How Apple Could Really Change the World



Apple Chairman Steve Jobs has always wanted Apple to “change the world.” Of course it has, but only the wealthy, tech-savvy, privileged part of the world. Despite its incredible success, Apple hasn’t changed the world for billions of poor people.

To date, Apple has changed the world only by solving only first-world problems: “My Windows laptop came loaded with crapware and stickers.” “My PC is noisy and ugly.” “I hate audio CDs and CD players.” “My cell phone is counterintuitive.” “I want to surf the web while watching TV, but my netbook sucks.”

These are the kinds of problems Apple has solved for millions of people.

But there are bigger problems out there that Apple is in a unique position to solve.

In fact, a single solution could help solve five real problems, and change the world in five meaningful ways. It could even accelerate Apple’s phenomenal growth.

I challenge incoming CEO Tim Cook to consider the following proposal.

Here it is: Apple should set up a program to transfer used Apple hardware from the wealthy first world to the needy third world.

Here are the key aspects of this program:

  • Make devices as long-lasting as possible, and easy to disassemble
  • Establish a trade-in program with a big discount on the new if you turn in the old
  • Set up facilities in target third-world countries for safe, quality refurbishment
  • Sell some of the devices at very low cost to authorized local distributors
  • Donate the rest to non-profit organizations that focus on third-world education

Here are the five major problems this program would help solve.

The e-waste problem

Toxic e-waste is a massive and growing problem for the entire world. Apple itself is a mixed bag in its contribution to e-waste. On the plus side, the company has an unusually responsible materials and recycling program. (Apple uses better materials and makes an effort to prevent environmental and health problems in recycling.)

On the down side, the company makes “disposable” products that are quickly obsoleted by newer and better versions. A LOT of products. (No doubt you read Killian Bell’s post this week about Apple making 150,000 iPhone 5 units a day. A DAY.)

While Apple is more responsible than most, the consumer electronics industry in general is an e-waste disaster in progress.

While recycling is better than tossing electronics into a landfill, it’s really a lousy solution to the bigger problem of e-waste.

If you’re unfamiliar with the e-waste crisis, this short video and this one will get you up to speed quickly. These videos show a type of recycling that Apple’s policies avoid. But my proposal would enable Apple to significantly reduce the unsafe recycling of other companies’ discarded products.

Manufacturing millions of gadgets a day (industrywide), then recycling those gadgets a few years later, is part the problem. The most environmental solution is to reduce the number of products manufactured in the first place.

A well-executed Apple program could increase the number of Apple products manufactured, and decrease the number of other products made.

Millions of refurbished Apple goods dropped into the third world would reduce the market for the shoddily manufactured goods now enjoying brisk sales.

Instead of buying a toxic, unrecyclable brand-new junk cell phone with an exploding battery made by some disreputable sweatshop, a person could theoretically buy a used Apple iPhone at the same price, and be far better off for it. Best of all, the crappy phone would never be built in the first place.

If you multiply this replacement of new junk with used Apple products by millions of units (millions of junk gadgets never manufactured), Apple would start to have a major impact on the e-waste crisis.

The materials shortage problem

China controls more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of rare-earth metals, some of which are used in the kinds of products Apple builds. Shortages, hoarding and other possibilities make these materials especially precious, and increasingly expensive.

The program I’m proposing would reduce the world’s demand for some rare-earth metals, as total product manufacturing would go down, and the materials in Apple products would be used for a longer period of time.

The digital divide problem

The world is divided into technology haves and have-nots. By funneling high-quality refurbished iGoods into the have-not marketplace, Apple could make a profound improvement in the lives of millions of people around the world.

Combined with Internet connectivity provided by local governments or global NGOs, a single iPhone or iPad could transform the economic fortunes of an entire village. It would open up new markets for their hand-made goods and crops, provide weather information for more efficient farming, bring a universe of educational materials into the school and much more.

The OLPC problem

The One Laptop Per Child program seeks to “empower the world’s poorest children through education.”

A key part of their mission is to design and build low-cost, low-power, child-safe and rugged laptops purpose built for environments with limited or no connectivity, intermittent power and harsh conditions.

But for every child supplied with one of these OLPC devices, a hundred go without. A single ruggedized case could transform iPads into OLPC devices, too.

Apple could partner with the OLPC organization to design the special case and distribute the iPads.

The upgrade guilt syndrome problem

Hey, first-world problems are still problems.

The Atlantic Monthly recently pointed out that millions of people are probably hoping and praying that their iPhones, iPads and iPods break or have some problem so they have an excuse to replace them with the latest thing.

Apple could solve this whole guilt-ridden, shame-inducing problem by providing a healthy trade-in program for old goods.

When the iPhone 5 hits, I’ll probably stand in line and buy one on the first day. Meanwhile, my iPhone 4 is in perfect condition, just as my iPhone 3GS was when I abandoned it.

Millions of us do this. The new thing comes out. We want it. But our old one is still working perfectly. This happens with phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Let’s look at the current reality: The majority of Apple products that users stop using are either fully functional or mostly functional. With mobile devices, the only problem is often reduced battery life. These unused products either sit in a drawer or a box in the garage. They might be recycled, or even thrown in the trash.

Apple could take the lead in doing something Insanely Great with these older models. They could be brought by the millions into their re-distribution program, checked for functionality, loaded apps appropriate to the language and conditions of the country where they’ll be distributed and then sold at very low cost or donated to philanthropic organizations.

A well-designed Apple refurbish-and-redistribute program could reduce the number of gadgets manufactured, help the environment and improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world.

Apple: Do you want to sell luxury goods to rich people for the rest of your life? Or do you want to listen to me and change the world?

(Picture courtesy of NPPglobal.)

  • Chris


  • Goucho1169

    great post!!

  • iDaBoss

    “Make device… easy to disassemble” lol, no way buddy

  • Greenback78

    Erm, Apple is owned by shareholders who want the value of their shares to increase.  They aren’t all that interested in doing great deeds.  Pie in the sky stuff, Mike.

