A few weeks ago, my iPad suffered a premature death. For my beloved tablet, it wasn’t a crash that did it, but an update that sealed its fate. Or rather, the lack of updates. In fact, it wasn’t even dead yet, but Apple left me no choice but to replace it. The fact that my iPad was running on iOS7 didn’t really matter, until now. My cable television provider decided (in connivance with Apple?) to discontinue its iPad application that allowed me to watch my favourite television programmes, whilst my 12-year-old was killing “mister Bad Guy” on GTA5 (or was it the other way around?). That’s a Play-Station game, for those of you not born yesterday. Being a naive romantic and dreamer, I listened to the message I received on the touchscreen telling me, “the Horizon application has been discontinued, to be replaced by Ziggo. Press on the icon to download the latest version of Ziggo.” How could I resist such a kind invitation? It turned out to be a poisoned chalice, however, because once the new application was downloaded, the dreaded message I had come across once or twice before appeared: “This application requires iOS8 or higher”. That was the last straw, and my iPad’s time was up, after less than 5 years loyal service. Now, my 5th generation iPad is equipped with the latest iOS and all applications are running like clockwork, including Ziggo. The only downside is that my wallet is 500 euros lighter than it was not too long ago.
You might well ask, “Why didn’t you just update to iOS8?” Well, the truth of the matter is that when iOS8 was “forced” upon us, I had read so many nightmarish stories on the net, about iPads not functioning after the update, or crawling along the net at snail’s pace, that I decided it simply was not worth taking the risk. Furthermore, I also read that there was no going back once you had started to install the update. I love my iPad because it’s a classy and reliable piece of technology, and that’s part of the problem. Once you’ve bitten into the Apple, you won’t want to eat anything else.
To say I’m annoyed is an understatement. It’s not even spending 500 euros that annoys me; I can declare the expense as part of my overheads. What really got me going was when I decided to take a peep at some quarterly figures released by Apple. In the last 2016 fiscal quarter, the company reported that its services revenue grew by 24%, to reach an all-time quarterly record of $6.3 billion.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, was naturally delighted with the results.
Our strong September quarter results cap a very successful fiscal 2016 for Apple. We’re thrilled with the customer response to iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2, as well as the incredible momentum of our Services business, where revenue grew 24 percent to set another all-time record.
Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO, was also chuffed, to say the least.
We are pleased to have generated $16.1 billion in operating cash flow, a new record for the September quarter. We also returned $9.3 billion to investors through dividends and share repurchases during the quarter and have now completed over $186 billion of our capital return program.
My annoyance turned into fury, when I read that Apple have become the first company in the world to reach a $800 billion valuation. Now, that’s a lot of dosh and maybe these boys and girls can spare a few bucks and at least ensure that updates are compatible across the board. According to Apple, however, I’ve done quite well with my iPad because they publicly admit that the expected lifespan for an iOS driven device is three years. That’s 36 months if my calculations are correct, and- believe me- it’s a lot less than the lifespan of a bridge I make for a patient.
I do understand the predicament- a company that sells a product never in need of replacement is a company that won’t last very long. But there is a difference between a reasonable lifespan for a product and the 36 months for iOS. This begs the question whether Apple is an ethical company. Ironically, Apple prides itself in doing its role to save the world with its recycling programme. By bringing your “outdated” device to the local Apple shop, you receive a voucher you can use on your next purchase – which will be an Apple product, of course. I looked up what I would get for my iPad – about 70 euro’s. I would prefer Apple make devices that last a lot longer, and let me do my bit to save the world.
To what extent ethics directs the way in which colossal companies operate on a day-to-day basis is an important question. It is disturbing that, for a company making such a huge profit, Apple has been reported to be in serious breach of ethical conduct. In 2014, reports came out suggesting that factory workers in China were being grossly exploited. These reports were confirmed by the New York based China Labor Watch, which reported factory workers in Shanghai as having to endure long working hours on low wages and as not being provided adequate resting facilities.
Further controversy involving Apple relates to a tax dispute with the European Union. In 2016, the European commission decided that Ireland’s tax rebate agreement with Apple should be considered as state intervention and thus illegal. Apple was ordered to repay 13 billion euros in lost corporation tax revenue to the Irish tax authorities.
Companies like Apple wouldn’t be where they are without the fidelity of their consumers. Whilst I acknowledge that the quality of Apple products is second to none, I have serious reservations as to whether the people at Apple respect their customers. I get the distinct impression that we are being taken on a deep and expensive spin through the high-tech world, and that Apple is making a healthy profit in doing so. What’s more astonishing, is that nobody seems to care. In fact, young people especially, seem to pride themselves in owning the very latest iPhone, year after year.
The phenomenon whereby companies deliberately manufacture devices to have a limited lifespan is known as planned obsolescence- and it is nothing new. As far back as 1924, the American motor manufacturer, General Motors, came out with a policy of changing the design of their models on a yearly basis, in order to “persuade” customers of the necessity to buy new models. In 1932, Russian–American real estate broker, Bernard London, published a paper entitled, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence.” He wrote,
I would have the Government assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture, mining and agriculture, when they are first created, and they would be sold and used within the term of their existence definitely known by the consumer. After the allotted time had expired, these things would be legally “dead”.
Apple is effectively, and unscrupulously, exploiting the economic vision held by Bernard London- by deliberately shortening the “lives” of their products through constant updates, the older operating systems can no longer function. The latest example is that of the announced arrival of Apple’s latest operating system, iOS11, to be released shortly. It only works on a 64-bit system, which comprises a different central processing unit to the 32-bit system. Any iPad 4, iPhone 5 or 5C will, as a result, no longer be able to receive software updates for new features and security fixes. The iPhone 5 and 5C were first released in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Controversially, iOS 11 also means that for users of Apple’s newer smartphones and tablets, including the latest iPhone 7 and iPad, not all apps will be compatible (depending on the goodwill and enthusiasm of developers), after the iOS 11 update.
It is quite clear that from the moment you buy an expensive iPad or iPhone at your local department store, your device will have aged by the time you get out your car keys in the parking lot. Furthermore, whilst opening the box in the comfort of your own home, you can be sure that Apple will have already started – if not finished – the latest iOS update, transforming the iOS -X, that you have not yet used, into an iOS-X.1.
If you are an app enthusiast and/or compulsive gamer, you are literally paying Apple for your addiction. You may not mind having to buy a new device every 3 years, as long as you have the latest version of the latest iOS blockbuster. For the rest of us who use a device like the iPad for online browsing, e-reading (with or without a subscription app) and watching videos or online TV, it seems harsh to have to purchase a new device when most of our limited number of installed apps cease to work due to iOS incompatibility. I find it hard to believe that the iPad I bought less than 5 years ago has become obsolete, purely because of security issues. I also find it hard to accept that, in all its wisdom, Apple has come out with a new and improved device, thinking that I never realised I needed it. Maybe it’s time Apple realised that I actually don’t.
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.