April 09, 2010

iPads are like toilet paper

What an iPad (and iPhone) has in common with toilet paper:
  1. easy to use touch interface
  2. it gets dirty during use
  3. it doesn't last long
  4. it is disposed of when you no longer want to use it
Hold on, don't stop reading yet. Give me a chance to explain:
In a way, it is entirely true, especially the part about iPads being just as disposable as toilet paper. All of Apple's iProducts can be used until the internal battery that you can't replace (well, you technically can, but normal users won't be able to) can no longer hold its charge anymore (it doesn't last long). But even before the battery dies, you will feel that your iProduct is becoming of less use sooner than you think. It will become old and obsolete sooner than its battery and you find you no longer want to use it anymore.

It is the effect of a brilliant and broadly applied business strategy: produce things people want and will want to replace with newer versions before they actually become useless. A profitable business is a business where you are able to sell something lots and lots of times. The best products are the ones people use and
dispose of, such as toilet paper, shaving knives, tooth brushes. Car vendors usually try to apply this strategy, and also most vendors of consumer electronics. So Apple isn't really being exceptionally evil in this respect. They're all guilty.

People have also been calling Apple evil because of their over-protectiveness with respect to their technology. Apple is often accused of being too closed, and of obstructing the spreading of open standards. I believe that Apple "just" wants to make sure that the quality of the products is as high as we have come to expect. Apple stuff usually looks good and works great out of the box (even that box looks great). Applications for the iPhone and iPad have to go through a strict process of approval before they can be offered on the App Store. Apple wants to control the whole chain: from hardware design and production to software design and production, including third party software. And they are obviously very successful at that.

Accusations such as mentioned above often surface around successful businesses. Apple started out as everybody's hero, but now they're a dominant player, they are suddenly evil. That's just how it goes. Admiration turns into envy and suspicion. It happened to Microsoft, and it is now happening to Google too. Trust seems to be inversely proportional to size and success. But that is somewhat besides my point.

My point is that Apple produces disposable technology. And since Apple products are very fashionable and have moved into the domain of luxury goods such as watches and jewels, people are subtly urged to always have the latest model. I am curious about the environmental impact of this all. How bad is it that we are disposing of technology that is still perfectly usable? By what numbers does this happen? Is it even a problem at all? What is the ecological footprint of an iPhone, or an iPad? To what extend can their parts be reused?

Humor me.

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