  • MP

    While many of us buy the latest and greatest iPhones, many, many more people keep their old ones for a longer duration of time.

    And here’s a great counter-argument for the idea that Apple has contributed only to first-world, wealthy countries:

  • Unis Zuurmond

    Here’s something to consider. I live in South Africa, where HIV infections are probably the highest in the world. Apple with U2 created a few Apple product (RED) items, which is great. However, here in South Africa, we still can’t purchase iTunes, we can’t buy (RED), there is not even one single Apple store. It’s almost as if they’re saying: “As long as the problem is over there.” As if they don’t really care, they just want people to think they do. So Mike, I’m all for what you’re suggesting. The days where companies could get away without Corporate Social Responsibility has long passed.

  • Sakari Kestinen

    If Steve Jobs joins the “Philantropic Party” like Bill Gates, something akin to this might even come true. If he’s a true buddhist.

  • Evan Benford

    Seeing how Tim Cook is an industrial engineer/ business type and is all about efficiency of the company i could see him putting together a program like this that works like a well oiled machine. Apple has the resources to do something like this and it would only increase their public image and make em more popular…DO IT APPLE!

  • Seanplawler

    All great ideas, but how would apple solve what trillions of dollars from other countries in aid has not? They won’t. Poor stay poor and the political leaders of corrupt governments get wealthy. It never fails…yet we keep on giving. Screw the rest of the world. Have you seen the state of the US? Fix our country first en move onto help others.

  • jpday3

    “Apple: Do you want to sell luxury goods to rich people for the rest of your life? Or do you want to listen to me and change the world?”
    My guess is they could care less what you think, they are doing just fine without you.

  • JimRPh62

    Good idea. I hope Apple tries it.

  • Said

    Difficult but not impossible. Maybe not with very poor countries yet, but with third world countries where people have at least food and some education.
    Though the iPhone would be not a very good option because implies paying for telephony, the iPad and the MacBooks would be great to be placed for education. Nice post.

  • tmomaslomez

    “One-point-six-billion people lack access to electricity.  Without electricity you cannot do anything in this world.  Two to three billion people still rely on traditional energy sources, such as firewood, peat or dung.  This affects their health and keeps people trapped in poverty,”  BK Moon, UN Secretary-General

    I suspect that the people you have in mind to benefit from recycled Apple products would much rather have access to food, water and shelter rather than a refurbished iPod touch or MacBook Pro.

    Apple is capable of doing more, and it should; but what you propose is not it.

  • Allenarpadi

    Do u want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do u want to change the world?

  • Mxidis88

    The issue in the poorest parts of the world is not devices it’s infrastructure…they lack the plug to plug their iPad/iPad into…

  • Mike

    It seems to me that there are a lot of NGOs and non-profits that are capable of providing low-cost telephony, wi-fi connectivity, solar power, etc. What they cannot do is make iPhones. : )

  • Mike

    They probably won’t, but this would be a killer program if they did it, and did it right.

  • Barton Lynch

    I don’t understand people who don’t sell their old iPhones. I sell mine on ebay every time, make like $500, get the new iPhone, and have no guilt because my old phone will be reused.

  • Equality 7-2521

    Do you really want to change the world or do like me and just write a blog post about how I can tell others how they can change the world?

  • Jimmy Laing

    Apple isn’t a charity!  It’s a business.  Businesses have only one responsibility – to maximize returns for shareholders.  And apple does that very well.  Here endith the lesson.

  • prof_peabody

    some good ideas/intentions here but with a couple of exceptions:

    1) Making iPads dis-assembleable is a bad idea and would actually contribute to the e-waste problem.  As long as they are easily recyclable, there is nothing to be gained by making it possible to take them apart etc. 

    2) The idea that giving a poor kid a computer will do anything at all to solve his or her problems is faulty at the core.  There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that the OLPC program would have done anything, even if it actually worked which it didn’t.  Starving kids need food, poor kids need education, and economies starting out need infrastructure.  The iPad (or a laptop) solves *none* of these problems.

  • Chris Killen

    Wow. I can’t believe Apple doesn’t even have a store in South Africa. You would think Johannesburg would have at least one store there. 

  • Wipdeedoo

    Nice idea.  However, how are the poor going to charge their iPads in their huts that currently have no power?  These people need food and water more than they need technology.

  • prof_peabody

    Businesses are community entities and have far more responsibilities than just maximising their return.  That’s just Capitalist ideology.  

    It isn’t based on any kind of fact or historical reality.  It’s ideology employed to justify essentially immoral behaviour.  

  • prof_peabody

    I’m so tired of this kind of comment.  In the first place, Bill Gates is an evil asshole that rode roughshod over many thousands of people, ruining their careers, their businesses and their lives while he was chairman of Microsoft.  Who gives a crap if he donates some money to random charities in his old age to assuage his guilt?  He is not a nice man nor has he ever been.  

    In the second place, Steve Jobs gives to charity, he just doesn’t *say* anything about it, which is basically the buhddist rule (also the christian one actually).  Steve Jobs might even donate *more* to charity than Bill Gates, we don’t know.  To assume that he is some kind of miser who doesn’t give to charity just because he doesn’t crow about it is just rude.  

    Charity is supposed to be anonymous, but nowadays companies won’t give a dime to anything if they don’t get a stadium or a building named after them and if they can’t put their advertising all over the charity’s marketing materials.  No individual rich person wants to give anymore without getting their name in the paper either.  

    I say that Steve Jobs is probably keeping more to the spirit of real charitable giving, (no matter how much or how little he gives) than anyone else in the industry.  Bill Gates wouldn’t give anyone a dime unless there was a photo opportunity and a tax break involved.  

  • Jsulcer

    I would also like to see Apple move some of their manufacturing to the U. S. This “fix-up” plan of yours would be a great way to start down the road of bringing jobs back to this country.

  • chazzbro

    Great concept, Mike. There are legitimate logistical issues to be considered, such as power and networking…and there is the question of whether the same governments that block food shipments to show their power might not view the dissemination of empowering technology as a potential threat. However, just the opportunity that it might give folks a leg up makes it seem like a worthy goal…even on a limited basis as a test program.

