Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Open Letter to Tim Cook: Apple and the Environment

Dear Mr. Cook:

I watched your March Event 2016 Keynote speech with great interest, and applaud your principled stance on encryption, as well as the amazing steps Apple is taking toward environmental stewardship. For me, the high point of the entire event was the introduction of Liam, which I think serves as a beacon of responsibility for other manufacturers to aspire to.

However, my enthusiasm for this environmental trail-blazing was dampened later in the day when I downloaded iOS 9.3 and installed it on my iPhone. Immediately after installation, I eagerly went looking for the Night Shift settings in the control panel. After a frustrating search, I finally found mention online that the feature was only available to newer devices.

As a lifelong environmentalist, I believe in making use of things as long as they retain their basic utility. To that end, I still carry an iPhone 5 in my pocket. It’s a truly amazing device, and it still works as well now as it did when I got it three years ago.

But the absence of Night Shift support is the latest in a string of unnecessary disappointments. When WiFi calling was introduced in iOS 8, we were told that the iPhone 5 was not powerful enough to support the feature (despite its presence in low-end Nokias for years, and rumors that it worked fine on the iPhone 5 during the beta period). When content blocker support was introduced in iOS 9, we were told that 64-bit processors were required for the feature, which is completely non-sequitur. Now, when iOS 9.3 comes out, we’re told the same thing for its new and shiny features.

I’ve been a software engineer for decades, and I recognize artificially manufactured limitations when I see them. Look, I get it. Apple sells hardware, and it’s good business sense to artificially choke off older equipment to induce people to buy new devices. But when you pair this behavior with environmental messages, it sends mixed signals. It tells us that the environmental push isn’t as sincere as it’s being held out to be.

And I think Apple is better than that.

Adam Roach

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