Apple’s Siri page is getting better!
Tag Archives: Apple
Roundup of recent articles and podcasts
We’ll start with MacStories which has been very busy and churning out articles I’ve really enjoyed.
Most recently, Federico Viticci hit on a topic that I also recently wrote about. Of course, his article is of much greater length and detail (when are his articles not of great length and detail?). His article, Erasing Complexity: The Comfort of Apple’s Ecosystem is an excellent read:
There are two takeaways from this story: I was looking for simplicity in my tech life, which led me to appreciate Apple products at a deeper level; as a consequence, I’ve gained a fresh perspective on the benefits of Apple’s ecosystem, as well as its flaws and areas where the company still needs to grow.
After a couple of years experimenting with lots third party hardware and apps he’s simplifying:
But I feel confident in my decision to let go of them: I was craving the simplicity and integration of apps, services, and hardware in Apple’s ecosystem. I needed to distance myself from it to realize that I’m more comfortable when computers around me can seamlessly collaborate with each other.
I’ve never gone to the lengths that he has. I don’t have the money, time or the inclination for such far ranging experimentations, be they apps or hardware. But I’ve dipped my toes in enough to know that constant experimentation with new apps takes away from my time doing other things. At some point experimentation becomes a thing unto itself which is fine if that’s something one enjoys. I think many geeks fall into this.
His conclusion is spot on:
It took me years to understand that the value I get from Apple’s ecosystem far outweighs its shortcomings. While not infallible, Apple still creates products that abstract complexity, are nice, and work well together. In hindsight, compulsively chasing the “best tech” was unhealthy and only distracting me from the real goal: finding technology that works well for me and helps me live a better, happier life.
This tech helps us get things done. It is a useful enhancement but it is not the end goal.
A week or so ago Apple announced an upcoming event for March 27, centered on education and taking place in Chicago. There’s a lot they can do in this area but they haven’t provided much detail about the event so of course there’s been LOTS of speculation. John Voorhees of MacStories has a fantastic write-up of his expectations based on recent history in the education tech area as well as Apple’s history in education. He think’s the event will “Mark a milestone in the evolution of it’s education strategy”:
However, there’s a forest getting lost for the trees in all the talk about new hardware and apps. Sure, those will be part of the reveal, but Apple has already signaled that this event is different by telling the world it’s about education and holding it in Chicago. It’s part of a broader narrative that’s seen a shift in Apple’s education strategy that can be traced back to WWDC 2016. Consequently, to understand where Apple may be headed in the education market, it’s necessary to look to the past.
It’s a great read. The event is this week so we’ll know more soon.
With the topic of Apple and education there’s been a lot of talk about Google’s success with Chromebooks in education. As the story goes, many schools have switched because the Chromebooks are cheap, easy to manage and come with free cloud-based apps that teachers (and school staff) are finding very useful. Another one of my favorite Apple writers is Daniel Eran Dilger over at Apple Insider and he’s got a great post challenging the ongoing narrative that Apple in dire straights in regards to the education market. Specifically the current popular idea that Apple should drop it’s prices in a race to the bottom with companies that sell hardware for so little that they’re making little to no profit. How is “success” measured in such spaces? Dilger covers a lot of ground and it’s worth a read in terms of having more context, current and historical, for that market area. He’s got another recent post about Google’s largely failed attempt at entering the tablet market in general. Google gives up on tablets: Android P marks an end to its ambitious efforts to take on Apple’s iPad
Rene Ritchie over at iMore continues to do a fantastic job both in his writing and podcasting. His recent interview with Carolina Milanesi on the subject of Apple and education is excellent. It’s available there as audio or transcript. I found myself agreeing with almost everything I heard. Carolina recently posted an excellent essay on tech in education over at Tech.pinions..
One thing in particular that I’ll mention here: iWork. I love the iWork apps and have used them a lot over the years. That said, I agree with the sentiment that they are not updated nearly enough. I would love for Apple to put these apps up higher in the priority list. Would be great to see the iPad versions finally get brought up to par with the Mac versions.
Rene also did another education related podcast interview, this one with Bradley Chambers who’s day job is Education IT.