  • James Scantlebury

    Unfortunately, the US is too high cost for Apple and many other companies for goods to be produced there. Laws for companies to provide healthcare, insurance, food etc etc mean that the labour costs are higher, and that’s before we even get onto wage costs. These rights simply aren’t available to workers elsewhere, so labour costs are lower. And there wages are lower.
    I’m from the UK, and our whole car production industry was ruined in the 1970s, when we realised that we were making worse goods for more expensive prices than the Japanese could. Look where the up and coming car manufactures are coming from. Do they come from countries that ring bells? (Korea, China, Taiwan etc etc) Cars and other goods are produced there because labour is cheap!The US and European countries need to follow the example that Apple has set for their companies. Design a high end product in a high labour cost country, build a product cheap in a low labour cost country, sell in a high labour cost for a high price. This = large profits.

    It may sound unpatriotic to some, but (unfortunately) it’s true.

  • Alice Thaggard

    Great article! I hope Apple is already moving in this direction and that your article is just reinforcing their forward movement. Hopeful!

  • Alice Thaggard

    Change begins with one thought at a time. It is up to humanity to arise and demand change for the better. Having discussions like this can open doors to bringing about change that can help move us forward in caring for the planet and all people.

  • Daniel O Reilly

    Ok, from a humanitarian/philantrophical point of view, you have some plausible views in your post but on other levels your post is extremely flawed, unrealistic and impractical.

    Why would Apple offer a trade in value on, say, an iPad in exchange for upgrading to an iPad 2? The reason the company has it’s current share and Market value is because it has excellent margin on it’s excellent, Holistically designed products. An iPad on the open Market will still command a very good price, despite the iPad 2 being available. Apple would either be burning their entire profit margin or paying way beneath the real value of the product which would stop people using the ‘trade in’ facility. They would then be giving away these products so there is absolutely no commercial logic in your proposal.

    It would only work with very old Mac products which have depreciated to the point of worthlessness but this will present a range of other challenges.

    Finally, why would Apple compromise the design of their products to make them easier to ‘disassemble’ or more ‘long lasting’ than they are. The beautiful design and integrity of these products is what makes them such a pleasure to own. The whole ethos at Apple is ‘design is not how it looks, design is how it works’. Why compromise this, why damage the business model?

    Whilst I applaud your attempt to think outside the box, it just ain’t got no legs!

  • Daniel O Reilly

    In the tech industry, it’s innovation, sales and profits. You take your eye of any of them, your gone! Unless ‘charity’ drives sales, it’s a secondary responsibility. Apple embraces the green issue more than most but that’s because it is a sales driver.

  • AAPL Shareholder

    As an Apple shareholder, how would this increase my wealth (you know, the purpose of a corporation)? Stick to writing about OS’s and mice, and let Tim Cook run Apple. KTHXBYE.

  • AAPL Shareholder

    Yeah, great, those $4000 iPads will fly off the shelves! Dumb.

  • AAPL Shareholder

    Nonsense! Where do you lefties get this stuff? Community entities? WTF is that? Something you made up in your sociology class? Corporations are owned by shareholders and have a *legal duty* to maximize profits. There is nothing “immoral” about honoring legal duties and making as much money as possible, so long as a corporation follows the law while it does so.

    Now be quiet, go back to class, let the grownups run the Fortune 500, and be thankful your pension is probably being invested in Apple.

  • AAPL Shareholder

    And how did that hire (John Sculley) work out?

  • Studio

    pigs might fly

  • AAPL Shareholder

    You mean Apple isn’t a big NGO whose purpose is to give away stuff? Really? You mean people invest in the company so it can make them money?!?! No way, what do you think America is, a capitalist country?

  • Alexandro de Oliveira

    It is a awesome article!
    The important thing about your article is that you have started a discussion that can begin a real change in our world! Not just for First World, but for a whole New World!
    Even Shareholders will take advantage if Apple to reach third world, for sure!

  • jpday3

    I’ll continue to sell sugar water as long as the money is coming in, i’ll leave the world changing to the tree huggers

  • Mike

    You really don’t have a clue… Its everyone’s responsibility to change the world not Apple’s. We have to do the work. I know this goes against current liberal BS thinking… its government responsibility or some big company’s responsibility to make the world a perfect place for me.

  • John

    Not so. There is not much labor cost in the price of an iPad or iPhone. One estimate I saw recently said it would add something like $50 or $60 to the price of an iPad if it were made in the US. By far the biggest cost is the cost of goods. Probably there are other issues involved such as restrictions on pollution and labor laws requiring breaks and clean air and such but those should apply regardless of where the dingus is made.

  • Frank Malloy


    Good luck.

    Apple is a *public company*. Do you know what that means?

    When you’re a public company, you become a whore of Wall Street. They (public companies, that is) care about only one thing. Well, maybe two things – profits, and growth. And, Apple has excelled at both. The most valuable tech company ever. Maybe, the most valuable company of anything – ever.

    So, why should they care about your non-profit suggestions? They are printing money at an incredible rate.

    Stop pretending like Tim Cook, Steve Jobs, or any Apple exec gives a darn about anything other than their own egos, and the smell of money.

  • Frank Malloy

    So, so naive…

  • Viswakarma

    Solar Power!!!

  • blehtastic

    Yea, who needs to build demand in emerging markets, soon to be larger consumers of electronic goods by an order of magnitude than the U.S.

    Ignoring the philanthropic benefits, it’s a brilliant marketing idea.

  • Rao

    Hi Mike, Great ideas.  Thought you might enjoy this video that shows some of the work Apple did back in the 90’s.

  • blehtastic

    It’s intriguing how whenever a charitable idea gets floated, conservatives come out saying that it’s “everybody’s” responsibility to change the world, but not this group of people, and not this company, and not this government, and not this ngo.

    This “everybody” you speak of must be defined differently in your particular dialect of the English language.

  • blehtastic

    Apple has more money than god and essentially zero debt. They’re one of the few publicly traded companies in the world that doesn’t give a damn about what wall street says as they can run their firm off of their mythic revenues.

