Yesterday, at Apple’s big spring event, we heard the company make many and varied sized announcements. Here are the top 5 that have far reaching impact:
#1 – Liam
We have heard US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, say, if I’m president I will make Apple bring back jobs from China. Wrong. Apple may bring back manufacturing to the US but if yesterday’s demonstration of the Apple Robot Liam was any indication, the future of global manufacturing for Apple doesn’t rest with armies of people.
We have all heard by now about the threat of AI (artificial intelligence) and automation to human work activity and jobs. (see, The Guardian, “When robots do all the work, how will people live?”, 8 Mar 2016). The biggest thing Apple may have shown yesterday was its manufacturing future. Sure, Liam went over well. After all, Liam—the robot—is doing something really good for the environment: taking apart and recycling every millimeter of a discarded iPhone. But if Liam the robot can take one apart, he can put one together.
#2 – Apple the Sustainability Company
Apple’s environmental lead, Lisa Jackson, had a very interesting presentation. She announced that in 23 countries, including China and the US, 100 percent of Apple’s facilities (eg: stores, offices and facilities) are run off of renewable energy. Its 40 megawatt server farm in China can power more than the 34 Apple stores in that country already.
And it doesn’t stop with renewable energy. Apple has ventured into forestry, saying that 99 percent of its packing paper comes from recycled paper or from paper from sustainably managed forest.
But the most impactful thing Apple said about the environment yesterday was this: every iMessage you send on your iPhone is being powered by renewable energy or will be soon. This suggested something truly exciting. What if Apple’s entire product life-cycle management (PLM)—from product creation, manufacturing, shipping, selling, and product consumption and usage—were entirely powered by renewable energy and entirely based on recycled products? Could Apple become the first global manufacturer to reach a carbon neutral standing with respect to its entire PLM?
#3 – Apple and the US Government
Cook opened the discussion yesterday by talking about our iPhones, saying “we built the iPhone for you” and that our smartphones are “a deeply personal device.” Apple believes firmly that they have a responsibility to protect our data. And they should.
Apple now has 1 billion devices in use around the world. This would include all the iOS based devices, including AppleTV, and all of its Mac OS X computers. But the bulk of that 1 billion are iOS devices like our iPhone. Can you imagine the snooping power the US government would have if it could access 1 billion global devices…and nobody else could?
Looking at Apple’s HealthKit and CareKit iOS work, it is crystal clear Apple is a good company with a good heart doing great work for humanity. But for its goals to be met in the areas of health in particular, where medical data is just as, if not more, private than financial data, Apple must have secure devices.
#4 – iPhone SE
Apple’s release of iPhone SE is being called a defensive move but the company was quick to point out yesterday that folks have wanted and have preferred a smaller form factor iPhone for years. This author has been one of them. It is also a “gateway product” for the Apple eco-system and for Apple hardware in particular.
Apple was smart too because they did not skimp on this phone. It has Touch ID, 12MP camera, and runs on the Apple A9 chip.
When we first got the original iPhone, most of us were able to manage the whole thing in one hand. That is really only possible with a 4-inch iPhone, as the iPhone 6, and clearly the 6-Plus, are way too wide to manage such a feat. The iPhone SE was a smart move because it makes the product line now wide enough to attack and address all markets in the world. It means Apple can respond to pricing tension in the smartphone market at the bottom end of its product line.
#5 – Apple’s New Campus
Tim Cook noted that yesterday’s presentation in Town Hall on 1 Infinite Loop was likely its last. Recalling the history made in that room, he noted that next year in 2017 the company will be moving into its new office campus (dubbed the Space Ship, by many in the press).
Apple’s new campus will be the “state-of-the-art” in building technology. But the question is, how will working in this new environment affect Apple? What impact might it have on how Apple sees the world…and what it decides to do…and what products it decides to make next?
Will Apple’s push into renewable energy and its experience at building cutting edge stores lead it into other types of environments? Could Apple venture into manufactured housing that is built by a series of robots like Liam, using entirely recyclable materials and wood from sustainable forests and powered with clean energy like its facilities around the world?
Recall what Steve Jobs said about the first iPod and iPhone. That the company built devices that they themselves would love to actually use…because everything else on the market was crap. Will Apple employees working in the new campus buildings want to go home? That’s a serious question. Working in the new campus buildings will challenge every employee at Apple to contemplate what it would be like to live full time in such a world.
This post started with Liam, the new Apple robot we just met. But what most readers may not know is that the rise of the robot is happening already in architecture. (see, AEC Magazine, “The rise of the robots,” 8 Dec 2015) In fact, there is an architectural conference devoted entirely to robots in architecture. Liam today may be taking apart your old iPhone, but tomorrow an army of Liam’s may be building the place you call home.
[Editor’s note: We corrected our note about the SE’s Touch ID. We had previously said Touch 3D. – 25 Mar 2016]