2022 will be remembered for the introduction of the Mac Studio and Apple Watch Ultra, but there were plenty of other smaller moves that had just as big of an impact. Apple introduced some major new features across its devices this year that will make a major difference in how we use our devices for years to come—for better or worse. Here are five features picked by the Macworld staff that
Action button, Apple Watch Ultra
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Apple designs tend to evolve at a glacial speed, and it wasn’t until the Apple Watch’s eighth generation that the notoriously koumpounophobic company saw fit to add a second button (or a third, if you’re the kind of pedant who counts the pressable Digital Crown). Bright orange and positioned on the previously unblemished lefthand edge, the new Action button was calculated to make an impact.
But what sort of impact? Uncharacteristically, Apple allowed customers to decide what the new orange Action button was for. You can pick a function from a list that includes turning on the flashlight, starting a workout or stopwatch, dropping a waypoint, and activating the siren. Or turn it off entirely: it’s up to you.
That list of functions remains small (just seven for now), and those of us who were used to resting our thumbs on the left edge of the watch found ourselves pressing the Action button by accident quite a lot. But both factors will improve in the future, as users grow accustomed to the new layout and Apple and third-party developers come up with more actions that will suit the button.
For now, the Action button is confined to the Ultra model, whose higher price tag it helps to justify. But the potential applications are so appealing that we hope it’ll appear on the Series 9 in late 2023. As an expression of usability over elegance, and of openness to user customization, it’s the sort of action we’d like to see more of.
Continuity Camera, macOS Ventura
Continuity Camera is a fix for a problem that was Apple’s own doing and in many ways, it is years late—at least three at any rate since it’s something we’ve all needed since the beginning of the pandemic. By allowing Mac users to use their iPhone’s camera, rather than the inadequate FaceTime camera installed in most Macs, Apple is finally giving Mac users access to a decent camera while they take part in video calls.
Thanks to Continuity Camera in macOS Ventura, Mac users no longer need to be embarrassed by the poor quality video being streamed from their Macs, and Mac mini or Studio owners who lack a webcam can use their iPhone instead. With an iPhone as your Mac webcam you can also benefit from Center Stage support, which follows you as you move around, Portrait Mode to blur an untidy background, and better lighting. You can also use the Ultra Wide camera on your iPhone to show what’s on your desk using Desk View.
It’s all very groundbreaking and magical, although we still hope Apple will upgrade its built-in webcams so the Continuity Camera solution isn’t neeeded forever. But for now—and in the foreseeable future, Apple has upgraded every Mac with the best webcam on the planet.
Dynamic Island, iPhone 14 Pro
Since it debuted with the iPhone X, the notch on the top of the iPhone has been a tolerated necessity. And when Apple replaced it with a smaller pill-shaped cutout for the iPhone 14 Pro, its floating nature made it stand out even more. But Apple was able to transform the notch from a tolerated necessity to a fully embraced one thanks to the Dynamic Island, which now makes the notch a vital user interface element.
When you first use the Dynamic Island, it simply makes sense–by itself, the notch draw attention, so why not take advantage of it instead of letting it just sit there? Having notifications, alerts, and activity controls appear on and around it feels natural and makes the iPhone easier to use. The Dynamic Island is simple yet profound, and the type of magical development we’ve come to expect from Apple.
Lock Screen, iOS 16
Lewis Painter / Foundry
It’s 2022 and we’re only just now getting the ability to customize the Lock Screen on our iPhones. That notion is kind of absurd if you’ve been following the world of Android phones at all, but here we are.
When Apple finally unlocked the Lock Screen for us, it didn’t dip its toe in–it dove head first. There are lots of wallpaper choices, including smart dynamic options. Widgets are plentiful, both for Apple’s apps and third-party offerings, thanks to a wise decision to make them so similar to Apple Watch complications. You can adjust the font on the clock and even have several options for the way notifications are displayed. And while it’s disappointingly only available on the iPhone 14 Pro models, the always-on display makes all those customizations and widgets even more valuable.
The Lock Screen is the first thing you see when you pick up your iPhone (or with an always-on display, it’s what you always see). It’s one of those things that literally touches every user. Apple is years late to letting us customize more than your wallpaper, but now that the gates are open, it will forever change our relationship with our iPhones.
Stage Manager, iPad Air and iPad Pro
Lewis Painter / Foundry
If there was one feature that defined Apple’s 2022, it has to be Stage Manager. Announced at WWDC as part of iPadOS 16, it appeared to be the answer to the iPad’s biggest question: How do you multitask on an iPad?
Unfortunately, the answer is: Not great. At least not yet. Stage Manager is definitely ambitious, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. It arrived late with iOS 16.1 to presumably fix some issues but was still barely ready for prime time. It’s buggy, it stutters, it’s not very intuitive, and it doesn’t really bring much of an upgrade over the existing multitasking options.
But for all its faults, Stage Manager is a groundbreaking feature and a huge step for multitasking on the iPad. Available only for the highest-end iPads, it’s not just a work in progress, but a peek at Apple’s vision for a post-iPad productivity machine. It’s the first time Apple has truly embraced multi-display setups on the iPad and truly differentiated its flagship models from the rest of the line.
At some point, the Mac and the iPad will merge into a single device that offers the best of both worlds, so it’s no coincidence that Stage Manager is also available for the Mac. Apple wants users of both machines to learn the interface as it works behind the scenes to create the next big thing, whatever it may be. The growing pains will be felt for a while, but Stage Manager is the future of productivity on the tablet.