    Given the asinine ideas coming from wall street about Apple lately, that’s a good thing.

  • CharliK

    You are a tad off base with some of these thoughts.

    1. The third world lacks the infrastructure to even use these items

    2. Only a minority of users get the latest and greatest anyway. Most folks wait until what they have breaks or is years behind the core requirements for the software

    3. This kind of recycling doesn’t reduce demand for rare earth materials since you aren’t actually reusing the bits of old stuff to make the new stuff

    4. Apple encourages proper ewaste recycling through their partnership with a recycler that actually gives money for some products

    Now to mention, why focusvthis as an Apple thing. Where is the cry to Dell etc to do the same

    Oh and did miss the Apple was partners with Teach for America for folks to donate their iPads for use by teachers in poor areas of our country, who are just as in need as the kiddies in Africa etc. Where are you suggestions to help them

  • CharliK

    Apple does give a damn about Wall Street. They are in this to make money after all.

    They just don’t let the so called experts on Wall Street make their design decisions any more than the vocal so called experts all over the Web

  • CharliK

    The shareholders would hate this idea because they want folks to buy products, not be given hand me downs

  • CharliK

    Unfortunately they don’t have the means to wire those parts of the world with electricity and Internet access, and for free. Two things needed for any of these devices to be of use. Not to mention tech support, training etc

  • CharliK

    Unfortunately they don’t have the means to wire those parts of the world with electricity and Internet access, and for free. Two things needed for any of these devices to be of use. Not to mention tech support, training etc

  • CharliK

    That might not be due to Apple but rather your government, the studios, record labels etc

    If these groups don’t want to play with Apple, it’s a no go

  • Antncleopuss

    It is dispiriting to read below so many people who are simply too conditioned Into the way things are that they cannot see the possibility of someone making a stand/changing the paradigm – to do what is right. I completely agree with the points you make in your article (some of which are fundamentally misunderstood by commenters below). Just because it is not immediately profitable to make these choices does not mean for a second that this article is wrong, or that the author is naive.

    If the future of our communities/countries/planet rests on the unimaginative commenters below, or on companies whose sole purpose is to exclusively look after themselves and their balance sheets, then in my opinion we may all just give up right now. Because if people did not believe things could be better and strive for it, many of the milestones we celebrate in human history would never have happened.

    What is wrong with thinking outside the box? What is wrong with encouraging a company whose lack of debt and obscene growth prospects over the next 5 to 10 years, might allow it to take a stand on issues which do not lead directly to a further increase in those profits?

    What if … we all thought a little more about what we do every day and tried to minimise our impact on others and the environment with every decision we made? what if companies started thinking this way too, due to the demands of their customers?

    The answer is that together we would set examples for our children to follow, we would change what companies have to do to make those profits, because we as consumers would be demanding different things of them, and we would change the world.

    It is not naive to think outside the box. ‘Think different’ meant exactly this, and I would have thought the bunch of apple-ites commenting below would have more imagination than to ignore this truth.

    Besides which, on a purely business related basis, If this kind of strategy became yet another reason to buy apple products, who else could possibly compete?

  • Dvora

    Wonderful ideas all but so sad to read some of the responses. Hasn’t the GFC taught us anything?

    I would like to correct a slight misconception of the author, and it is relative:

    I come from a time when command line prompts in green, amber or white were de rigeur, and noisy sprocket fed impact printers lived in another room from the main office with noise hoods over the top. Pre GUI the Internet was a communication facility between tertiary institutions, large corporations and the military.

    News was what had been filtered and fed to us by the media and those who questioned ethics and government stances were the informed and skeptical few.

    Had the GUI not been licensed from Xerox PARC, the world would not be at our fingertips, we would not be able to have the immediacy of news from a variety of perspectives from which we can evolve our political, financial and moral standpoints, and we would not be as socially aware of the problems in far away lands, and able to debate and choose our responses as we are freely able to do here and now.

    In that sense Apple has changed the world.

    There is an old nursery rhyme that minds me of the consequences of all action, apart from the obvious “oak trees from acorns grow”, and it goes like this:

    “for want of the nail, the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse the rider was lost. For want of the rider the battle was lost, and all for the want of a horseshoe nail!”

    For the naysayers – humbug and there but for the grace of g*d/the universe go I!

    If the richest man in the world can make his fortune AND champion philanthropy in laptops for children among other charitable works then karma is truly working, and the greedy should take note.

    All the same, Apple has changed our world significantly!

  • Barriguita

    Third world? What third world?

    We only live in one world, planet earth…

  • Charel

    Passing on rejects or second hand goods to the “third world” is counter productive. All it accomplishes is the destruction of their ability to make these products themselves. Be it clothing, foodstuffs, cars or pharmaceuticals the results are always negative.

    As far as discarded Apple products are concerned it only transfers the electronic waste from developed countries to those that are incapable   of dealing with such waste. Far better for Apple to continue developing products at ever decreasing prices to make them affordable to people earning less.

  • JDWages

    Some of the ideas presented in this article are very attractive in concept because “helping others” is something we all should do, whether we be rich or poor.  This is especially true in light of the “change the world” stance that we all associate with Apple.  Even so, the author has attempted to play the role of Robin Hood by strongly suggesting that Apple open its wallet in charity to folks Apple has traditionally not considered serious customers.  The closing question in this article actually casts Apple in a very dark light by asking if they wish to cater to the so-called “rich” for all eternity.  (Rather amusing too, as I am the farthest thing from “rich” and yet I have continued to be among the Apple faithful since 1984.)

    I cannot help but view this article as having been inspired by recent press about Steve Job’s personal charity giving, which quite frankly is none of our business.  Furthermore, since Mr. Elgan projects himself as having a giving heart (as evidenced by his call for Apple to do this out of sheer benevolence), I would be interested to know the exact percentage of Mr. Elgan’s income that goes to charities on a regular basis, and how many years that has remained true.  Who among us wouldn’t find this article much more digestible if the author were a true philanthropist who gives perhaps 10% or more of his total after-tax income to charity?  But I find it much less palatable if the author is someone who perpetually gives an insignificant sum to charity yet boldly expects others (either individuals or corporations) to make up for what is in fact his own personal inadequacies.

