Rotten Apples

It’s the update – or lack of – that sealed its fate

A few weeks ago, my iPad suffered a premature death. For my beloved tablet, it wasn’t a crash that transformed him to ash, it’s the update that sealed his fate. Or rather, it was the lack of updates that finally killed him. In fact, he wasn’t even dead yet, but I was forced by Apple to replace him. 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” (or was it the other way around), on GTA5. That’s a Play-Station game, for those of you not born yesterday, but the day before. Being a naive romantic and dreamer, I listened to the message that I got on the touchscreen telling me that, “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? However, it turned out to be a poisoned chalice, because once the new application was downloaded, upon opening I received the dreaded message that I had come across, once or twice before: “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 I’m 500 euros worse off than I was a short while 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 iPad’s not functioning after the update, or crawling along the net at snail’s pace, that I decided that it 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 have bitten into the Apple, you will not want to eat anything else.

To say that I’m annoyed is an understatement. It’s not the fact of having spent 500 euros that annoys me, because I’ll 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, of course, 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 either pay for my new iPad, that I was forced to buy, or at least ensure that updates are compatible across the board.  However, according to Apple, 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 you me, that’s a lot less than the lifespan of a bridge I make for a patient.

I do understand that if a company sells a product that never needs to be replaced, it 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 of whether Apple is an ethical company. Ironically, Apple prides itself in playing its part in saving the world, with its recycling programme. By bringing your “outdated” device to the local Apple shop, you receive a voucher that you can use on your next purchase – Apple, of course. I looked up what I would get for my iPad – about 70 euro’s. I would prefer Apple to 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, who reported factory workers in Shanghai having to endure long working hours on low wages, and were not being provided with adequate resting facilities.

Further controversy involving Apple, relates to a tax dispute with the European Union. In 2016, the European commission took the view that Ireland’s tax rebate agreement with Apple should be considered as state intervention, and thus, illegal. Apple was ordered to repay 13 billion euro’s in lost corporation tax revenue to the Irish tax authorities.

Young people pride themselves in owning the latest iPhone, year after year

Companies like Apple wouldn’t be where they are without the fidelity of their consumers. Whilst I acknowledge that the quality of Apple’s products is second to none, I have serious reservations as to whether the people at Apple respect their customers, or even care about them. 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 having a limited lifespan is known as planned obsolescence, and 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, however, is distorting the economic vision held by Bernard London. In deliberately shortening the “lives” of their products by constantly updating the systems so that older operating systems can no longer function, Apple is carrying out an unethical form of “euthanasia”. The victims of this practice are, of course, us – the consumers. 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 that you have bought 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 (which may have its own “sell by” date, according to Bernard London), 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 that 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 that I never realised I needed. Maybe it’s time that these people realised that, just maybe, they are wrong and I don’t.