How-to iPad with iOS 11
Last week Apple released a series of six iPad and iOS 11 How-To videos. I’ve also discovered, what may or may not be a new section of their website, How to do even more with iPad Pro and iOS 11 which not only has the new videos but also four sections for learning about the iPad:
I don’t spend a lot of time browsing Apple’s website unless I explicitly need information. Browsing around just now, via the above links, I’m impressed. This would be a great place for any iPad user to explore and bookmark. I’m particularly impressed with the iPad Apple Support page.
It’s good to see Apple promoting the device and the new features of iOS 11. I’ve thought for awhile now that Apple was doing too little to promote the features of the iPad and anecdotally this bears out in my observations of usage by the people around me. Very few of them are aware of what iOS and the iPad are capable of. While they get a lot of use out of their iPads it’s mostly a casual use. As has been repeated over and over, the iPad as a casual consumption device. For many that I have observed (my extended family all have them) that is indeed true. That said, it is also true that it is their main computing device. But it’s mostly for messaging, browsing the web, Facebook, email and games. Most of these folks are retired though so it makes sense.
There are plenty of kids in my family that are now in Junior High, High School and college. Most of them in fact. Will they be using iPads as their primary computing devices? With iOS 10 and now 11, they certainly could be. The hardware of the iPad is more than capable. And now with iOS 11, even more so. I’ve been out of the college world for 24 years but I know much of it remains the same. From what I’ve seen the iPad is not only well suited to that job it may well be the perfect device for it. The same goes for many other areas.
After browsing the above pages I doubled back to the Main Apple page and then visited the iPad main section. I wasn’t all that surprised that while the content is, of course, about selling iPads it is heavily weighted towards educating the reader about what the iPad can do. I’ve long thought that Apple needed to do more to demonstrate to the public what the strengths of iOS and the iPad form factor are but I’m beginning to realize that the website does this very well. The stores and staff also do this very well. In-store programs such as Apple Today are exactly what’s needed.
The only area that might still need improvement is television spots. The current ads are great in that they offer up an easy to grasp lesson. I’d like to see more of them in this style. A lot more. Just a simple lesson in using one part of the iPad. Currently the spots just end with large text, “iPad Pro” and I know this is very un-Apple like but I wish they’d include something along the lines of “Learn more at apple.com/ipad/howto”. They’ve developed a very helpful, educational website, why not do more to direct users to it? I don’t have access to broadcast television so I have no idea how often Apple airs ads. It would be great if they’d buy a lot of time each fall to educate users about the new features of iOS.
Finding Trust and Delight in the Apple Ecosystem
I am increasingly happy to be in Apple’s always improving ecosystem. No, more than happy, I’m delighted. Really. It’s fantastic. The devices and services tie together so smoothly. I cannot imagine a better experience. iCloud has evolved into something that just works all of the time. I can’t think of the last time I encountered something that didn’t work. From Music to Photos to the syncing of documents, notes, Safari data, etc.
Example. A few minutes ago I was listening to some music via my Apple TV and browsing Twitter. I came across this tweet:
David Chartier @chartier
This stuff is so much fun. Upbeat, instrumental, little quirky, foot tappin work music. https://itun.es/us/kHQC6?i=980592724
I’ve clicked on his Music suggestions before and enjoyed them so I tapped. I paused playback on the AppleTV and began listening to the this new album on Apple Music on the iPad. Perfect. With a tap I added it to my library and marked it as loved. I know that when I go for my walk in 10 minutes that album will be waiting under the recently played category on my iPhone. It’s also showing up now on my AppleTV. Because it’s something my sister and brother might enjoy I shared it with them via Messages with a couple taps.
Another example. I finally enabled iCloud Photo Library on my phone and two iPads. I’ve not turned it on my Mac yet as that library is long overdue for a clean-up. Within a day the photos on the three iOS devices were synced. This could be better if the people/face recognition synced between them. But as is it worked flawlessly.
Syncing between devices seems flawless for everything. Whether I’m adding a reminder or calendar event, a note or link for Safari’s Reading list, I know that it will be there. Same for editing documents. Same thing for podcasts. I happily choose to use the Apple Podcasts app. It gets the job done. And it’s super nice to know that when I pause a podcast on my iPad and grab the iPhone for a walk I can pick-up playback right where I left off.
