A Trillion Dollars: In the Palm of Your Hand

Apple started August with a bang – becoming one of a very few companies to reach the $1 Trillion mark.  Sure, there have been others – a Saudi oil company and a Chinese oil company… but really, Apple is the first US company, the first tech company, and – let’s face it, the first company any of us really recognize in our daily lives – to cross that threshold.  So what?  How does that impact daily life or even the business world we live in?

That trillion dollars is primarily made up of iPhone revenues.  That is a deeply simplified view of the numbers, essentially, the smartphone that changed communications forever is at the heart of that unprecedented growth.  Here is a quick look at what that growth has shaped in our world.

We live in a bigger world… The iPhone has made it easier for millions of people to connect, opened up opportunities for many around the world, and changed the way businesses operate – both internally and externally.  Who hasn’t bought something on their smartphone?  Even if you don’t have an iPhone, you probably have a smartphone that was in some way shaped by Apple’s design language, digital services or marketing.  So in a way, that rise to $1 trillion has helped the world rise – and improve.

We’re also living in a smaller world.  In 2010, iOS was one of the several mobile operating systems vying for market share. Among them were Symbian, RIM, WebOS/Palm and Windows iOS.  Symbian was the monster in mobile at the time – weighing in at a whopping 46.9 percent of the market – although this was due to the fact that most of the world had feature phones rather than smartphones.  There are arguments for and against consolidation in the mobile space, but I come down squarely in the more-choice-is-better camp.  As Apple clawed its way up to the trillion dollar mark, we’ve seen the OS options dwindle to essentially two.  Unless you’re going to look into a Tizon or Sailfish phone, there’s not much out there for you and this limits the way we all see the world.  If you’re looking at things through a RIM/Palm/Windows/Symbian/Android/iOS set of lenses you’re going to see more than if you’re just looking through an Android/iOS set of lenses.

Speaking of choice, maybe it’s not such a black and white issue. The iOS App Store was opened in July 2008 with about 800 apps.  Today there are about 2,100,000.  The things you can do on an iPhone (or an iOS tablet) have increased dramatically over the last ten years – from word processing and spreadsheets to almost every type of game.  According to TechCrunch, the average adult uses between nine to twelve apps per day, with the lowest number (around nine) in France and the highest number in Brazil (just under 12). Comscore numbers show that roughly 48 percent of time spent on mobile apps is spent on social media, music or multimedia apps. This is certainly good for consumers and for the companies that publish games.

The downside of this trillion dollar miracle is a pretty messy one.  It’s probably safe to say that for every iPhone or tablet that gets sold an older version gets thrown away.  And this is taking a toll on our environment.  According to ReCode, electronics account for up to 70 percent of toxic waste in landfills. It’s not even good news when we recycle.  Legitimate recyclers will melt down devices in smelting factories to extract precious metals, releasing toxic pollutants into the environment. In worst case scenarios, old devices are sold off in bulk to developing nations where individual workers cook them to extract metals by hand.  Either way the costs are high – both environmentally and in human terms.  I don’t want to ruin the experience of a new device, but it’s worth thinking about the true cost of that device – not just the $1,000 out of your own pocket, but in terms of everything else that happens to that phone.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to examining the full meaning of Apple’s Trillion dollars.  The ironic thing is that next to Android, Apple is small potatoes.  The Android ecosystem easily dwarfs that of Apple.  The world is getting smaller and bigger all at the same time and like it or not, because of how deeply technology is embedded in our lives, it’s happening in conjunction with the fortunes of companies like Apple.

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