Back in the mid-90s, Bowles helped put together the funding for Power Computing, the first company selected by Apple to make Mac clones. The investment paid off big-time when Steve Jobs came back in 1997 and bought Power Computing for $100 million, just to kill the company off.
Around the same time, Bowles did it again. He helped put together funding for a company called Panorama Designs, which put together the first Mac laptop clones. Motorola eventually bought Panorama Designs for $130 million, but when Jobs came back to Apple, he made sure Motorola (who designed all of Apple’s PowerPC chips) was too petrified of losing their contract with Cupertino that they let their new acquisition just die.
Fast forward fifteen years, and Bowles has figured out a new way to make money off of Apple designs. Unlike his forays in the 90s cloning Apple devices, though, Bowles’s nw company does something different: they make ATMs that buy people’s old iPhones, iPods and iPads for cash on the spot.
Bowles’s new company is called ecoATM, and he’s the chief marketing officer. The company is basically like Cult of Mac favorite <a href=”http://www.gazelle.com”>Gazelle</a>: they offer an easy-to-use service in which you can turn your old gadgets into cash.
Unlike Gazelle, though, ecoATM isn’t a mail-in service: you actually go to one of their automated machines, drop your device in, and get cash within a few minutes.
I was skeptical, but after checking out the ecoATM myself, I quickly changed my tune.
Deciding to see the value of my own iPhone 4S, I followed the ecoATM’s instructions, which were all clearly laid out on a built-in display featuring a friendly EVE-like robot, who walks you through the process.
In the first step of the process, you need to take your gadget out of its case and then put a QR sticker on the back. You then place the device in the tray and it starts by scanning the device, trying to figure out what kind of gadget it is.
Once ecoATM has thought about your device for a few minutes and scanned it for cracks or physical blemishes,it will tell you what it thinks it is and give a rough estimate for how much that device is usually worth. In our demonstration’s case, it mistook my iPhone 4S for an iPhone 4 and low-balled us, but Bowles assured us that this was a fluke, and that the iPhone 4S had been within their system from the first day of release.
If you decide to accept the initial estimate, ecoATM will then try to ascertain the internal, electrical of the device. It will do this by spitting out the appropriate dock connector (in our case, a standard Apple 30 pin adapter) and ask you to connect it to the device, at which point it will do a quick systems analyst and make sure everything’s kosher, and the phone, tablet or MP3 player hasn’t landed in the toilet or anything.
Once ecoATM figures out if your device works, it gives you a final estimate. If you choose to accept this estimate, you can then tell ecoATM to either give you the full cash amount or donate part of all of it to charity. A few minutes later, your device is gone, and a wad of bills has been spit out in its place.
Despite the fact that ecoATM misidentified my iPhone, I was pretty impressed with the process. But isn’t this just a convenient pawn shop for iPhone thieves?
Not quite. ecoATM’s got some tight security: to be paid for a phone, you need to scan a license and let the machine scan your thumbprint, all the while two fisheye cameras take multiple pictures of the person trading-in the phone. Any perp trying to sell an iPhone to ecoATM is going to incriminate himself pretty definitively.
Like Gazelle, ecoATM makes its money off of devices by either selling them to third-parties who refurbish the phone and sell them in stores or on eBay, or by breaking totally unsalvageable devices into precious minerals and selling those.
According to Bowles, ecoATM offers about the same rates as Gazelle on the low-end, but beats their prices for mid-range and high-range devices. And unlike Gazelle, you don’t have to send your device in blind, or wait around for your money.
Unfortunately, right now, ecoATM only has around 50 kiosks through San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but they hope to expand soon.
Should you sell your old iPhone, iPod or iPad to ecoATM? For newer devices, you’ll probably make more on eBay, for older, lesser-in-demand devices, ecoATM makes it pretty easy to turn that old hunk of obsolete silicon into cash.