  • blueleaves

    I would imagine that Apple will look like this in 10 years – the author of this article is a smart guy. I think that the needle is shifting so that making good products and being a good business will be in producing products that are reusable and upgradable. As he mentions, the idea of making products the way that Apple – and many others do now – will be seen as obscenely wasteful. Tim Cook seems a good guy. I’m hopeful that Apple will lead the vanguard in this.

  • Sadeq008

    Why third world people should use your hand-two devices? that’s not fair and ridiculous.
    do you dare to give your child these dam things?

  • Raymon Firdauzi

    Who are you mike to challenge Mr. Cook? Why don’t you challenge other in your class and do your own heroic act, if any. 

  • Daniel O Reilly

    u can give away software for free as it costs pennies to reproduce. OLPC is a venture and manufacturers of parts still profit. You still have to buy the laptops but often this is through donations. Perhaps apple could contribute here!

    Oh, had the GUI not been ‘rescued’ by Xerox PARC. Lets not forget they had completely shelved it, scrapped the project and the board had completely turned their back on it

  • Guest

    Let’s give these African children iPads and Angry birds and an iTunes account with their VISA cards…, thàts gonna solve the problem. They don’t need iPhones, they need food and real education, end of corruption and religious influences. For F* sake this is the most retarded article I’ve read in a long time. Just visiting this Mike Elgan’s site shows me the vast amounts of Smug money can buy. What about the people at Foxconn? Fuck them? What about suburban people buying the iPhone 5 on a loan because they can’t afford it but the mind manipulating marketing of Apple and surrounding peer pressure almost forces them to poverty, to live on water and bread for a few weeks, just to get their new iDevice. Long live Apple Heil Apple!!

    I’m truly sorry for reading this through :'( This is serious bullcrap.

  • Guest

    Beacause 1) Solar panels are completely free for all!!
    2) because if they would HAVE solar panels on their huts, there’s nothing more important than charging your iPhone every day to play Angry Vultures, and sending emails about how thirsty you are, and downloading Diet-apps via the the wifi network they all have BRILLIANT, FUCKING BRILLIANT

  • Petterpan

    Apple does not care about the environment or people. 

    “Apple uses better materials and makes an effort to prevent environmental and health problems in recycling.”

    That is not true at all, there are many examples and although most are from the manufacturing company it is still Apple.

  • Dvora

    I agree with you – as they had with the mouse :)

  • vikram333

    “…the author of this article is a smart guy…”

    The author for very many years has been an Apple bashing MSFT fanboy and the Apple-bashing was often completely clueless and wrong – as was the MSFT cheerleading.  

    The smartness comes from seeing which way the wind blows and switching over to Apple cheerleading.  Prior to working for this site, Elgan would write the most atrocious garbage regarding Apple – along with Rob Enderle, Paul Thurrott, John Dvorak, Joe Wilcox etc…

    The reason why Apple doesn’t allow easy disassembly is because then the phones are easily screwed up and cause problems for the consumer, greater support costs and a worse user experience in the long run.  Hence no simple battery replacement which others allow but Apple does not and which creates for Apple products better and longer lasting battery life.  Apple thinks about these things, Elgan and others do not.  

    Apple is already on the record for saying that they want to make affordable phones for people (Tim Cook in Feb)  and they likely will start that soon.

    Many companies already are taking action re:recycling and Apple already accepts product back (though not in a true exchange but for recycling).

    Giving out phones for lower cost in these countries means that people will in turn re-sell them at market rates to people in more expensive countries, thus avoiding the intended effect.  Apple will come out with lower priced offerings like with the iPod – it is only a matter of time.

  • EmmaMitch56161652


    I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for.
    I use BIDFiRsT. COM

  • Sean Baggaley

    Mike Elgan,

    Your article has some glaring flaws in its arguments.

    Let’s start with the e-waste suggestion:

    The argument appears to be based on the premise that handing down used Apple products to the third world would eliminate, or greatly reduce, the waste, because other companies wouldn’t have to produce tat. Not gonna happen: what WILL happen is those companies will continue producing cheap and nasty products built to a third-world-friendly price, because their alternative is… what, exactly? All you’ll be doing is flooding a market—can you say “monopolistic practices”?—with devices that other manufacturers would have to compete with in a race to the bottom. Apple would simply be sued to bits, shackled in leg-irons and dragged all the way to the WTO.

    Know this: you do NOT “solve” the problems of developing nations by merely giving them fish. You solve them by *teaching them HOW to fish*. EDUCATION is the key here. Robert Mugabe was not the West’s fault. Neither are the many problems bedevilling South Africa, Nigeria, Somalia, etc. The simple fact is that you can’t just flip a switch labelled “Modern, Developed, Democratic Nation”: democracy without education is just tyranny by a tiny elite, who can run rings around their electorate by simply manipulating their media. (And that’s not limited to developing nations either.)

    This is why so much “charity” is just money down the drain, and why I tend to be extremely wary of most of them. (Many big name charities spend over half your donations just on management and administration. Others have simply become little more than vested interests, no better or worse than any other lobby or pressure group with an axe to grind.) Remember those wells that got built as a result of those Live / Band Aid affairs? Guess what: many have long since dried up because nobody considered how to handle their ongoing maintenance. The villagers were given their fish, but no education on how to keep ’em coming.


    We are seeing an increasing dependency effect from the fashion for charitable giving, and it’s a corrosive effect. Instead of helping themselves out of their own problems, we increasingly see the same hands reaching out, *expecting* our donations, as if it were their divine right. What need of fixing their corrupt governments or having a proper popular uprising to overthrow their dictators, when they know the Knights of the West will come a-runnin’ whenever they need them? If Band Aid and Live Aid were so damned effective, why the hell are Somalia, Ethopia and Eritrea *still* rattling their tins in expectation of yet more handouts over 25 years later?

