By Alex Cequea
When Apple announced the new iPhone 7, they said that making the choice to remove the headphone jack took “Courage.” The word choice and announcement was soundly mocked online, with many dismissing it as hyperbolic and unnecessary.
I’d heard the rumors leading up to the event, and I was genuinely curious as to how they would deliver the announcement. The move looked like textbook Planned Obsolescence to me, and I even helped write an email to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, urging him to take the bold step of prioritizing durability over short-term profits.
Apple has had its share of controversies around sustainability and abusive working conditions in its Chinese manufacturing plants in the past. I know they’ve been taking significant steps to address those issues and become a more sustainable company, but if they want to be truly courageous, here are some things they could tackle right now.
1) Manufacture products in the United States
Moving manufacturing processes out of China and into the US would be an enormous undertaking, especially since Apple has invested so much in streamlining their supply-chain, including making sizeable green investments towards alternative energy sources to power all of their manufacturing plants. Moving the manufacturing to US soil would be expensive, cumbersome, and would make all Apple product lines less profitable. But, if Tim Cook and the rest of the Apple gang want to talk about courage, then there’s nothing more courageous than this.
The positive goodwill Apple would gain from an American-made technology line would be unheard of, and they’d really be walking the walk when it comes to caring about maintaining natural resources, paying fair wages, and putting environmental sustainability first.
2) Move away from design obsolescence
Apple die-hards will point to the fact that Apple products are generally more durable than the competition. And although Apple seems to go through great lengths to limit reparability in their products (through proprietary screws, for example), many tech reviewers still give Apple high marks when it comes to reparability as compared to main competitors like Samsung.
However, the entire business model of coming up with yearly tweaked designs and small incremental upgrades is the exact definition of design obsolescence. It would be unthinkable for Apple to skip a yearly release and instead say, “We actually think last year’s model was pretty good and anything we could have come up with now would not have been significantly better. So, we didn’t. Have a good night everybody!” Yearly models encourage obsolescence and waste, as older models become less desirable and end up discarded and filling up the waste stream. Ending the yearly upgrade cycle would take real guts and courage, and would make a strong statement within the tech industry.
3) Use recycled materials in their products
Most of the components that make up new Apple products are entirely new and need to be produced from scratch. Even though Apple has a robust product recycle program that aims to recover materials from old devices, there’s much more they could do if they truly want to be courageous. Making new devices mostly out of recycled metals and recycled plastic, for example, would be groundbreaking for a tech company of Apple’s size.
4) Make mobile devices with upgradable parts
Google recently killed off a 3-year-old project to create modular phones with reusable and upgradable components. Some critics have speculated that it was because the market demand simply wasn’t there, while others have argued that the move would have hurt Google’s bottom line.
Regardless, a mobile device that can grow with you instead of being replaced every year is a great idea. As technology advances you could replace things like the camera, screen, processor, and batteries. It would be more sustainable from a materials point of view, it would create less waste, and it would reinstate a culture of fixing things instead of chucking “old” gadgets out entirely when you want a new one with a better camera. Companies like Fairphone are already leading the way in mobile modular design, emphasizing reparability over designed obsolescence.
A company like Apple could make it work, but only if they’re courageous enough to take the challenge head on.
The courage to lead
Apple is in a unique position to truly revolutionize how we interact with our mobile devices and technology. Removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 isn’t “courage,” it’s doubling down on a culture that values the newest shiny gadget over durability and sustainability. Although Apple has made huge strides to become a truly sustainable company, if they’re going to use the word “courage,” I’d like to see it happen in a real and significant way.
Alex Cequea is a Freelance Marketing Consultant and the host of a web series called Social Good Now, where he creates short animated videos to highlight social issues. Formerly he was a Marketing Executive at Cisco, and Editor in Chief of iPhone Life magazine and Android Life magazine. Alex has been featured onTEDx Houston, CNN, Time.com, Univision, Fast Company, and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Social Good Now on Facebook.