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Apple set to step up product launches in 2022

After a modest set of device launches in 2021, Apple Inc. is set for a stronger 2022—with new iPhones, AirPods and potentially a VR headset. Also: The company gives top engineers bonuses of up to $180,000 and imposes new limitations on New York City stores in response to the omicron surge.

The starters
By revenue, 2021 was the most successful year in Apple’s history. But while its product lineup had some solid additions—namely the new MacBook Pro—it wasn’t a smash hit year of introductions. That will change in 2022.

Let’s recap last year’s product releases, which started out in April with AirTags, the new Apple TV, iPad Pros and iMac:

  • The AirTag had been discussed for years before its introduction, and while it makes a nice stocking stuffer, it’s no game-changer and arrived years after rivals like Tile.
  • As I’ve written before, the Apple TV is pricier than the competition, but behind in functionality. I’ve been using the latest model since its release, and while I find the remote to be a massive improvement, I do think Apple should have jumped to an A13 or A14 chip. The A12 chip in the newest version will sometimes lag.
  • The iPad Pro is essentially a spec-bumped version of the 2020 iPad Pro, having moved from the A12z chip to the M1 processor. The chip is designed to be 50% faster than its predecessor, and the device is a significant improvement in terms of fluidity and day-to-day operation.
  • The 24-inch iMac’s design, meanwhile, is an engineering marvel. It’s essentially a gigantic iPad Pro—with the same processor, no touch screen and macOS. I do think the M1 chip might not be fast enough long-term for heavy-duty users, however.
  • In June, Apple had a fairly subdued Worldwide Developers Conference. It was no comparison to the prior year, when the company announced its own Mac chips and a redesigned macOS. Instead, the latest conference ushered in iOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS Monterey—with several changes, but none that stood out individually.

September is when Apple typically brings out its most important products, including new versions of the iPhone and Apple Watch. This past year also delivered a new iPad mini.

  • The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro line got the job done. But the changes were modest: a slightly faster processor, better camera and new software touches like Cinematic mode. It was all just enough to tide over the market until 2022’s iPhone 14 arrives.
  • The iPad mini was the biggest update in the history of the product and, from an external hardware perspective, is an awesome device. But I am not a fan of the software. The iPad mini, in my testing, has felt janky to use, and the icons and other touch targets are often too small.
  • I am a fan of the Apple Watch Series 7. Its increased display size and built-in qwerty keyboard are major improvements. If you’re on an Apple Watch Series 3 or 4 and intend to stay in the ecosystem, this may be the time to upgrade. It’s unfortunate, though, that these improvements didn’t come alongside a snappier processor, new case options or added health sensors.

Apple saved its best new product of 2021 for last: the new MacBook Pro.

  • I’m extremely impressed with this new laptop. I appreciate the speed, battery life and MagSafe charging—and its addition by subtraction: the removal of the Touch Bar. The HDMI port has also been handy in my workflow.
  • The new AirPods aren’t much to write home about, but they were a much-needed upgrade since the second-generation AirPods were released a whopping 2 1/2 years ago. The HomePod mini was even less notable, simply getting updated with yellow, blue and orange color options.
  • This year should be a lot stronger. The company has a bevy of new pro Macs in the works based on the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips that are already inside the MacBook Pro. That includes a smaller Mac Pro with up to 40 CPU cores and 128 graphics cores, a new Mac mini and a large-screened iMac Pro. I’d expect Apple to finish announcing its transition to its own silicon from Intel chips as early as June at WWDC 2022.

Also look out for the biggest MacBook Air redesign in the product’s history, an updated entry-level MacBook Pro, and a new iPad Pro with wireless charging. Given that the performance of the iPad Pro is already so strong, and that the M2 chip is still a bit far away from launch, I wonder if Apple will stick with the M1 or wait for the M2.

Speaking of Macs and iPads, I’m hoping Apple’s next external monitor—destined to be about half the price of the Pro Display XDR—launches in the coming year.

In terms of phones and watches, look for a 5G version of the iPhone SE in the first half of the year, along with a revamped iPhone 14 range with a hole-punch-sized notch in the fall. Also in the works are three new Apple Watches: a new SE, a Series 8 and a rugged version aimed at extreme-sports enthusiasts.

In terms of software, it’s a bit too early to tell which new features in the works will ultimately launch. We’re still about six to seven months removed from the next WWDC, and decisions about which features to include aren’t typically settled until the spring.

So look out for more news about iOS 16 (codenamed Sydney) and macOS 13 (codenamed Rome) in the coming months.

The holy grail for 2022, of course, will be if Apple announces its first virtual reality headset (with some AR features), codenamed N301, and its accompanying rOS, codenamed Oak. But the timeline for that product has slipped before. Apple originally targeted 2020, and then WWDC 2021 and then WWDC 2022 for a debut. Stay tuned.

The bench
Apple gives top talent bonuses of up to $180,000 to not flee for Meta. In recent months, Apple engineers have been leaving for Meta Platforms Inc., formerly Facebook, which has offered larger salaries and more work-from-home flexibility. What’s Apple doing to stop the brain drain? Issuing unusual restricted stock unit bonuses to about 10% to 20% of engineers within its hardware and silicon engineering divisions.

I’ve heard from Apple engineers who received the incentives (which came on top of their normal annual base salaries, stock grants and cash bonuses), and the valuations have ranged from just under $50,000 to $180,000.

The packages are designed to keep folks around, since they vest 25% annually for four years after they’re issued this month. Will that stop the departures? Only time will tell, but I’m keeping a close eye on the widening battle between Cupertino and Menlo Park, California.

Apple closes New York City stores to shoppers, then reopens them with limits. Last Sunday, Apple quietly closed its major New York City retail outlets, including its iconic Fifth Avenue location, its store in SoHo, and its location on the Upper West Side. It’s not unusual for the company to temporarily shut locations these days (the Covid-19 resurgence has forced it to close dozens), but it tried something different this time: Customers could still order products online and pick them up. No in-store browsing was allowed, and the Genius Bar was closed.

Apple faced some pushback from customers, who said they needed to be able to use the stores—especially during the tail end of the holiday season. So now the NYC stores are open for a limited number of shoppers at a time. In any case, employees probably appreciate the smaller crowds. Several Apple retail staffers have shared their fears with me about working in packed stores during the omicron surge.

The schedule
Jan. 3-7: CES goes on despite a slew of big companies staying home. The annual CES technology show in Las Vegas is slated to begin this week, despite major players like Inc., Meta, Google, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and T-Mobile US Inc. pulling out of attending in-person because of the omicron variant. Still, you should expect to see news from some of those companies in the coming days. Bloomberg

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