    EDUCATION is the only viable, long-term, solution. If you truly want to make a difference, pay for the building *and ongoing maintenance* of schools, not glorified Oxfam shops selling used iPods.

    Harrumph, I say! Harrumph!

  • Volker Will

    This article is proof why the author is not running a company like Apple or MS.

  • prof_peabody

    So instead of an argument or any kind of logical comeback, you resort to insults?  

    To defeat the *single* fact you mention … There is no law that requires corporations to maximise profits.  All that bafflegab and nonsense about “legal duties” is just that.  

    You don’t know what you are talking about here and as for “grown ups” I would wager that I am several decades older than you and have much more knowledge of the subject at hand.  

    Edit: Also, just so you know, Apple is a company of “lefties” founded by lefties and radicals and espouses pretty much the opposite of your world view. So why are you even a shareholder?

  • CharliK

    This article is typical Mike Elgan. Go read a few more and you’ll see what I mean

  • CharliK

    Charitable giving, especially when it is done with great pomp and circumstance, to me is a bit like carbon credits. Instead of demanding cars etc that produce less waste we buy a remedy for our guilt that actually does little to offset the damage done. Instead of not producing more waste by actually recycling or at the least not buying the latest and greatest every year, we ‘buy’ a remedy’ by making a donation to this or that. But then we make sure everyone knows about it so we get a big public pat on the back. So are we really trying to make the world a better place or get 15 minutes of fame for our egos. 

    I work in the film industry and lots of us tech types donate our time, our knowledge and our equipment for educational projects that go to poorer schools and community centers to work with under privileged kids. We spend our day off (and often it is just that one day a week) teaching them about how movies are made, how the cameras work, how to tell a good story with good dialogue. We help the kids write scripts about things from their own lives that they are proud of, design a shoot, etc. They get to create a full project that they might never be able to do. Some of them are shit students when they walk in because although smart they just figure they haven’t got a snow balls chance so why bother. They latch onto this as a possible future and they know they have to get good grades and work hard if they want a shot. Some of the kids go to film school. Some just come and intern on set during their summers while they do something else. Some of them are shy and scared of public speaking or they have reading issues and now they have a way to speak from behind the camera. 

    Have you ever heard of us or these programs. No. Why? Because we aren’t doing it for you to know about it. We are doing it for the kids. 

  • CharliK

    Apple isn’t really in a position to dictate what the companies (who have many clients not just Apple) do or don’t do. they are often captive in that arena because there are limited companies that can build what needs to be built or do what needs to be built. 

    But when there is power and/or choices Apple uses them. For example, when they found out that Wintek was lying about what chemicals were being used to polish screens etc, they pulled their business and went to someone that wasn’t poisoning their staff. 

  • CharliK

    You do raise any often overlooked point. What about in Apple’s backyard. Forget the world for a moment, what is Apple doing in the good old USofA. Schools are starting to demand that 4th graders have laptops, iPads or at least a computer at home. But Apple’s discount is only for college kids. Where are the days of Apple giving schools fat discounts on hardware and even free software for computer labs. Why not a grant program from Apple so that those underprivileged schools in the mostly non white neighborhoods that don’t get big checks from the state cause their PSAT scores suck (cause half the kids can’t read higher than a 3rd grade level in the 8th grade) can get computers or anything else they need. where are the iPads and ACC software for the special education kids with speech problems to use while at school so they can be mainstreamed more effectively. 
    The whole “donate your old iPad to Teach for America” was a step in the right direction but it was just a step. How about a huge leap. 

  • Aaron

    [Citation needed]

  • CharliK

    We might live on one planet but there is definitely NOT one world. If there was then we wouldn’t have kids in entire countries going to bed on the ground hungry and sick due to lack of decent housing, food or health care while other kids are demanding a brand new iPhone even though they just got one two months ago (to replace the one that they dropped which was a replacement for one they spilled soda on three months before that) before eating enough fast food calories in one meal for a person’s daily calories for two whole days, riding home in their population spewing SUVs to hang out and play video games and then go to sleep in their posh temperature controlled water beds

  • Aaron

    Unfortunately, donating to many third-world countries is not much better than giving to the reeking-of-liquor homeless man at the corner. Many corrupt governments take the aid and distribute it among themselves. Why would giving expensive computers and handheld devices be any different? 

    The people of Ethiopia, for instance, have been receiving aid from countries for as long as I can remember. Still, the people are starving and don’t have potable water. What happened? The corrupt Ethiopian government takes the aid for themselves. The world donates enough; it just doesn’t get to the right people.

    Until we can get the aid to the people who truly need it, donating in many cases is completely worthless. It also doesn’t help when the “charities” take a large cut of your money and donations for “maintenance”. There should be regulation on that as well, but there isn’t.

    Mike, don’t let me keep you from wanting to change the world. Keep going. Just make sure your ideas work in the real world.

  • CharliK

    Yep. Now if you could use that tech to improve things on a basic level that would be something. 

    How about computer systems in hospitals to make it easier to track patient info so you don’t accidentally  give someone a medication they are lethally allergic to. Or to track previous conditions and visits so that you can detect that perhaps that chest cold is actually asthma. Or even to ensure that supplies are ordered on a proper schedule, medications aren’t being left to rot with no replacements

    yes computers could be used at schools to teach the kids by being used for things testing basic math skills or even interactive reading. Many kids in third world countries get perhaps 4 hours a week that they can go to school because they are farming. They can’t be doing homework every night. So perhaps better use of school time could be done digitally.

    computers to help businesses keep track of sales could be converted into farming co-ops using computers to monitor supply and demand, costs etc. perhaps even to converse with other co-ops to trade excess food so that everyone gets what they need and nothing just becomes so much rot. 

    These are things that could be done whether you are talking about rural Mississippi or Kenya. But first you have to tackle the infrastructure issue. Without that, its really just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic cause the waste just went from LA (or wherever) to Africa. 

  • CharliK

    There’s no law that says that companies have to be charitable. 

    If it is in their interest to be so, because for example, creating more jobs means more folks that would have money and thus could buy their stuff, then they will see a business reason to do it and might. 

