Apple Goes Sunny Side Up
Apple's Maiden, N.C. data center, the central hub of services like Siri and iCloud, is getting a makeover that will leave the place running largely on solar power. Meanwhile, Apple's issues in China continue on two fronts: labor relations and a trademark dispute that's hindered the company's ability to sell iPads.
Apple is hard at work building the "largest end-user-owned onsite solar array" in the U.S., according to a brief environmental report it released this week.
Its Maiden, N.C., data center, the central nervous system for services like iCloud and Siri, will be a LEED-certified data center running completely on renewable energy. The solar project will provide provide 42 million kWh of solar power to the center each year.
However, "With something that size, it would be very difficult to be 100 percent green," Katherine Austin, president and founder of KDA Consulting, told MacNewsWorld. "I applaud Apple's support of renewable energy and sustainable building practices. But it's almost impossible to tell how much will be real brass tacks, and how much will just be very good PR."
Even if it's more of the latter, it's a good image move that high-profile companies like Apple can't afford not to make, according to Austin.
"At this point, most companies have recognized that greening their data centers has two major benefits -- it's excellent for their public image, and it saves a huge amount of money in energy costs. Google has really led the way in this, as their centers are huge. Apple is pretty much on the same bandwagon as everyone else," said Austin.
Apple didn't return our requests for comment on the facility.
The solar project could put a new shine on Apple's image as far as environmentalism goes, but the issues surrounding the working conditions present in its overseas supply chain remain. The company will conduct at least two audits on Chinese suppliers, separate from the independent investigations that started last week, according to a report from USA Today.
One Chinese company had good Apple news to report this week, however. China Telecom announced the iPhone 4S will be available on March 9 to its 130 million mobile subscribers. China Telecom received the license to sell the iPhone 4S in January, but it just officially announced the news this week. The iPhone 4S will go on sale March 9 for China Telecom users.
Going into 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook stressed the importance of adding emerging markets, especially China, to its list of overseas customers. There, the Cupertino company can cater to China's Generation Y population that's so attractive to consumer device makers.
"These companies are racing to market this segment giving their rising incomes, attraction to foreign brands and desire for consumer electronics," Michael Stanat, research executive at SIS International, who has done extensive research on the consumer electronic market in China, told MacNewsWorld. "Brands like Apple cater to underlying needs of identity, social status, conspicuous consumption and a desire for customer experience in these rapidly developing markets."
Next up for Apple in the emerging market is China Mobile, the world's largest mobile provider, with more than 600 million subscribers. According to a report from Reuters, the company is aggressively pursuing putting iPhones on its shelves but doesn't run on compatible 3G technology. It's fledgling LTE network may be the answer.
While the iPhone adds Chinese carriers, though, the iPad image is still suffering in the country. Apple continued its battle with Proview this week, sending a letter to Rowell Yang, Proview's CEO. Earlier in the week Yang said he would continue to pursue the case for his now-bankrupt company, seeking an injunction on iPad sales in mainland China and up to a US$2 billion payout from Apple.
In the letter, Apple said his statements were "false and misleading" and would fight the charges in Chinese court.
iPad 3 Just Around the Corner
The iPad was also a subject of discussion closer to Apple's home turf this week. Many media outlets are reporting that the third-generation model will debut in March. Supply chain sources have reportedly revealed that the new device will be slightly fatter, have a retina display and even feature Siri, though Apple has confirmed neither the release date nor any details on the possible product.
The rumors came at the same time as a report from IHS iSuppli showing that in the final quarter of 2011, Amazon's Kindle Fire grabbed 14 percent of the tablet market. Though Amazon's Kindle Fire was able to take some market share away from Apple, its iPad shipments still rose and are expected to do so even more if a new device is available for consumers soon.
"With Apple's moves that they're going to be making over the course of 2012, they'll take back some of that share," Rhoda Alexander, senior manager of tablet and monitor research at his, told MacNewsWorld.