Siri and HomeKit
These are getting progressively better. I’ve been using Siri fairly consistently for the past three years and the improvements have been easily noticeable. It’s not 100% but it is so much better. I still get misses but they are, by far, the exception. And I’m not just talking about asking for the weather or setting timers or alarms. I can ask how late a business is open or request Siri to call a business. Or ask her to do math. Or ask her when my niece’s birthday is.
And when used with HomeKit devices it truly seems like magic. Walking up in the driveway in the evening after a walk and asking Siri to turn on the porch light or the window AC and then seeing (or hearing) the result seconds later makes me smile every time. My last action each evening before going to bed is to ask Siri to turn off my light across the room. So much better than trying to convince my cat and dog that they need to move so I can get up and do it. That’s right, it’s all for the comfort of my animal companions. I do it all for them. Also worth noting, devices with Hey Siri do a great job of negotiating which device will answer.
What can I say that hasn’t been said by many others? AirPods are fantastic. I wear mine many hours everyday, usually with the iPhone while walking but sometimes while at the iPad. Regardless, I know that they will work with any device with no hassle with what seems like magic switching between devices. It’s not likely that I will ever buy another non-Apple speaker or headphone set. What’s the point? And I’ll add that a part of what makes these seem like magic are two details: Siri and the extended range. If I happen to leave my phone and go into a different room or outside while listening to music or having a conversation my connection is solid for at least 25 feet. It’s nice to have the freedom to forget the phone or to deliberately leave it sitting on a desk or table knowing that my connection is fine as I roam about. Also, Siri’s accuracy is even better with the AirPods. Using Siri with AirPods is, currently, the best possible Siri experience. We’re a long way from the AI found in the movie Her but until then I’ll happily use Siri and the AirPods.
Trust and Delight
Those two words sum it up for me. At this point I trust this ecosystem. As a whole it performs at something like 99% and thanks to that dependability I am constantly delighted. It’s been a long road getting here but I really feel like we’re there and it’s very nice to have arrived.
iPad Journal: First Week with the 2017 iPad Pro
It’s been a week since the 12.9″ 2017 iPad Pro arrived at my door. I can best summarize by saying that without any doubt, this is my favorite Apple device ever. I’m not surprised. I expected it would be. And I say that having used it on iOS 10 only. No beta for me. Actually, I should say that it’s not the iPad alone but the pairing of it with the Apple Smart Keyboard and Pencil. I’ve not used the Pencil much but after just few minutes with Procreate and Affinity Photo, I was certain that I will indeed get great use and enjoyment from it. I hope to use it more this week. I did however spend many hours with the keyboard.
I was a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed using the Smart Keyboard. I’d only used one in a store for about 20 minutes and knew that it felt pretty good to type on. What I wasn’t sure about was the stability of the keyboard or how I would feel about the lack of special, media playback keys.
- Special Keys: I DO miss the lack of media playback keys which are especially helpful when using Apple’s Podcast App in split screen for transcription work. That said, reaching up to the same spot to pause and start isn’t killing me. Same for the volume keys. I’d prefer to have them but will get along without them.
- The Smart Keyboard/case is very stable thus far. I’ve used it in may lap during much of every day for the past week. But I’ve found that it is most stable when used on something and conveniently, almost by accident, I set it on the box it was packaged in as I was setting up the iPad the first day. The first time I picked it up to use it I left it sitting on that box which provides a lightweight and stiff base. It’s perfect. I haven’t even used it in my lap without that box under it. Confusing at first but now that I’ve done it a few times the folding of the case over the top of the iPad is very easy as is opening it and setting up the iPad for typing. The two together are very compact and light. I’m really glad I went with this case.
- Typing has been great. Just as I remembered from the 20 minute test in the store, this keyboard is a real pleasure to type on. When I set-up on Tuesday I was halfway through a 75 minute podcast transcription so of course I finished that transcription using the new set-up and I required no time to get used to the new keyboard. It’s every bit as enjoyable to type on as my to Logitech keyboards. No, actually, it’s more enjoyable with less key travel but with a satisfying movement and light tappy sound.
My main motivation in an iPad Pro was the bigger screen size and it’s been fantastic. Using Coda and Affinity Photo for work over the past week has been an excellent experience on the 12.9″ screen. Over the course of the week I updated a client’s website to a new responsive design all from the iPad using Coda to edit CSS and HTML. I often use Coda in conjunction with Transmit, Safari, Messages, and Spark. It’s so much nicer on the larger screen. I also had to put together a magazine ad for a client and a promotional postcard for another client. Both of those were a pleasure to do with Affinity Photo. At no point did I feel I was using anything less than the full version of the app that I’ve gotten used to using on my Mac. The only downside is that Affinity Photo does not yet support split screen. I can live with that given that its the sort of app that begs for the biggest workspace possible. I just use a slide-over when I need to.
