10 Reasons 2016 Was a Terrible Year for Apple

2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, and for a lot of reasons. It also wasn’t a great year if you’re a fan of Apple. Even though 2016 brought us new products, like the iPhone 7 and the new MacBook Pros, it was actually a pretty terrible year for Apple and for the people who love the iPhone-maker. Here are the reasons why this year wasn’t the best for Cupertino.

1. iPhone sales declined for the first time

Female hands holding new iPhone 6s

iPhone sales were not their best in 2016 | iStock.com/RossHelen

It was in 2016 that Apple’s iPhone sales declined for the first time, and Apple posted its first annual sales decline since 2001. Analysts have long been saying the global smartphone market is saturated, and 2016 demonstrated that even sales of the ever-popular iPhone can’t keep growing forever. As Chris O’Brien reports for VentureBeat, profits were down throughout the year and unit sales of all of Apple’s major products were either down or soft. On the bright side, Apple’s stock is up, which O’Brien cites as evidence of “the underlying faith in Apple’s management and culture, as well as the reservoir of goodwill the company has developed among fans over the past decade as it seemed to routinely dazzle with new products or splashy upgrades.”

2. The MacBook Pro made unnecessary compromises

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar from above

The new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar | Apple

Apple fans this year were incredibly disappointed with the 2016 MacBook Pro models. Apple made unnecessary compromises with this year’s long-awaited upgrades. This had the effect of making the machines less powerful options for creative professionals and more appealing to the general consumer. People are pissed about the MacBook Pro because the new models are underpowered compared to other pro-level laptops and have Thunderbolt ports that require you to stock up on way too many dongles. They also feature a Touch Bar that could prove to be more of a gimmick than a useful feature. Their keyboards are shallow. And the machines aren’t upgradeable, which makes their astronomical prices even more insulting.

3. Apple didn’t upgrade other Macs

Apple Store customer carries a brand new iMac computer

Other Macs didn’t see an upgrade | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you were waiting for big updates to Apple’s Mac lineup in 2016, you were probably pretty disappointed. Apple made a processor upgrade to the 12-inch MacBook, but for the majority of the year, left the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac untouched. Even once Apple introduced new MacBook Pro models, it didn’t say anything about the MacBook Air or the iMac. Which means that if you’ve been thinking about buying one of those machines, you’re probably still waiting around for Apple to introduce something new (and wondering why that didn’t happen in 2016). 

4. The iPhone 7 dropped the headphone jack, and Apple didn’t offer a clear reason why

A Chinese woman tests the new iPhone 7 during the opening sale launch at an Apple store

Many mourned the loss of the headphone jack | Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

One of the most talked about changes both before and after the launch of the iPhone 7 was Apple’s decision to jettison the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. The logic was that the limited space inside the device was better used for other features, like an upgraded camera or a bigger battery. Included with the new iPhone is a pair of Lightning-equipped EarPods and a dongle that enables users to continue using their old headphones. But Apple also wanted users to upgrade to the wireless AirPods. The AirPods are easier to use than the typical Bluetooth set but are expensive, don’t offer great audio quality, and only made it to the Apple Store almost three months after the iPhone 7 launch. 

5. The iPad lineup got overly complicated

Men taking photos of Apple's iPads

Shopping for an iPad is no longer easy | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

If you were shopping for an iPad in 2016, you probably realized pretty quickly that Apple’s iPad lineup has gotten a lot more complicated than would be ideal. As Nathan Ingraham reports for Engadget, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was intended as the successor to the iPad Air 2, but even that isn’t so simple. He explains that “customers can either spend $600 on the 9.7-inch Pro with only 32GB of storage space — or save $100 and buy an Air 2 with double the capacity.” The 9.7-inch iPad Pro also has a better display and better camera than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and “it’s all of a sudden much harder to justify dropping the minimum $800 needed for a 12.9-inch iPad when the smaller one has a better display.” The iPad lineup has gotten confusing, which makes it difficult for customers to figure out which device is right for them.

6. Apple had to scale back its electric car project

Man standing in front of the Apple sign

We could be waiting awhile for an Apple car | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Apple fans responded gleefully to the prospect of an Apple car, whether that rumored vehicle turned out to be autonomous or simply electric. But as Mark Gurman and Alex Webb report for Bloomberg, Apple had to scale back its “titanic plan to take on Detroit” as hundreds of members of the car team were reassigned, let go, or chose to leave of their own volition. The effort, known internally as Project Titan, eventually refocused on building an autonomous driving system that would enable Apple to partner with existing carmakers. The shift came after months of disagreements, leadership changes, and supply chain challenges. 

7. The FBI tried to get Apple to unlock a terror suspect’s iPhone

A customer tries an Apple iPhone SE

Apple stood its ground against the FBI | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Apple’s standoff with the FBI was one of its highest-profile battles in 2016. The agency served Apple with a court order to try to force it to unlock the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shooting. Apple resisted. It argued that complying with the order would constitute a violation of its First Amendment rights. Apple also argued creating software that would enable the FBI to unlock the phone would mean creating a “master key” or backdoor that would be usable to get into other iPhones. The Department of Justice ultimately said it was able to access the phone thanks to a third-party solution, but Apple stood its ground and avoided actively undermining the security of the iPhone. 

8. The European Commission fought Apple over taxes

Apple CEO Tim Cook looks at the new 27-inch iMac with 5K retina display

Apple was in hot water with the European Union | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Another battle that made 2016 a pretty terrible year for Apple was Cupertino’s fight over taxes with the European Union. The European Commission ruled Apple has received favorable tax treatment from the Irish government and ordered the company to pay $14.5 billion dollars in back taxes. Apple has resisted the order and filed an appeal claiming that it is a “convenient target” since any action involving Cupertino generates headlines. Ireland’s Finance Ministry said that the European Commission “misunderstood” the facts of the case and of Irish law, and claimed that “Ireland did not give favorable tax treatment to Apple” since the country “does not do deals with taxpayers.”

9. Apple had to fight Nokia over cellphone patents

A Chinese customer sets up her new iPhone 7 during the opening sale launch at an Apple store

Apple and Nokia were feuding in 2016 | Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

Just to finish out its year, Apple had a major battle to fight with Nokia. Nokia was the world’s biggest cellphone manufacturer until modern smartphones came along and claims that none of those phones would exist without its inventions. So as the New York Times’ Vindu Goel and Mark Scott explain, Apple has paid Nokia a modest royalty for the use of its patents over the past five years. With that deal up to expire, Nokia wanted Apple to continue paying and to license additional patents. After two years of negotiations, the conflict broke into warfare with lawsuits in 11 countries. Apple has claimed the strategy is a conspiracy between Nokia and its patent partners to raise patent prices in violation of federal antitrust law. 

10. President-elect Donald Trump criticized Apple for manufacturing iPhones overseas

The new iPhone 7 smartphone in its box is on display on the day of its release at Covent Garden

Trump wants iPhones made in the U.S. | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Early in 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines by claiming that during a Trump presidency, Apple would make its products in the United States, not in China. The promise made headlines repeatedly. But as Issie Lapowsky reports for Wired, “Forcing Apple to make iPhones in the U.S. would be as logistically impossible as it would be economically disastrous.” Apple reportedly asked its primary manufacturing partners to investigate what it would take to make the iPhone in the U.S. But they found that the cost would more than double.