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The 3 biggest gambles Apple made in 2022 — and how they paid off

As 2022 starts to wind down, it’s a good time to take a moment and reflect on how wild this year has been, especially in the world of tech. Specifically for Apple, this was one of the more interesting years because it took some risks with this year’s releases.

For the most part, it has paid off. But of course, while some of Apple’s experiments worked out, others certainly raised some eyebrows. It’s been a weird one, for sure, so let’s take a closer look at what worked and what didn’t.

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No one expected Dynamic Island, but it’s absolutely delightful

The iPhone 14 Pro Max and its Dynamic Island.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Before the iPhone 14 Pro was announced, there were plenty of rumors saying that the device was going to have a pill-and-hole cutout to replace the antagonized notch — and, yes, that did come to fruition. However, what came as a surprise was how that bit of hardware would so seamlessly blend in with iOS 16, thus creating the Dynamic Island.

The Dynamic Island consists of pill-and-hole-shaped cutouts on the front glass screen that house the front-facing selfie camera and Face ID sensors. But while the Dynamic Island is idle, the software makes it looks like one elongated pill cutout. Its appearance fluidly changes depending on what you’re doing.

For example, it can show the art for the album or podcast that you’re listening to, along with an equalizer to indicate it’s playing. It can show you how much time is remaining on your current timer, stretch out to indicate an incoming call, show you the fun Face ID animation instead of it covering the middle of the screen, and more. You can even interact with the Dynamic Island element to bring up audio playback controls, jump into the app, and have two apps can make use of it at once, when it will appear as a separated pill and hole cutout.

The Pixel Pals app on an iPhone 14 Pro Max. A digital cat is chasing a red ball on top of the Dynamic Island.
Look at my little guy chasing his ball Joe Maring/Digital Trends

With iOS 16.1, developers have been able to use the Dynamic Island for their own apps. You can now have your own little pixelated pet hanging out in the Dynamic Island, get real-time sports scores with the new Live Activities API, check precipitation forecasts with Carrot Weather, and more. It’s been fun seeing what developers have been coming up with when it comes to making use of the Dynamic Island specifically for their own apps.

Dynamic Island is one of the best new features that Apple has come up with.

Dynamic Island is one of the big standout features that differentiates the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max from the standard iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, with the latter two phones retaining the notch. Though it’s something that we didn’t see coming (there were zero leaks or rumors of such a feature), it’s one of the best new features that Apple has come up with, even though it was a risk (especially with such a silly name). It’s so popular that an Android developer has created a utility app that brings a Dynamic Island tool to Android devices.

Of course, Android developers can copy the premise of Dynamic Island, but it may not be as whimsical as Apple’s actual Dynamic Island. But this was a risk that really paid off, and perhaps we can see such functionality on future Android devices.

Expanding into uncharted territory with Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra with the Apple Watch Series 8 and Watch SE 2.
Apple Watch SE 2 (from left), Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch Ultra Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While we’ve come to expect an upgrade for the Apple Watch every year, Apple did things a little differently in 2022. Sure, we got the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE 2 this year, but we also got the brand new Apple Watch Ultra. It was long rumored that Apple was working on a more “rugged” Apple Watch, and the Ultra is the result.

Though it was designed for those who participate in more “extreme” activities like deep-sea diving, mountain climbing, and long-distance running, the Apple Watch Ultra is an Apple Watch that anyone can appreciate. It’s made with lightweight titanium, so it has incredible durability without getting in the way, and the large 49mm display makes it easy to see — no matter what conditions you’re in. Plus, it’s the only Apple Watch that can last more than a single day, providing 36 hours of use (or 60 hours with Low Power Mode in watchOS 9).

The Apple Watch Ultra is Apple’s first foray into the rugged smartwatch market, competing with the likes of Garmin, Samsung, Casio, and more. Even though it was made specifically for extreme athletes, the Apple Watch Ultra has mainstream appeal because of other factors — like the larger display, titanium material, and long battery life. Even the customizable Action Button, which by default will put the watch into Workout mode, opens up a whole new world of possibilities of what you can do on an Apple Watch.

What’s going on with the iPad lineup?

The iPad (2022) in its yellow color.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple released three new iPad models in 2022: the iPad Air (5th generation), iPad (10th generation), and two new iPad Pro options. Despite the fact that Apple brought some much-needed upgrades to the base model iPad, decisions were also made that left the rest of us scratching our heads.

The 10th-generation iPad has finally ditched the Lightning port for USB-C, gotten rid of the Home button, and went with a full-screen display design like the iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro. The rear camera has also been bumped up to 12MP from 8MP, so if you need to take pictures, they should turn out pretty good.

One of the biggest changes lies with the front-facing camera. Instead of being at the top of the tablet in portrait (vertical) orientation, it is now on the right side, which would be the top if you have the iPad in landscape (horizontal) orientation. This is common when using a keyboard case or any other case that can prop the iPad up in landscape orientation, which is probably the most commonly used method. If you’re taking video calls for work or virtual family gatherings, it just makes sense to have the camera here.

Joe Maring using the front-facing camera on the iPad Pro (2022).
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

However, Apple also released the M2 iPad Pro at the same time as the base-level iPad, and oddly enough, the front-facing camera on the Pro models remains at the top in a vertical orientation. So, even though Apple has brought the entry-level iPad in line with the others in terms of design, it still stands out like a sore thumb with the landscape-oriented front-facing camera.

I believe that Apple should transition to having the front camera in landscape on all of the iPad models, because that’s the orientation that we tend to use anyways, so the decision to leave it off of the iPad Pro is very odd. Perhaps it’s because the Apple Pencil magnetically attaches to that side for charging, but still, it’s not like the Pencil is on top of the actual bezel.

The iPad (2022) with an Apple Pencil plugged into it using a USB-C cable and adapter.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Speaking of Apple Pencil, even though the basic iPad moved to USB-C for charging, Apple decided to make it only support the first-generation Apple Pencil — rather than the much-improved second iteration. And the first-generation Apple Pencil charges via Lightning, so the end result is a required USB-C to Lightning adapter cable, which looks horrendous. Apple should have just killed off the first-generation Apple Pencil by making the iPad work with the Apple Pencil 2 instead. Oh, and did I forget to mention that you can’t use the Apple Pencil while it’s charging with that ridiculous-looking adapter cable?

And we haven’t even talked about the price increase for the base model iPad. Going from $329 to $449 means it’s no longer the best budget iPad you can buy. Anyone looking for something more capable might as well spend more on the iPad Air 5, which has an M1 chip instead of the A14 Bionic, a laminated display, and support for the Apple Pencil 2.

Apple took more risks than usual, and it mostly paid off

The iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

It’s been an interesting year for Apple with all of the risks that it took, with some being more successful than others. The Dynamic Island was something that we were definitely not expecting, but it’s become one of the best features of the iPhone 14 Pro. And despite being marketed primarily for extreme sports enthusiasts, the Apple Watch Ultra is just the beginning for larger and longer-lasting Apple Watches with even more capabilities.

But Apple has also stumbled with some of its risks this year, too. The base-level iPad got some much-needed upgrades, but those same features did not reach the iPad Pro models. And seriously, another adapter cable for the Apple Pencil? It just shows that while Apple can have some hits in terms of products and features, it will most certainly have some misses as well.

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