Unlike many I don’t see a huge benefit in the new refresh rate of 120Hz, what Apple is calling Promotion. Sure, scrolling on the new iPad as absolutely smooth. Everything is smooth. But I don’t read text while scrolling. I’ve compared to the iPhone 7+ and I just don’t see a difference. Everything on the iPhone is also buttery smooth. I do notice the TrueTone and the increase in brightness but there again, I rarely use my iPad brighter than 40%! So, yes, it is an absolutely gorgeous screen but to my eyes it is nearly identical to the iPhone 7. I just went back to my Air 2 and scrolled through a full page of text in Safari. First time I’ve done that in a week. I do see a difference but nothing so fantastic as what I’ve been hearing and reading from the Apple Nerdery. Shrug.
As was noted when the previous iPads Pro were released, yes, the speakers are pretty great. Much better than the iPads that had only two speakers.
Speed and Memory
Yes, no doubt, this machine is beast. Blazing fast. I’ve not noticed any lag in anything I’ve done with any app. Also, having 4 gigs of RAM is pretty nice. I go back to apps that I’ve not used in hours and they are ready to use with no delay. Safari holds far more tabs than I ever saw with the Air 2. I keep most of my apps in folders and all apps that aren’t in the dock are on the second page of the home screen. My main strategy for opening apps is either the dock, Command-Tab, or Spotlight. Most often it is the latter two and it is instantaneous. With Spotlight I type the first few letters of the app then return and there it is 1.
Weight, Size and Portability
Yeah, well, this is bigger than the Air 2 but still, very portable. With it’s Smart Keyboard it is lighter to tote than a MacBook Air 13″ or a 2017 MacBook Pro and only slightly heavier than a MacBook. And with at least 10 hours of battery time, yeah, it’s still a great portable machine.
Pro Computer, Pro Apps
Until last spring I’d owned an Apple laptop of one kind or another for 17 years. I sold my last one a year ago because it wasn’t getting used anymore. After over a year of using the iPad Air 2 as a primary, preferred device I have no doubt that my Mac laptop days are over. The real point of this size iPad is that it be a laptop replacement it is fully capable of doing that and even more. As a form factor with flexibility it is better than a fixed hinge laptop. It can be used attached to a keyboard or near a keyboard or with no keyboard at all. Not only that but with the maturity of iOS I have an operating system that I find a delight to use and with iOS 11 it even more so. With the Pro line, iPad is no longer a compromise, no longer a sidestep, it is a step up to something better.
The deal is sealed with “pro” apps. For those that require apps such as InDesign, Final Cut Pro and Xcode this is not YET the device for them. I’m sure there are plenty of other example apps that are not available on iOS and for folks that need those the time for using only an iPad Pro is not yet. But we can see with the release of Affinity Photo that the iPad is fully capable of performing heavy-duty tasks with fully featured apps. There should be no doubt, Affinity Photo represents the long sought after “Photoshop for the iPad”. I’d go further and say it is better because, like it’s desktop equivalent, it does not come with the baggage or subscription pricing that come with Adobe and Photoshop. Going forward it seems a certainty that the iPad Pro, along with iOS 11 and upcoming pro apps by Serif and others, will begin to gain a great deal of traction.
Apple has made it clear that the Mac is not going away which is great news for folks that prefer the Mac. It’s a mature and powerful platform that has it’s place. But it is equally clear now that the iOS platform as an increasingly pervasive and capable mobile ecosystem will continue to expand in power and flexibility to accommodate the needs of power users. I for one am happy to celebrate all of them but it is the iPad that I will look forward to using everyday.
- Of course, it was pretty fast on the Air 2. See, mostly, the Air 2 felt very fast to me. I was not unhappy with it and were it not for an iPad with this screen size I would have likely just kept using the Air 2 which says something about how fast older iPads and iOS are. ↩
2017 iPad Pro Reviews Consensus: WOW
Well, it seems the consensus on the new iPad Pro is that it is an absolute monster. Yes, well, you know, a very svelte monster that’s ready to do your bidding. The A10X is off the charts. The new ProMotion is an improvement on par with the switch to Retina, or close to it. Battery life is the usual, 10 hours or better. I’ve not read one review that is not raving about this device or one which has not mentioned how much better it will be with iOS 11.