    But to do it just to do it, they don’t have to. And many don’t. Just like many retail companies don’t feel it in their business interest to give part time employees health care or paid time off and theres no law forcing them to so they don’t. 

  • CharliK

    I’m going to have to agree with those that would say that you know little to nothing about Buddhism if you think doing like Gates means Jobs is a ‘true buddhist’

  • Sean Baggaley

    Kudos, sir.

    As an ex-teacher myself, I wonder how much they’ve taught you? :)

  • Bob Forsberg

    Good concepts Mike, but you will need a willing non-profit distribution structure much like the Red Cross to make it work. This week Apple established a third party trade-in/disposal program that can help solve their green waste dilemma. 

    Problematic in what you’re proposing is what happens to foreign aid and medical supplies within these third world countries….the ruling dictators take a majority of the product, sell it on the black market and pocket the cash….reality, facts of life, not an exception.

    Cook is a CEO answerable to stockholders who expect continuing major profits from Apple. Your good but idealistic proposals should be left to those outside of Apple’s manufacturing and distribution channels without profit responsibilities. A reason Apple is in the financial position it enjoys today is, stockholders expected and received record profits and remained vested. Take that away and investors will flee leaving Apple with the same great people but not enough funds to pay them, fund massive R&D efforts or build new headquarters. 

    Mike, I would challenge you to put this nonprofit organization together with the influence of the voice you carry with CultofMac and their organizational effort….and it would be a great write-off for you and the organization too.

  • Connor Mulcahey

    like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like like 

    this is an awesome idea, if Apple were to succeed with it then I bet a lot of the other large tech cooperations would follow since most of them are already copying Apple. Also this could kill the “designed for the dump” concept where companies design products to break asap to get people to buy new ones, buy new parts, pay for repairs etc.

  • netnerd258

    Mister, you have your head in the clouds, a lot of wanting to do good but not understanding the problem specifics. Reading a bunch of magazine articles then proposing grand solutions helps no one.

  • Bob Forsberg

    Mike means well but has no idea how the world works.

  • CharliK

    Honestly I don’t think they have taught me that much. But they have inspired me A LOT. And I think that’s even better. 

    It’s funny that this came up because just this afternoon I got an email from a former student who wanted to know if he could rent my editing studio for a couple of days. Course I was curious so I asked why. Seems that Derek had taken it upon himself to do a little charity work of his own since he left us a couple of years ago. There’s a nursing home not far from his school and he had been going over every week and just hanging out with ‘the old folks’ talking or playing cards or reading to them. Seems about a year ago, Derek found an old video camera that his dad had left behind when he ditched the family about a decade ago and Derek had gotten permission to film some of his buddies and what life was like for them growing up. Including this one REALLY old guy (107) that Derek say was ‘totally cool’. Turns out that Derek got to the home today to find out that the old man had passed away early last week. And Derek wants to edit some of the stuff he filmed of Thomas into a little movie for the family as a memorial. 

    I told him he was welcome to use the studio free of charge for as long as he needed if he didn’t mind working around my work (which means he’s stuck over in the corner on a three year old machine using a practically antique converter deck)

  • CharliK

    So why don’t you put out the hue and cry for them to do just that and once the infrastructure is there, you can try that computer/tablet idea again

  • Gregintosh

    If someone needs a computer for school/education (which only really needs to run the internet and a word processor) they can go to Best Buy and pick up a $279 laptop, or they can go on Craigslist and pick up a fully working desktop system for $200 (or less).

    Sure, Apple computers are nice, but they are a luxury. Lets not pretend that the kids need a $1,000+ laptop to Google something and then write a paper on it for their 4th grade class.

    College is where some real work comes into play, so having a better working computer counts. Plus, college kids tend to have more spending money due to jobs, grants, and student loans, and they are more conscious of style/trends to boot.

    Also, quite a few of the schools in the aforementioned “non white” areas are among some of the best funded. Don’t let their poor performance fool you. You should check out “Waiting for Superman”

    The problem isn’t funding. We are spending more per child (even in the bad areas) then we ever did before and we keep getting poorer and poorer results. The real problem lays with the teachers unions and how we overpay for underperforming teachers and can’t reward the good teachers or change how schools operate so that they are more effective because of Unions rules.

  • joeljupp

    By far, this is my favorite article that I’ve read on Cult of Mac.  Sure, there will always be those who criticize, but I like the boldness of this suggestion.  Way to call ’em out.  If Apple really wants to change the world, there are many ways that they can help.  

  • Mike Elgan

    Can you explain? 

  • Mike Elgan

    It would certainly help, and set a great example for the industry. 

  • Mike Elgan

    First, they would have to cherry-pick the actual countries. 

    All major companies have philanthropic wings, and give millions or billions to charitable organizations. McDonald’s, which is a less valuable company than Apple, has Ronald McDonald Houses serving 52 countries. 

    It’s not Apple’s style to just do what everyone else is doing, and this proposal is a very Applesque approach to philanthropy. It’s not just about giving, but giving the gift of Apple, while at the same time incentivizing quicker upgrades. 

  • Mike Elgan

    This is why this could work. Apple wouldn’t be mailing a check. They would be supervising local organizations directly selling or giving hardware to people. 

  • Mike Elgan

    I’m sure there are other commenter who also don’t run companies like Apple or MS. That’s not an argument against any of the ideas here. I’d be curious what you object to, specifically. 

  • Mike Elgan

    That’s easy to say, but can you give me one example of something I’ve said that couldn’t work? 

  • Mike Elgan

    I’ll take that as a compliment. 

  • Mike Elgan

    Let’s start with the fundamental premise of my argument, which is that recycling is bullshit that causes it’s own mess of problems, and that the best way to reduce the environmental impact of consumer electronics and computers is to manufacture a lot fewer of them. 

    Now, how do you do that? 

    Very simply, my proposal is that Apple could figure out how to provide refurbished but vastly superior Apple products in very large quantities at the same or lower cost than what people are buying now. 

