits of performance and efficiency that entails) will be the M3 at some point in 2023. This does not mean that Apple will not still call the new chip “M2”, if only for marketing purposes.
As for the A16 — which will only be found in the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max, let us not forget — that is expected to be as powerful as it needs to be in order to properly control the new 48-Megapixel camera of those models, but not much more than that. As with the M2, the A16 can work as a marketing tool for Apple but it will probably not mark a notable step forward for the famous processor line.
Can software save the day and… how?
Assuming that all of the above turn out to be true — and, based on past experience, they probably will — Apple is taking a risk. By playing it safe in the hardware side of things in 2022, so it can deliver its products in the timeframe and volume it needs to, the company may end up giving the impression that no real progress has been made this year on several fronts, including its smartphone, mainstream computer and tablet lines.
It wouldn’t be an inaccurate assessment either: if the new iPhone, MacBook Air and iPad Pro models do not offer any clear advantages over their predecessors, then it’s just new customers they will be attracting in 2022 and most of 2023. Upgraders will not be nearly as many as in years past because most of those will choose to wait for the next, meaningfully better models to appear. It would only be fair after all.
That is why Apple pretty much needs to deliver on the software side of things this year. It’s not that people won’t notice if the company is practically recycling older hardware, of course — it’s just that, if Apple does offer enough new features and functionality with every new version of its operating systems and key apps, 2022 will not seem like a stagnant, lost year overall. The operative word in the previous statement is “offer”, though, not just “announce” (as has happened with a number of impressive software features and functions of Apple products in the past).
The first problem is that — in order to achieve this — Apple will have to do more, much more on the software front than what it usually delivers every year. This will not be easy (assuming that the company is not out of ideas as it seems to be) and rumors doing the rounds on the Web so far suggest that all we can expect is stuff already implemented on other platforms.
The second problem is that — historically speaking, at least — whenever Apple tried to offer a number of new features or extended functionality or both with the newest versions of its operating systems, those versions’ overall quality suffered at launch. The last thing Apple customers want, though, is another wave of troublesome operating systems for their devices that need dozens of updates or patches in order to work as intended.
So will the company be able to find a balance between all these requirements and all these expectations software-wise? Can it truly deliver on that front? Only a few days to discover what Apple’s promises are and a couple of months — until the first beta versions of its main OSes appear — to find out if they can be kept. Not long, now!