It’s kind of funny really that for the past year I’ve considered my move to the iPad for most of my work as not only easy but pleasurable. In fact, it’s because I so enjoy the iPad that I made the move. There was no sacrifice or pain, quite the opposite! I’ve been happily using the iPad Air 2 released in the fall of 2014. I rarely notice lag of any sort. In fact, it wasn’t until using the recently released Affinity Photo that I used an app that actually prompted me to wish for faster hardware. Don’t get me wrong, the app is wonderful but it does push the limits of what nearly three year old hardware can do. Even so, the older iPad still handles it pretty well. But the 2017 iPad Pro? Easy Peasy. And with the larger screen? Affinity Photo and a 13″ is a great combination.
Yeah, 9.7″ screen just a bit cramped for some tasks. Editing websites in Coda works pretty well on a smaller screen though I did often wish for just a wee bit more room in my edit window. Also, while split screen on the 9.7 works well, there again, I often wished for a bigger screen. Using split screen with the onscreen keyboard is not advised on the 9.7! Not a big deal as I usually use an external keyboard if I’ll be typing more than a few sentences. So, in my use, this upgrade is not just about a much faster machine with a better screen but also about a bigger screen. 12.9″ is exactly what I wanted. This feels exactly my favorite sized laptop, the 13″ MBA. And again, with iOS 11 around the corner, I think the larger screen is going to be that much better.
I’ve not had a chance to use the Pencil much just yet. A few minutes on a current Procreate painting of a nebula and no doubt, it’s better than a cheap stylus on the iPad Air! I’m sure I’ll be getting my use out of the Pencil for those projects. Now, the Apple Smart Keyboard? I’ve used it a good bit over the past 12 hours and I really like it. I do wish that it had the special shortcuts for playing media, volume, home, and spotlight but I’ll make do. Also I wish it had back-lighting. But beyond those limitations, I like the feel of it. Not only that I like the sound of it. Typing on this keyboard has a very pleasant feel and sound that I would describe as quiet but lightly clicks. Even better, it’s very stable. I wasn’t sure how stable it would be and worried that it would be a bit wobbly but in a few hours of usage I’m finding it to be pretty solid. Lastly, I really like the feel of the material used for the keyboard. Not quite cloth or rubber but almost something in between. Time will tell how well it holds up but my first impression is that this is a great keyboard. And the fact that it all folds up into such a compact and fairly light cover makes it all the better.
10.5-Inch iPad Pro Review: A Better Window Into The World Of Apps – Fast Company
As for the new A10X processor–which Apple says is up to 30 percent faster and up to 40 percent faster for graphics–its promise is mostly about letting developers ratchet up the ambition of their creations. You can see why Apple gave WWDC keynote time to Affinity Photo, a hyper-ambitious photo editor that has more of the kitchen-sink capability of full-blown Photoshop than the Photoshop apps that are available for the iPad. The A10x chip’s performance gains are apparent in areas such as the thumbnail previews of filter effects, which gradually pop into place on last year’s iPad Pro and are just there on the new model. This is the sort of app that benefits from as much computational horsepower as it can get–and the more apps there are like it, the better the case for the iPad Pro as a PC-rivaling creativity machine.
iPad Pro 10.5-inch (2017) Review: This Is Crazy Fast
When I first saw the new iPad Pro’s test results from our lab, I thought there was a big mistake. This new 10.5-inch tablet turned in performance scores so high that they blow away most laptops
John Gruber’s review at Daring Fireball:
Apple’s in-house chip team continues to amaze. No one buys an iPad because of CPU benchmarks, but the new iPad Pro’s CPU performance is mind-boggling. Forget about comparisons to the one-port MacBook — the iPad Pro blows that machine out of the water performance-wise. The astounding thing is that the new iPad Pro holds its own against the MacBook Pro in single-core performance — around 3,900 on the Geekbench 4 benchmark for the iPad Pro vs. around 4,200–4,400 for the various configurations of 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros…
All that said, the real story of these new iPad Pro models can’t be told today, because that story is iOS 11…
It feels like a hand has been untied from behind my back, and this amazing hardware has finally been allowed to run free.
