It's been a tough couple of years for the technology industry and the world. Unfortunately, Apple hasn't been immune to the effects of the pandemic. However, it has managed to navigate unprecedented challenges and continue designing, manufacturing, and shipping its products, software, and services throughout 2020 and 2021.
Unfortunately, the pandemic will linger as we head into 2022, as will its knock-on effects, but Apple has shown it can continue innovating in the face of adversity. And next year looks like it could be a big one for the company.
2021 report card
Despite the pandemic, it's hard to look at 2021 as anything but a success for Apple. While there have clearly been delays to features in iOS and there is unmet demand for its products thanks to supply chain problems, essential products like the iPhone 13 and Apple Watch Series 7 shipped on time, iPhone and Mac software releases landed in their usual slots. Services like Apple Fitness+ and Apple TV+ continued to add content to their exclusive libraries this year.
Apple is one of the very few companies that could afford to move mountains to keep the machine churning, but it hasn't simply been treading water and waiting for the pandemic to end. 2021 brought breakthrough technologies like the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips and significantly redesigned products like the 2021 MacBook Pro and iPad mini 6 hit the market.
"2021 was an excellent year for Apple with a lot of buzz driven by the M1 but also a solid iPhone performance and services business," according to Carolina Milanesi, Founder of The Heart of Tech and President and Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies. "If you consider the supply challenges the whole tech industry faced Apple's performance shines even more."
When you look at the numbers, it's hard to argue that Apple has had anything but a stellar year. Estimates from analyst Neil Cybart of Above Avalon suggest that Apple sold 260 million+ iPhones and 25 million+ Macs, a record high for a 12-month period, while also increasing the Apple Watch's installed base to 100 million users despite challenges in the supply chain, product manufacturing, and staffing. According to Cybart's estimate, Apple also experienced $10 billion of unmet demand in 2021 due to supply chain issues.
If anything, it's Apple's software that has suffered the most in 2021, with tentpole features delayed or still absent heading into 2022. SharePlay, a feature no doubt pushed to the top of the development list because of the pandemic, shipped after many parts of the world had already lifted lockdowns. Universal Control, a hotly-anticipated macOS Monterey feature now won't arrive until spring.
Perhaps Apple in 2022 will use WWDC to switch its emphasis away from its (self-imposed) large, feature-packed annual software releases and towards incremental releases throughout the year. With features regularly missing fall launch timeframes and coming in later point releases, this has been happening by stealth for the last few years regardless.
More of the same, but better
For the last decade, Apple has undoubtedly been a company of patterns. Next year will bring us new iPhone models, an upgraded Apple Watch, a refreshed iPad or two, along with updated software for each. Apple has demonstrated that it can still make this happen like clockwork even at the toughest of times.
In the fall, iPhone 14 will arrive and, of course, it will be the best iPhone to date. There are also rumors pointing to a rugged Apple Watch Series 8, and the iPad Air is the only model in the lineup that didn't get any attention hardware-wise in 2021, so it is a candidate for a refresh.
The Apple silicon transition has been the highlight of 2021 for Six Colors writer and Macworld columnist Dan Moren, and its 2022 completion appears to be a lock. "I'm fully expecting the year to be bookended by an M1 Pro/Max-powered 27-inch iMac in the spring and a bananas top-of-the-line Mac Pro towards the end of the year," he says, with next-gen Mac mini and MacBook Air models being wild cards for next year.
According to Milanesi, the current Mac upgrade cycle should continue to strengthen Apple's share in the premium PC market and allow the company to capture more share in the enterprise market. However, she also sees Apple doubling down on its services business in 2022. "I expect the services business to continue to strengthen from a subscription perspective but also from Apple capitalizing on financing devices through Apple Card," she notes.
For Cybart, attention should be on Apple's wearables next year. "Apple Watch and AirPods would be two product categories worth watching as each have long runways for new features," he argues.
Apple's next big thing
Of course, the big predictions for Apple's 2022 revolve around the rumored Apple AR/VR headest. All three industry experts I spoke to listed this as the most significant announcement we could see in the next twelve months.
With all of the rumors swirling, Moren expects some announcement about the product next year. But, he notes, "The big question for me is how exactly the company will sell it to us—what's the compelling story they're going to tell us about why this is the next big thing?"
AR and VR tech has been around for a while, with a few established players already in the market. And yet, nothing has broken into the mainstream. So this is when Apple usually chooses to enter a market, raise its overall profile, and produce a better product by learning from the mistakes of those there first. According to Moren, for Apple, its announcement will be a moment where it puts a stake in the ground and lays out where the company is going over the next several years.
Milanesi shares that sentiment and thinks that Apple's AR/VR product is poised to take on those already on the market. "I expect the AR glasses we all expect at the end of the year to grab a lot of attention and, despite volumes being limited to start with, still pass any other AR/VR product sales achieved so far by any given brand," she predicts.
Cybart also thinks Apple's mixed reality headset would be the most prominent announcement of the year should it make its debut, though he would also like to see Apple use 2022 to unleash more of the Apple Watch's potential. "Earlier this year, it was hard to shake the feeling that Apple missed a big opportunity at WWDC to push Apple Watch even further than it already has," he says.
According to Milanesi, an increase in the number of health studies utilizing the Apple Watch could help cement the device's place as a health device instead of simply being a fitness tracker. We've already seen Apple undertake heart, hearing, and menstruation studies using Apple Watch. It has also expanded the Health Records feature within the Health app in the last couple of years. So the area is of great importance to the company and may be more so in the future.
The smart home is another area where Apple has invested significant resources but has yet to crack. A tremendously over-engineered HomePod missed the mark in 2018, and the Apple TV has never really hit the heady heights of Apple's other hero products. Nevertheless, Moren remains hopeful that Apple will take another swing at the living room. "In particular I want them to revamp the Apple TV, maybe build in some of the HomePod mini's best features, and add a video-conferencing option," he adds.
The Matter smart home standard is slated to roll out in 2022 with the first devices gaining certification. However, it remains to be seen just how committed Apple is to the interoperability it is designed to enable and how much special sauce it will reserve for HomeKit-specific devices. Nevertheless, the fact that Apple is on board as a member of the Connectivity Standard Alliance should give Apple users hope. "This could be the thing that makes smart home tech really take off, and I'd like Apple to be at the forefront," Moren states.
Wait and see
As with all things Apple, nothing is official until Tim Cook et al. say it is. We'll likely be waiting until at least the spring before we see any major product announcements from Apple in 2022 so, until then, we can continue speculating, hoping, and dreaming.
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Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.