Infinity Loop

April 26, 2012 by
Filed under: Design and Society 

In Monday’s Guardian Aditya Chakrabortty asks why Apple don’t shift their manufacturing base to the US. He argues that although the costs would rise (apparently from $178.45 to $337.01 for an iPhone 4G according to CRESC analysis), Apple would still make a 46.5% margin on each iPhone. He notes this move would also create social benefits for the US in the form of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, and suggests it would represent ‘enlightened self-interest’ on Apple’s part.

While it would certainly be an example of ‘think different’, I can’t see shareholders supporting a move to knock 25% profit off each iPhone sold. But it might just become viable if they combined it with another idea: adopt a ‘closed loop’ manufacturing model.

My six year old Apple laptop is on its last legs, not so much because the parts are wearing out, but because software moves at a tremendous pace. So the latest version of the Firefox browser no longer supports my system, and Flash video player is discontinued for my type of processor. People don’t expect computers to last forever, in the same way that they expect their mobile phones to become out-dated after a couple of years. But unlike my phone, I own my laptop outright – why can’t I sell it back to Apple, or even rent it from my local Apple store in the first place?

There could be a real financial incentive here (perhaps even sufficient to offset the cost of manufacturing in the US). A recent report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that ‘the cost of remanufacturing mobile phones could be reduced by 50% per device’ if manufacturers adopt a more ‘circular’ model, in which the resources are re-used at the end of the phone’s working life.

Apple will recycle your spent goods, but rather than blend those lovingly designed, assembled and used products into piles of scrap, couldn’t they design for disassembly instead? I was struck with the video (seven minutes long but worth it) that accomplished the launch of Apple’s CNC-milled MacBook a few years ago – I’d love to see a factory that un-makes their old products so beautifully.


  • Philip Wattis

    Apple are renowned for creating great products, but they also have successfully engineered themselves into a position whereby they can overcharge for their products. When the new CEO announced that they have “more money than they need”, it clearly has been about the profits, at the expense of the welfare of the individuals building the products out in China.

    I do not believe it is in Apple’s DNA (or most companies for that matter) to consider the ‘common good’ over a few more dollars in the bank for every unit sold.