    What’s wrong with that premise? Why do you think this couldn’t work? 

  • Mike Elgan

    It’s a great point. Poor people are everywhere. The digital divide is international. 

  • Mike Elgan

    I’m an American citizen who has the right to say whatever the fuck I want. 

  • Mike Elgan

    Funny you say that. I literally give my own children my second-hand iPhones, iPads and iPods. 

  • Mike Elgan

    I’ve been writing strong opinions about technology and technology companies for 20 years. I’ve written many articles critical of both Apple and Microsoft, and praising both Apple and Microsoft. 

    About four years ago, some relatively prominent troll wrote a series of error-filled personal attacks about me because he didn’t like two columns I wrote (out of the 150 or so I write every single year). 

    So now you have some vague memory of this series of personal attacks, and you’re trotting it out as some kind of insight. It’s a poor argumentation strategy, because many of the people reading these comments have clear memories of my columns and posts. The rest can simply search Google for my opinions and invalidate your claims in 20 seconds.

  • vikram333

    Mike, I have done Google searches on your columns and there is a very distinct difference between how you wrote about Apple, then and now, and Microsoft, then and now.  

    The difference is not simply about whether you are right or wrong about technology, after all people can make errors in predicting the future.  Rather, it is all about the tone and approach of your articles especially as it related to how you used to write about Apple and the way you do it now.  You were especially flippant about Apple and were effectively cheerleading Microsoft products when in comparison to Apple.  You may have been critical of Microsoft alone at various times but when you were writing about Apple and Microsoft in the same column, there was a distinct and obvious attempt to put Microsoft in the best light and be somewhat dismissive about Apple. 

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that you are a decent writer but any reasonable review of the manner that you wrote about Apple then vs now would show a very noticeable shift in intent, style and approach and it is very clear to those who have read your previous work.

  • petebouch

    Hi Mike, I’ve been thinking along the same lines re: deploying iPads to schools in developing nations. Education is such a important step to lifting people out of cycles of poverty.
    I don’t think you should leave it up to Apple tho, this is too important and not aligned with their primary mission. 
    Why not put together a non-profit organisation to partner with Apple? One that collects used iPads, loads them with textbooks and educational apps, equips them with hand-crank chargers and rugged cases and redistributes them to schools and volunteer teachers in Africa and Asia.
    I’m sure there’d be a lot of interest in this from the kickstarter community to raise seed funding.

  • nik

    I also think that you haven’t thought this recycling part through. While it’s true that the devices sent to the third world get a second lease on life, it will compound the ewaste problem in two ways. First, MORE, not less goods will be produced as the first world users feel less guilt in donating their old, but still functional tech so they can have the shiny new upgrade. Two devices instead of one.

    Second, you are transferring ewaste from the first world to the third because those devices will eventually breakdown, no matter how good Apple’s engineering is, and they will be in countries which have NO ewaste recycling infrastructure. Way to export our problem.

    I admire the sentiment of your piece, but the fact remains that no matter how noble the enterprise the infrastructure doesn’t exist to fairly distribute even donations of food in those same countries.

  • imajoebob

    Giving otherwise junked goods to people who can’t afford to buy your products does nothing to harm your sales.  In fact, it seeds the market demand for when these targeted people can later afford to buy them.  What good does it serve Apple to cede this segment to the Linux market, when it would cost them almost nothing to replace those with Apple products?

    This would be a big win for Apple shareholders.

  • netnerd258

    Let me ask ya, have you been to one of these 3rd world countries? How deep do you really understand the situation “over there”, are there just one whole 3rd world or do cultures differ? Will apple products actually help or just be a distraction. Do you know?

  • imajoebob

    Neither was ever anything but an unapologetic capitalist.  Jobs has just always been a lot smoother about it.  Anybody sitting on 75 billion in cash has some serious personality issues of his own.  
    Nobody thinks Microsoft (and businessman Gates) is more evil than I do, but separate your Microsoft-hating from your Bill & Melinda Gates-hating.  The only time you ever hear anything about The Gates Foundation is when they want to encourage (shame) other ultrawealthy people to start helping others too.  He puts his money AND his personal reputation where his mouth is.  Jobs hasn’t even done a 30-second PSA encouraging people to check the Organ Donor box on their drivers licences.  

  • netnerd258

    Your “key aspects” are also money losing ideas, is Apple a NGO, setting up and building that infrastructure you suggested will cost a fortune to maintain in the long run. Apple already sell refurbs to customers, people are actually willing to pay for them!

    The so called e-Waste is recycled into raw materials to build new products now, there is no need to prolong the cycle by getting them lost, should Apple pay more to get their own products back for recycling? That will just promote theft.

    Throwing iPads at the poor helps them plenty, hell, I’ll pretend to be poor too, so will a million other jerks. You get what I mean? People will sell it and get something else they really need or just enjoy it while branding the person who gave it to them “sucker”.

    I’m actually not a fan of OLPC either, having a piece of tech that makes your child a prime target for robbery because everyone is too god damn poor is not the best thing, 3rd world governments need to start these initiatives, this needs to start from within, government aren’t helpless, unless they are useless and corrupt, that really is very much related to your proposal. I don’t think Apple of all companies is in a position to help, not even with money, free money is not the solution, this I think you agree with.

    Apple products were not designed to solve 3rd world problems, maybe they can be modified for that purpose who knows, but who is going to modify anything? Don’t buy a BMW if you can’t afford to maintain it, Apple products will cost to maintain. They are meant for the mid to high income market (unlike BMs which is meant for the very high income bracket only).

    Education is key of course I agree, but sometimes technology gets in the way, especially when people just need something basic, or if the infrastructure for hi-tech is not in place. Books are great, teachers are great, they last far longer than electronics, and they have been around far longer. It just has to start from the inside. But when it does start from the inside, I’m sure they don’t need hand-me-downs.

  • JDWages

    I couldn’t help but remember Mike Elgan’s Cult of Mac article this morning when I saw this news:

    I think it shows Apple is not utterly apathetic toward the concept of helping the less fortunate, starting with those closest to home.