How long do we expect electronics to last?
I generally like TreeHugger, but this article about the new iPad pisses me off. I like Apple products. I own several. But I'm not a raving sycophant -- if you love your Windows computer or your Android phone, great. Apple has taken broad steps to eliminating harmful chemicals and other ways to make its products greener. There's still room for improvement, of course -- and Greenpeace does a really nice job of presenting the facts about electronics manufacturers and how sustainable their products and processes are.
The author of the TreeHugger article argues the following:
If there were ever a gadget that emits a haloed "Planned Obsolescence" in bright neon letters, it's the iPad. ...[It] is released such a short time after the first version that all consumers are left with the question, "Apple, why didn't you just do this with the last version since you obviously could have?"
The author of this article has a conspiracy theory about "planned obsolescence" and electronics, in which Apple changes very little about a product and re-releases it to its legion of zombie-fans who will throw away their current iPad and buy the new one.
Now, I think this idea of "planned obsolescence" is not completely off the mark: plenty of products exhibit its evidence. They're designed to fall apart or break, be too expensive to repair, and be replaced by something that's slightly newer and shinier but barely any different. But I think the charge is being unfairly leveled against Apple.
Apple products last a long time for electronics. In my experience, much longer than the competition: I have a 6-year-old Power Mac that is still perfectly functional, and a 4-year-old MacBook Pro that has taken a beating that would have reduced my old Dell laptop to plastic shards (not to mention, it's still capable of running Apple's most current operating system, while that Dell would have choked on Windows Vista years ago). Just pick up an iPhone or Mac laptop and compare the solid feel and careful design with cheap, creaky, plasticky products from many other manufacturers and the difference is apparent. And, these products hold their value well: over the years I've resold a number of Mac desktops and laptops, and a first-generation iPhone, and every time I've been pleasantly surprised at how much they're still worth, and happy that they still function well and can be passed along to someone who will use them.
Of course the greenest products are those that last a long time. When I buy a table or a cabinet, I expect it to last long enough for me to pass down to another generation. But the idea that Apple could "just do this with the last version" shows a willful ignorance of how quickly electronics evolve. I've gotten a new iPhone about every 2 years, and a new computer every 3 or 4, for quite a while now. Is that un-green? How long would we expect a phone to last? 5 years? Even that's ridiculous if you look at how much technology has progressed: 5 years ago, YouTube didn't exist. Web 2.0 (remember when we used to call it that?) was just taking off. We were still buying CDs for music. Blogs were just beginning to be really influential on the media. Facebook was still only open to students with a college email address. Twitter wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye. Does anybody really think a phone developed in 2005 could keep up with all of that?
As I've already pointed out, Apple products hold together and keep their value longer that most electronics, so what's the bee in the TreeHugger author's bonnet? I'm willing to wager, it's because the iPad is the topic du jour and it's an easy way to get pageviews. Let's just call this what it is: TreeHugger spinning out some dreck to capitalize on a trending search term.