Sour apples

Despite great design and near-evangelising customers, Apple is missing a trick on interchangeability and environmental issues. In fact, its approach to cabling and other vital support systems is plug ugly, says Mike Dempsey


So there I was standing in that cathedral of all things Macintosh – the Apple store in London’s Regent Street. A blizzard of people are enthusiastically engaging with the myriad of products on offer or they are sitting in on the free all-day tutorials. A young assistant approaches me, kitted out in the obligatory black T-shirt. ‘Can I help you, sir?’ I rummage in my bag and produce an iBook power cable – the end of which had been crushed underfoot and would no longer plug into my laptop. ‘Can I buy a new cable? I mean just the cable and the endy bit, not the power adapter and wall plug, they’re fine?’

A raised eyebrow and courteous smile followed. ‘I’m sorry, sir, you have to buy the whole thing.’ I reluctantly shelled out £59. The young man then took great pride in demonstrating his handheld wireless cash register and beamed the receipt directly to my laptop three miles away. A paperless transaction, environmentally lovely.

That little episode got me thinking. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the inventiveness of Apple, with its focus on the user and the intuitive functionality of its products, but have you noticed that whenever it introduces a new Mac all the plugs seem to be different?

When I bought my iPhone I thought great, I can use the same dock as my iPod. Wrong. It doesn’t work. Even the earphones aren’t compatible. So if you want a second dock you can buy what they call a ‘universal dock’ that fits both the iPhone and iPod for a mere £35. Question. Why not just make the one in the first place?

Over the years I have ended up with a graveyard of Apple bric-a-brac. It’s infuriating and completely unnecessary. The company that spouted the mantra ‘Think different’ doesn’t seem to think about these small, but increasingly important issues.

Over the past year Greenpeace has put Apple under extreme pressure to clean up its environmental act via a brilliant spoof website, www.greenpeace.org/apple.

Here it has harnessed the passion and anger of many environmentally aware Mac users to target the company with concerns about the lead and chemical content of Apple products. The campaign got to the very core of Apple’s hidden shame. But it’s not just Apple that needs criticising. How many mobile phone chargers have you got?

It is yet another of those industries that just can’t stick to one charger design. A new phone equals a new charger. Why? Money, of course. It’s the same story with printer inks and laptop battery packs. If you want to fire up an old Mac you have to hunt around China via the Internet to find one.

And why is it that when you unpack a new Mac the whole room ends up looking like Rachel Whiteread’s box installation at the Tate? Imagine for one moment what it would be like if every electric wall plug in your home was different. Mass suicide ensues. And how was it that someone decided to make all UK kettle plugs the same? See, it can be done.

I say to Apple, you have an extremely loyal and positively evangelising customer base, so why not give us a teeny bit extra and crack the wasteful issues surrounding your products? Better still, lead the way in engaging in discussion with other computer and mobile companies to move towards interchangeable and standardised power plugs, chargers and all those other infuriating non-compatible bits, and make them last for ten years rather than ten months. l

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