Ariel Schwartz

Apple's New iPhone 4 is Ultra Thin, Light - But is it Green?

by , 06/07/10
filed under: green gadgets

Iphone 4, sustainable design, green design, apple, greener gadgets, smartphone, cell phone, sustainable electronics

The moment that smartphone geeks have been waiting for is finally here: Apple has just unveiled the fourth generation iPhone at today’s WWDC conference in San Francisco. At a diminutive 9.3 mm thick, the svelte new device is 25% thinner than the 3GS, significantly lighter, and it boasts a long-lasting battery that boosts call time up to 7 hours — but is it green?

Iphone 4, sustainable design, green design, apple, greener gadgets, smartphone, cell phone, sustainable electronics

The iPhone 4 has some impressive specs, including six-axis motion sensing, a 4x overall pixel count increase compared to the iPhone 3, a 5 megapixel camera with 5X digital zoom, the capability to record HD video at 720p / 30fp, and — perhaps most impressively — a larger battery that provides 7 hours of 3G talk, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of WiFi browsing, 10 hours of video, and 40 hours of music. That larger battery means users don’t need to plug the phone in as much, which in turn means less overall power use.

Apple‘s new phone also offers the ability to use more than one application at once. It’s a feature that has been unique the Android operating system up until now, and while it’s certainly useful, it’s not all that green. That’s because using more than one app at the same time sucks up battery life — effectively canceling out the benefits of the iPhone 4′s larger battery. Still, users don’t have to use the feature, and it’s a helpful option to have.

The iPhone 4′s “retinal display” of 326 pixels per inch (ppi) makes it ideal for reading books — the human eye can’t differentiate between digital displays and print above 300 ppi. It’s unlikely that most people will use the handset instead of larger resource-heavy e-readers or printed books, but we imagine that certain users might read newspapers on their iPhone instead of on paper.

Another practical and green benefit of the new iPhone: it’s 9.3mm thick — 25% thinner than the iPhone 3GS. A thinner phone means fewer resources go into making the product.

Is the iPhone 4 more sustainable than the iPhone 3? Yes. But it’s still not nearly as sustainable as, say Samsung’s recyclable bio-plastic Reclaim phone. We’re hoping that Apple continues to make strides in battery life and resource use — it still has a long way to go.

+ iPhone 4

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10 Comments

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  4. froogleshmoo June 9, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    …but will is blend?

  5. eastvillager June 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    “It’s unlikely that most people will use the handset instead of larger resource-heavy e-readers or printed books”
    this will make me upgrade to one. I use the original iphone for reading books — I download free Kindle classics from Amazon and read them on the subway (you always have your phone with you every time you get on the subway, right? but do you always have a book with you? not unless you pack it) and it’s made my commute to and from work every day in NYC much more fun.

  6. risom.de June 8, 2010 at 7:14 am

    Warren, I fear thats mostly Apple doing greenwashing. Most of these (mercury, pvc) are forbidden in most of Europe, so if they want to sell their phone in Europe, they have no choice but to produce it pvc and mercury free. Also note “the strictest global energy effiency standards” without naming the standard or providing a real percentage of effiency. I would be surprised if the recharger is even 80% efficient, which would still be lowish.

  7. Haute Verte Couture June 7, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Nice post! I agree that the energy consumption is something of a small but good step on the way, and look forward to checking out the Reclaim model that you mention, thanks for bringing that up!

    I also wrote a post this morning on the iPhone and it\’s place in Eco Fashion. I\’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on this front as well!
    Thanks,
    Haute Verte Couture
    http://hautevert.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/new-iphone-and-eco-fashion/

  8. elb June 7, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    I’d like to see “is it green” articles with more substance and less speculation. In particular, in this article, a couple of points strike me as unlikely. For example:

    “The iPhone 4 has [...] a larger battery that provides 7 hours of 3G talk, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of WiFi browsing, 10 hours of video, and 40 hours of music. That larger battery means users don’t need to plug the phone in as much, which in turn means less overall power use.”

    Now, these things aren’t all apples and oranges, and nor are they accurate. First of all, a larger battery doesn’t mean less power use — it means more power storage in the phone. Whether the iPhone 4 draws more or less power than its predecessors for doing the same tasks is only part of the equation of how long the battery lasts. With a battery sufficiently larger in capacity, a less efficient device may last longer. Second, plugging in less often doesn’t mean drawing less power! Again, it depends on how much power is drawn for how long; my wife only uses her hair dryer for a few minutes a few times a week, but my alarm clock is plugged in 24/7. Despite this, the hair dryer draws hundreds of times more energy in a month than the alarm clock. Rechargeable portable devices are beholden to the same accounting.

    A second example: “Another practical and green benefit of the new iPhone: it’s 9.3mm thick — 25% thinner than the iPhone 3GS. A thinner phone means fewer resources go into making the product.” It is incontrovertibly true that the iPhone 4 is thinner than the 3GS. However, whether this means that there are fewer resources expended in making it depends on the materials going into it, the difficulty of their working, and the density of those materials within the device. Air space in a device uses far less resources than [non-semiconductor] silicon, which uses far less resources than aluminum — and so on.

    Determining whether a gadget is “green” or not is a process which requires more than a little bit of off-the-cuff analysis of a press release by a writer. I think it is very important that consumers become more aware of the ecological, energy, and labor impact of the products they purchase, but this awareness needs to be founded in hard facts. Whether the iPhone 4 is of more or less ecological impact than the 3GS or even older iterations remains an open issue, and no one should make decisions based on an article such as this one.

    What is absolutely true is that an iPhone of any type is far less efficient and sustainable than a well-engineered so-called “dumb”-phone. However, an iPhone is also much more efficient and sustainable than a dumb-phone PLUS an MP3 player PLUS a personal organizer and/or handheld game system. The point being, it’s important to look not only at the device itself, but the user’s needs (or perceived needs — nobody “needs” an iPhone) and the behavior modification that the device entails. Buying a single fancy phone of larger ecological impact every few years is probably better than rotating through a cadre of half a dozen portable devices of different purpose in that same time period.

    Note that I don’t meant to single out this article, this author, or this product. I think the entire line of features would benefit from more careful materials, energy, and use-case analysis. That could take it from mildly interesting pseudoscience to a tool that could help people green their lifestyles and purchasing habits.

  9. chabuku June 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Way to jump on the iPhone bandwagon, what does the iPhone really have to do with being green?

  10. WarrenRempel June 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    It seems to be green – check out the specs on their web page:

    PVC-free handset
    PVC-free headphones
    PVC-free USB cable
    Bromine-free printed circuit boards
    Mercury-free LCD display
    Arsenic-free display glass
    Majority of packaging made from post-consumer recycled fiberboard and biobased materials
    Power adapter outperforms strictest global energy efficiency standards

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