Last week it made the news that Apple wants to fight the “Right to Repair” their smartphones. If you own a car or a bike, just imagine that their respective manufacturers are fighting a right to repair to get an idea of how unbelievably cocky Apple are (oh wait, if you own a tractor, this is what John Deere are doing!). I get that they want to save money on providing manuals and stuff but pretending to protecting their customers from batteries on fire is ridiculous.
But that’s not the only problem with Apple. They take other measures to make sure your device is rendered unusable after several years. Last weekend I wanted to download the e-paper version of a newspaper. It didn’t work on my Kindle Fire, because for some reason the app wouldn’t provide a way to enter the required Google Play credentials, so I turned to my old iPad where I used to download that same newspaper in the past.
Of course that did not work.
The iPad is a first generation iPad I got from my workplace to do some development and is running iOS version 5.1.1, that is the latest version of the OS available for this device. However the latest version of the newspaper app requires iOS 7. Obviously there’s no technical reason for an app that renders some XML representation of a newspaper including some images to require the latest version of anything. Still there’s no way to purchase or read that newspaper on my device. Because the situation is more or less the same with 90% of other apps in Apple’s store I can continue to use the five or so old apps I have installed on the iPad or use it as an expensive doorstop or something.
The vicious circle goes like this: Apple releases new iOS and new Xcode (development environment) -> people update their devices (they have to, because you can’t stop the system nagging); developers start using the new tools and are unable to support older iOS versions because of API deprecation -> people can’t install newer apps on their devices -> people can’t update their ancient devices to new iOS and need to get new devices -> old device is useless and goes to the waste dump.
Being a developer myself I know that it is hard to maintain backward compatibility. However I guess Apple has a sufficient amount of developer power to do something about it. In principle they could maintain the old APIs and amend them with functionality of new devices (fingerprint sensor, 3D touch). I understand it is not in the interest of the company because selling more and more devices is what they want, but in the interest of society this has to stop. I mean, even Microsoft managed to maintain a kind of compatibility that lets user run XP applications on Windows 10.
In other sectors people and governments have become aware of planned obsolescence and have started doing something about it. France has passed a law that makes it illegal for manufacturers to introduce technolocical means of artificially shortening the lifespan of a product. How this works out in reality where evidence has to be produced in front of a court remains to be seen. Germany, on the other hand, has overturned a comparable law proposal, probably because it “harms the economy”.
A conservative estimate of the number of iPad 1 devices sold is 15 million. Those can all go to the waste dump, thanks to Apple. If you stack them up you get an iPad waste tower 150km high. That’s also 7500 tons of e-waste. Or 1.9 million tons of CO2 used for the production of those devices (according to Apple in the production of an iPad 130kg of CO2 is released). I think humanity no longer can afford living like this.
The situation is worsened by the fact that the Apple hardware is so closed that it is impossible to install any other operating system. In theory it would be possible for a group of enthusiasts to port an OS, say some flavor of Linux, to the iPad (1), create an ecosystem around it and revive some dozen million of dead devices. That’s obviously not something Apple’s interested in.
My friends tell me that I am exaggerating the problem and that six years is a long time for a device like an iPad and it doesn’t even have a retina display. They might be right but still it should be usable for most of the things people are doing with smartphones and tablets these days, apart from playing AAA games. Also it should be my decision as a buyer to decide but Apple API politics proactively prohibits me from doing so.
To be fair, Apple supported the iPad 2 up to iOS 9. That’s over with the release of iOS 10, however. And there go several million tons of e-waste to the dump. According to Apple 76% of the App store users are now using iOS 10. That means in addition to the iPads there are also about 300 million of iPhone pre-5 devices that won’t be used anymore.
This shit has to stop.