Matthew Panzarino, An iPad Pro 10.5″ Not Review:
With the iPad Pro, especially when it’s armed with iOS 11, it’s beginning to feel possible to see Apple in this world. The combination of custom silicon, a still robust and specifically attuned software ecosystem and a focus on security, Apple has everything it needs to make a strong showing here.
Whether it leads to immediate growth of the category I don’t yet know – but this particular recipe is coming to maturity. The iPad is a full-fledged computer, and you can argue against it but you’re going to increasingly sound like a contrarian.
Earth — Shot on iPhone with Carl Sagan narration
Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot is fantastic and this is a good use of it.
Pre-WWDC Apple Nerdery
Wow. So much going on in the run-up to WWDC. As most have said, it looks to be a big one with likely hardware announcements. Apple seems to be releasing bits of news this week that would normally have been in the keynote prompting many to suggest that they are making way for a jam-packed presentation.
I’m not an educator but if I were I’d be very excited about what Apple is doing with Swift Playgrounds. The next update, due Monday, expands coding education to robots, drones and musical instruments :
Apple is working with leading device makers to make it easy to connect to Bluetooth-enabled robots within the Swift Playgrounds app, allowing kids to program and control popular devices, including LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3, the Sphero SPRK+, Parrot drones and more.
That’s going to be a lot of fun. On the topic of Swift, Fraser Speirs has an excellent post about teaching Swift over the past year.
I’m looking forward to new iPads being announced and hopefully the long rumored and hoped for “Siri Speaker”. And of course all of us iPad nerds are hoping for big iPad features with iOS 11. We never know until Apple announces it but I have a feeling (as do many others) that we’re going to see some great stuff Monday!
iPad Journal: A long overdue link round-up
Ha! Well, I’ve been busy with client work and have fallen a bit behind in posting weekly links. A couple of these are a bit outdated but I think still worth posting.
Just last week Federico posted his iOS 11 iPad Wishes story and video. Fantastic work, even better than last year’s. I’ll likely do a separate post on this but in summary, I like every idea he has suggested.
I don’t live near an Apple Store but I’m still very excited to see what they are doing with Apple Today. It’s a bummer that folks in rural areas largely miss out on this sort of thing. I suspect I’ll be posting more about this soon.
I very much agreed with Ryan Christoffel at MacStories that Apple’s services have greatly improved in recent years. Yes it’s true that, historically, Apple has struggled in this area. But with each year they have gotten much better. As far as I’m concerned they’ve gotten past that rough patch and now offer services that I do not hesitate to recommend. I trust them. Even better is the fact that their services are truly green and sustainable. They stand virtually alone on that.
Dispelling the Apple Services Myth – MacStories
The Apple of today has made services a core part of its business. Not only from a financial standpoint, but also in the area of user experience. The experience Apple sells is not merely one of hardware, or software – it includes services. And it’s that Apple experience that helped make the iPhone one of the most successful products in the history of the world.
You can draw your own conclusions from this story, but mine is that Apple’s services get a bad rap they generally don’t deserve; the company’s reputation for not doing services well is outdated. Are things perfect? Of course not. But they’re a lot better than the common narrative says.
Federico introduced a new website and podcast to cover the world of iOS apps. I’ve added it but I doubt I’ll listen to every show.
AppStories – A weekly exploration of the world of apps
Today, after many months of work, we are introducing AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps. Each week, Federico and I will discuss our favorite new apps and noteworthy updates, dive into the stories behind the apps we love, and explore the cultural and social impact of the App Store.
Another excellent iPad post by Federico:
iPad Diaries: Numbers, Accounting, and Currency Conversions – MacStories
Apple and the environment
I have, since around 1990, oriented the way I live my life around the question, “Is this good for the health of the Earth?” Those that know me would probably agree with the suggestion that I’m a bit extreme in that regard. The way I look at it is that it is, fundamentally, a question lived ethics and survival. What we do everyday impacts not only our future survival but the survival of countless other species with which we share the planet. Our choices thus far have been leading us to the extinction of other species and quite possibly our own. Our time on this planet does have an expiration date. One day humans will no longer exist on this planet. That’s a given. But will we end our time here prematurely due to poor behavior? Increasingly it looks as though we will.
