The new M1 iMac highlights everything that's wrong with Apple

There's an e-waste timebomb in our future, and the Apple logo is all over it.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Yes, Apple's M1 processor is amazing. Blazingly fast, runs cool, and it sips rather than gulps power. The Macs built around this processor are tempting -- really tempting -- but these Macs also highlight everything that's wrong with Apple.

These Macs represent the end of the road to upgrades, as well as making repairs difficult for most users.

Also: Why I won't be buying the new iMac

Apple has led the way in making products that take what were once simple upgrades and repairs and made them close to impossible. It began with the non-replaceable battery and culminated with the M1 Macs, where if something goes wrong, you're throwing a whole board away (and that's assuming that the mainboard is replaceable without needing to calibrate it to the display because of the True Tone feature).

They're utterly disposable.

You buy one, take it out of the box, run it until it breaks or becomes too slow to do what you need it to do, then you sweep it into the recycling bin and buy another.

Part of this is the unavoidable march of progress. Components that were once discrete and modular have become smaller and integrated onto single boards or chips. This is what we see with the M1 Apple Silicon chip -- the CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage are all on a single board -- and this means that all the old school upgrades that people used to carry out to keep old systems running for longer have come to an end.

On top of that, components are becoming more tightly integrated, so it's becoming harder for anyone other than an authorized center to carry out complete repairs. Special tools and software are needed because of security and calibration requirements.

Must read: Why does the new M1 iPad Pro have 16GB of RAM?

Again, progress.

But the problem is being made worse by Apple design. Thin and light designs make simple repairs much more difficult, increasing the risk of secondary damage (such as breaking a display when trying to repair something else). The thin and light designs are also nowhere near as robust as the older, bulkier designs.

Take the older MacBook Pro laptops that had a DVD drive. Those things were tanks compared to the modern units, and they'd bounce when dropped. I've seen displays break on the newer models from insignificant impacts.

Replacing a MacBook or MacBook Pro battery

When it comes to the environment, Apple's green credentials are second to none in terms of manufacturing. The company uses recycled aluminum, its operations are carbon neutral, and nasty chemicals have been banished from production.

Apple is also making strides in recycling, helping to reduce how much ends up being wasted.

Those are all good things.

But Apple doesn't do enough about what happens between making a sale and getting a product back for recycling. The longer a product is in use, the better that is for the environment. Making a product that is reliable, is supported for as long as possible, and is easy to repair are all good things.

But these are areas where Apple appears to be falling short. This becomes an even bigger problem when products are both hard to repair and have a short lifespan.

Think about products like the AirPods. Small, expensive, lifespan limited by battery life, and pretty much impossible to repair.

This means a product that has a sale-to-obsolete lifespan of about three years.

Apple knows the expected lifespan of all its products and chooses to make products that are hard to repair and where their lifespan is measured in low single-digit years. Even for high-ticket items such as the M1 iMac, it's average lifespan is likely about 5 years.

Also: Apple's Spring Loaded event: The five biggest announcements

With no upgrade potential, it's not going to be 10 years.

For a company that ships as much product as Apple does, this is worrying.

I had hoped that Apple would see the light in terms of product longevity, and by now be an active promoter of repair and an advocate of keeping things in circulation for as long as possible. I'm not seeing that. In fact, I'm seeing an acceleration in the other direction -- towards built-in obsolescence and poor repairability. 

It surprised me that the new AirTag had a user-replaceable battery. Given what I've seen of Apple over the past few years, I didn't expect that. But I'd be willing to bet a steak dinner that this won't be the case in five years.

As I have written before, there's an e-waste timebomb in our future, and the Apple logo is emblazoned on a lot of it. 

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