Apple’s Missing Support For Reuse

Apple Steps Away From Its Past, With Conflicting Symbolism

As we grow, we tend to leave behind the things from our past. So does the technology industry. Steve Jobs was expressing an Apple mantra when he symbolically ordered up a coffin to bury technology past. For both consumer and producer, old tech is a money sink. Yet it is strange to me, in light of Apple’s regular nostalgic marketing campaigns, that the company is so hard-over about burying its past, a contradiction they apparently hope goes unnoticed.

Another contradiction arises between Apple’s current green emphasis and their burying symbolism. Reuse is far more green than recycling. Very little of our scarce rare-earth metals is reclaimed with current recycling technology. Encouraging reuse rather than dumping would seem the most essential element of a green campaign. But reuse needs corporate blessing and support to be effective, or even workable. Apple lets its profit motive trump its green instincts.

Apple does not officially or directly support working in past environments, wanting to keep its consumer army marching forward in lock step. It reminds one of the 1984 Macintosh ad, but now the army seems to mostly be smiling because a pied piper is at the lead.

Apple is user unfriendly in this respect, as have become most technology companies. Stragglers, reusers of old tech, represent lost profits. Those of us who insist on being stragglers are left pretty much to our own devices, as the Apple Support organization regularly purges old technical articles from its online database, and removes old versions of software downloads that had been freely available.

It costs Apple nothing to maintain a few extra megabytes in their download library, balanced against the good will and green credentials they lose as a result of a total break from their past. But saving on support costs is not their driver. Rather, by discouraging stragglers, they hope to increase profits from new purchases.

Before I choose a vendor, I check their online presence with particular emphasis on support for past products. A rare few companies get an A, and my business. They are proud of where they have come from and consider the reputations of their past products a strong business asset. The majority of tech companies get an F, acting as fly-by-night concerns, here today, gone tomorrow.

Apple gets a C in my book. The iPhone product reuse strategy lifts them from a D. The iPhone 4 was sold and maintained alongside the iPhone 5. Also, Apple vendors would buy back iPhone 4 models and even iPhone 3GS models, to make upgrading a more affordable process. In turn, these older used models, with very little refurbishing, could be sold very cheaply to people around the world. People who could barely afford the most basic mobile phone could now own an Apple smart phone, turning them into Apple customers for life. My iPhone 3GS (hand-me-down from Debby) is nearly five years old, still goes for 2 days on a charge, and works flawlessly. With this product quality, the reuse program makes sense.

With computer products, Apple supports prior generations up to about five years fairly well. But after that, support dries up quickly. Fortunately, there still exists the bare minimum of third party support to maintain an Apple retro-habit beyond five years in the past. While Apple will certainly be here tomorrow as a business, their active support for today’s computer product will definitely not be here after a few tomorrows. Every year, it gets harder to be Apple-retro.

Apple computers of the last 15 years have great longevity, as we’ll explore below. Emulating their mobile platform reuse policies, buyback and reuse programs would make Apple computer products truly green, extend the brand to corners of the world market without a current Apple presence, and expand Apple’s future sales potential.

It appears Apple will continue to manufacture computers, so we should encourage them to do it more responsibly. Increasing the length of support, and providing corporate support of reuse would allow many more people to experience Apple products. Until then, we must resell our old computers on our own, to customers with little prospect of acquiring any support they might need.

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