Apple has yet to take e-waste seriously
The iPhone has now become one of the most irreparable phones on the market. If the company cares about greenhouse emissions, it should start fixing that.
On October 13, Apple confirmed the internet rumors and removed the charging brick and the headphones from the phone’s box. The reduction of e-waste and shipping greenhouse emissions should bring the company a step closer to accomplishing their carbon neutral target.
I can’t shake the feeling that this is just good marketing to grow the company’s profit margin. Yes, I still use my charging brick I bought with my iPhone 6, 5 years ago, so there is some truth. For people who update their iPhones regularly, the cut of charging bricks and headphones does add up. But is that enough?
What about the iPhone?
Now that the headphones and wall bricks waste was tackled, what about the elephant in the room? The iPhone has a reputation for difficult third party interventions, but it is somewhat manageable. With iPhone 12, Apple took the game to a whole new level. Now, you can’t even switch components from one iPhone to another, as demonstrated here by Hugh Jeffreys.
According to Apple’s 2019 financial report, the iPhone is responsible for 55% of the company’s revenue. Last year they sold 185 million iPhones according to Wedbush Securities. This means that 185 million iPhones (or some other smartphone) are discarded by their users each year.
In 2018 Apple has recycled or refurbished 9 million devices. What about the rest? Most of them ended up in landfills.
Apple is a trendsetter. When they removed the headphone jack, soon other manufacturers followed. They pushed the wide adoption of USB-C, the Qi wireless charging standard, and many other things. Imagine what would happen if Apple would push into making their phones repair friendly.
For years the iPhone evolution has been incremental. The time when people stood for days in line to get their hands on a brand new iPhone are gone. For 2021 we expect slightly better cameras and display, improved chips, and maybe 1 hour of extra battery life. Sounds familiar? Now imagine the next keynote is on a company shift towards service-friendly phones. Throw in some numbers on the carbon footprint reduction and how the iPhone life will expand beyond 7 years.
In the future that could mean lower iPhone sales as fewer people upgrade, but it should increase the iOS install base. It also decreases the risk that the user’s next phone will not be an iPhone. Look at the telecom industry. Companies know that they can’t offer a service that is drastically better compared to their competitors, so they try to sell you longer contracts. Longer contracts mean lower chances of switching carriers.
A larger install base means more people are likely to buy a subscription from Apple. The company has evolved from iCloud and iTunes to a plethora of services. In the long run, this is the next logical move.
It’s not easy when you have control issues
Apple has a long track record when it comes to controlling their hardware and software. For years their products have become increasingly more difficult to service without Apple authorization. The iOS has a lot of limitations when compared to Android in terms of customization and third-party plug-ins. “This is how we make sure that our products are safe” is the most used reason. That might be true if you have access to an Apple service.
What if you live outside the Apple cover area? Or if the nearest official repair shop is hours away? Aren’t those trips increasing our carbon footprint?
The solution is simple. Apple Authorized repairs shops. Prepare documentation, video training, and authorize repair shops all over the world. There will be issues, there will be problems with wrongly serviced devices, but as Steve Jobs once said:
Some mistakes will be made along the way. That’s good. Because some decisions are being made along the way. We’ll find the mistakes. We’ll fix them. — Steve Jobs
But the company has to start from somewhere.
The iPhone has a long life reputation when compared with Android devices. The company has shown a tremendous capacity to push the industry in new directions. If Apple would push in this direction, the others would follow as nobody wants to be left behind.
So why not take service seriously?