Apple talks a lot about the environment and its sustainability measures.
The company is quick to point out “the environment” on each new product release and it markets every product on its website in terms of environmental impact. Customers are also told how Apple products are “good for the planet.”
Apple has a whole section on its website dedicated to the environment. This page has a lot of green on it, along with cartoonish depictions of trees and planet Earth, just to show us how serious the company is about all things green.
But there are things that Apple isn’t telling us about.
Apple is actively working to curtail the lifespan of products by making them unduly hard to repair, charging uneconomical repair prices, and locking out third parties from being able to offer more reasonable repairs.
Apple isn’t happy that you bought something. Apple wants you to buy more things.
Apple is designing obsolescence into its products, and that’s unquestionably not good for the planet.
And nowhere do we see this practice as clearly — and nowhere does the planet feel it the most — than when it comes to the iPhone.
Apple’s vision for the lifecycle of the iPhone must go something like this:
“You buy it, then use it until it breaks or the battery wears out, and then you buy another one.”
Sure, there’s some blurring around the edges with warranties and extremely expensive repairs, but the main event in the equation is selling a product and then following that up by selling another.
And that’s clear in the design (remember, the design that Apple said was good for the planet).
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Take the back glass on the iPhone.
Why would a company like Apple build a device where the back glass — essentially a cosmetic feature — costs hundreds of dollars to repair if it breaks (something that glass is renowned for doing)?
Yes, hundreds of dollars.
If you break that, and you don’t have AppleCare+, then you’re paying the “other damage” fee, which for the newer iPhones range from $399 for the iPhone 13 mini to a whopping $599 for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
And this isn’t because parts for newer handsets are more expensive. The “other damage” fee for the iPhone XS Max is also $599.
A number of third-party repair shops now have a laser glass remover, thus making this repair quicker and easier, but it strikes me that Apple designed the iPhone in such a way as to make repairs as expensive and as difficult as possible, pushing users towards purchasing AppleCare+ warranty or buying a new phone when they break theirs.
Repairs are priced in a way to elbow people towards buying a new device.
And that negates all the progress Apple has made in other areas such as recycling and renewable energy.
Good for the bottom line, but not good for the planet. Or, for that matter, customers.
And it’s not just big repairs that are complex. What should be simple, routine repairs — such as battery replacements — have become needlessly complicated.
Replacing an item that Apple itself describes as a “consumable” component should be straightforward and routine.
And to top that off, if users want to replace their own battery (or choose a non-Apple endorsed third-party repairer), they’ll be plagued until the end of time by an ominous warning message that Apple is unable to verify that the battery is genuine — even if we 100 percent know it’s genuine because, say, it came out of another iPhone.
The only way around this is — yes, you guessed it — to pay Apple money.
If Apple is genuinely losing money on repairs — as the company told the US House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust back in 2019 — you’d think it would welcome third-party repairs.
And spoiler, even if it is true that Apple loses money on repairs, the company isn’t losing money when it comes to AppleCare warranties, and definitely not losing money if the obstacles it puts in the way of repairs ultimately push people to buy a new handset.
These warnings aren’t limited to the battery, where there may be a legitimate concern — albeit a small one — related to quality and the fear that a third-party battery could go up in smoke and everyone would blame Apple.
Components such as the display and camera modules are also tied to the device, and replacing these not only generates warnings but also kills some features such as Face ID.
You don’t own your iPhone. Not really. Apple is letting you borrow it, and if you break anything, or you own it long enough for the battery to wear out, you have to pay Apple to fix it for you.
It’s more like a lease.
Apple is a multibillion-dollar corporation, and you don’t become a multibillion-dollar corporation by being nice. But Apple does get a lot of things right — privacy protection being one — and it’s disheartening to see Apple’s leadership fail so spectacularly when it comes to the fundamentals of caring for the environment.
Recycle. Reduce. Reuse.
Apple sells some 200 million iPhones a year. Placed end-to-end, they would form a chain that would go three-quarters of the way around the globe (around 30,000 kilometers).
That’s a lot of product.
Add in all the iPhones sold so far, and that’s a big pile of electronic waste that the planet is going to have to absorb.
And that’s why it’s important that Apple does its bit to aid the reuse of old iPhones by making them repairable, which would, in turn, reduce the number of iPhones needed.
Yes, Apple might very well sell fewer iPhones, but since I’m sharing the planet with Apple, I think that selling fewer iPhones in exchange for better sustainability is a good trade.
That’s the “reduce” bit that Apple doesn’t want you to think about.
Apple could lead the way in sustainable products and influence other companies to follow suit, but instead, it chooses to greenwash unsustainable practices.
And that’s a real shame.