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Dec
2

Throwing away an iPad – The Open Source Column with Simon Brew

by Simon Brew

Apple’s latest product launch was met with disdain from many of its customers. But why, wonders Simon

Watching the live reactions to an Apple announcement rarely tends to expose you to some of the more considered thoughts on a product launch. Yet the response to Apple’s unveiling on 23 October of a pair of new iPad products was a testament to just how warped the technology business has become.
Appreciating it’s traditional to bash Apple at every opportunity, I find myself admiring the firm in some ways. Granted, its closed gate approach to computing is something that continually needs fighting, but its marriage of software and hardware remains pretty much unparalleled over the past decade or so.

At Apple’s event in October, though, it sprung a surprise. It had widely been expected that the firm would showcase the iPad mini, and that’s exactly what it did. But then it had something else up its sleeve: a fourth generation of the iPad. This was just over half a year after it had launched the third generation of the iPad to similar fanfare. And people were not happy.
To paraphrase what, at one stage, was appearing to be something of a consensus, the feeling seemed to be ‘but I only bought one of those half a year ago, and now they’ve gone and changed’.

So let’s think about that for a second. What Apple has successfully propagated is a feeling among its customers and many in the technology world that you absolutely have to have the latest and greatest. Notwithstanding the fact that the original iPad is still doing the job that it was designed for perfectly well, there appears to be abject horror in places at the thought that people will have to upgrade a product that was only new on the shelves earlier in the year.

But where did this craving come from? What new feature does the fourth-generation iPad possess that the third didn’t, that people can’t possibly live without? Within minutes of the announcement, eBay was no doubt filling up with pretty much brand spanking new iPads, as the disposal culture of modern technology continues to take hold.

That in itself is a burgeoning problem. Firms like Apple like to lock us out of upgrading products, and even the likes of HTC is now making phones where you’re not even allowed to change the battery yourself (when did we start to accept this insanity as the norm, I continue to wonder). The ramification of this, longer term, is that more and more people will just throw something away after a year, in order to get the latest model. People will change their phone just because it’s less hassle than sending it off to get a new battery put in. That’s madness, isn’t it?

What Apple’s announcement showed is that you don’t actually need to add that much for people to instantly decide to spend another £500 or so on another piece of technology, just to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. Wouldn’t it be refreshing, though, if a firm such as Apple, that has so blazed the trail for persuading people to replace their technology on an annual basis, actually made a stand to say enough is enough. It’ll never happen, but just how long can the world at large support a culture where intricate technologies are so disposable? Looking at the reaction to the aforementioned Apple launch, it’s going to have to do so for a great deal longer, sadly…

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    • geoff

      Are Apples usable machines or frivolous fashion. The answer must be both, but to launch an autumn collection something new. Clearly they are aiming at the fashion conscience with the fourth-generation iPad, not the bloke who rummages for the cleanest shirt from the washing basket and doesn’t worry about odds socks.