Apple’s New Environmentalism

Today’s keynote, full of incremental updates and already announced products, felt a little ho-hum. But, I think we saw something significant today. Apple is steering itself toward stark new reality:

The devices we already own are perfectly fine.

Moore’s law is slowing. The way consumers store data is nearing its permanent home in the cloud, and displays – like retina displays – are at their optimum density. With the exception of gaming1, serious computation gets done somewhere else.

For these reasons, Apple’s products are almost perfectly engineered to their purposes as lightweight internet terminals. As time goes on, each improvement is smaller in impact, and less essential.

Apple is 100% okay with this.

Think about it: We have mere weeks before the holiday shopping season starts and Apple didn’t update a single iPod. The iPad 2 remains in their lineup, reassuring buyers of iPads 2, 3, and 4 that they still have the state of the art. Craig Federighi bragged onstage about how many old Mac models will work with the new Mavericks operating system.

This could be the biggest impact that Apple has on the environment. You can use your products for longer, and if you elect to upgrade, there will be plenty of people ready to buy your non-obsolete device from you. That’s the most efficient recycling system you could ask for!

This is something that only Apple can do. Apple has the most stable, mature, and integrated computer systems in the world. Android and Windows are flailing and uncoordinated by comparison. Given the separation between hardware and software that both companies are saddled with, this gap will prove difficult to close.

Today’s keynote, with its free software and emphasized backward compatibility, sends a clear signal that Apple does not intend to grow by obsoleting its products.

They’re aiming for a much bigger growth center: The world.

Apple proudly touted their cumulative iPad sales of 170 million. That’s a big number, but it’s just a sliver of the world population. As a civilization, we’ve approaching the point in history where we can give a computing device to every person on earth. They’re powerful enough, versatile enough, simple enough, and (increasingly) cheap enough.

Today’s keynote shows an Apple propelled less by sensationalism and fashionable consumption. Instead, we see a company gearing up to build a computer for every person in the world. The very best computer.


  1. And not even gaming is safe from cloud computing in the long run. Exhibit A: Amazon already offers GPUs in the cloud.

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