I have long argued (as many have) that capitalism is incompatible with the longterm health of the planet. As an economic system it is focused on profit and specifically short-term profit. Corporations have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t do well when it concerns the environment and questions of human social justice. In the past ten years Apple has begun to demonstrate that it is possible continue making a profit even as it undergoes a dramatic shift in it’s social and environmental impact from a negative to a positive. Apple isn’t just minimizing its negative impact but is attempting and succeeding at creating a significant positive impact.
In recent years as it makes these changes it has made an effort to communicate to the public what it is doing. On the face of it it’s pretty easy to dismiss as the usual greenwashing that many companies engage in when they care about that aspect of how they appear to the public. In other words, marketing. But here’s the thing, Apple has gone so far in changing the way it operates that it no longer appears to be trying to convince the public that it is a good corporate “citizen”. They have seemingly made it a part of their mission to set the bar of conduct at a new level. This is a sustained effort to shift the fundamentals of the company from one that prioritizes profit to one which puts environmental impact on an equal footing.
In the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 we’ve seen a push by Apple to share what it’s been doing in these areas. In past years they have done the same but with each passing year as the scope of their commitment deepens it seems to be a shift from corporate marketing to one in which Apple sees a “teachable moment” and is educating the public not for it’s own benefit but for the public good. They are setting an example not just for corporations but even for citizens and governments. They aren’t just meeting the too-low requirements and goals set out by governments. They are exceeding them and raising the bar and not just by a little. And then they are saying to the world, do better. Do much better.
A day or so ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show published an interview with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy. I remember when Lisa Jackson moved over to Apple having served 4 years as head of the EPA under Obama. At the time I just figured, oh, the usual high-level corporate/government revolving door. I didn’t pay much attention to her. But listening to that interview I can only say that I am really impressed. She’s a fantastic asset to Apple as well as an excellent STEM role model who also addresses the connection between STEM and our social and ecological problems and needs. I’ve listened to it twice and might give it a third go. She offers some fascinating details about how Apple operates in relation to resources.
As an activist who protested Nike in the late 90s for it’s overseas labor policies I was keenly aware that Apple was having it’s own labor issues in the early 2000s (and probably before). I began paying attention then to both the labor and environmental practices of my favorite technology company with some hope that they would “Think Different” in their dealings with the world around them. They have not disappointed. While progress was made when Jobs was at the helm their move towards greater social and environmental responsibility really increased when Tim Cook took over. The focus on the social and environmental responsibility has intensified greatly over the past 5 years. This interview is an excellent summary of those changes. But what is truly breathtaking is the scope and depth to which they have gone.
It’s easy these days to become mired in a mix of hopelessness, despair, frustration and disgust. Our political system seems equal parts corrupt, inept, and circus. On the issue of climate change the U.S. has proven largely ineffectual and confused. From the public to government to business, we’ve made little progress at far too slow a rate. It seems very likely that we are past the point of no return and that all there is to do now is adapt and attempt to minimize what now seems to be inevitable. But I listen to this interview and not only am I inspired but I’m embarrassed that it is a company… a capitalist enterprise that is actually leading the way, that is setting the best possible example not only for other companies but for citizens. As someone who has long considered himself an activist (of sorts) I suddenly feel a bit ashamed of my despair. That might not be exactly it or quite the best way to put it but it’s close.
Also, Apple has put together four videos for Earth Day 2017. Good stuff.
And yet another bit of Apple and the environment bit of news, Macworld reports that Apple will return heat generated by data center to warm up homes:
Apple is building a new data center in Denmark, and it has some interesting ideas on how to power the data center with renewable energy, while also giving back to the community.
Excess heat generated by the data center will be captured and returned to the local district’s heating system, which will warm up homes in the community.
This is just one example of many that illustrates the scope of commitment that Apple is making to this effort. This is exactly the sort of project that Lisa Jackson is describing in the above linked interview with John Gruber.
Last but not least, Apple is set to move into it’s new headquarters, Apple Park. Much work is still being done but April was to be the month that employees started moving over. To say that I’m impressed with Apple Park would be a huge understatement. From native and edible landscaping to the heating and cooling to the local energy production, it is, by all accounts, the standard for large scale green architecture and landscaping.