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MobileMe may be Apple's least "green" product, packaging-wise


When I purchased my MacBook Pro in early 2008, I threw down US$69 for a .Mac (now known as MobileMe) membership. I expected to get an email confirmation of my .Mac order (which I did), followed shortly by another email with an activation code.

Instead, I received the hot mess you see in the pic above (US size 9.5 shoe included for scaling purposes). First, a huge FedEx package, about the same size as the current MacBook's packaging. Rattling around inside of it was a cardboard box with .Mac emblazoned on the front, large enough to fit a CD or DVD inside. But instead of a CD or DVD, I found a small paper booklet with a sticker on the front page containing my activation code. In all, it was about a pound of packaging (at least) for something that really didn't need to be mailed to me at all.

Nearly three years later, the situation hasn't improved. The New York Times notes that MobileMe's packaging needs to go on a diet, and they're absolutely right. Apple's made a big deal in recent years about its push for "greener" practices in both its products and its packaging, and they've made big strides. In 2006, Greenpeace gave Apple very poor ratings for its environmental practices. Greenpeace spent the next few years hounding Apple for its environmental record, until earlier this year when Apple got top ratings. Apple has since slipped to ninth place in the rankings.

The packaging for most of Apple's products has measurably shrunk along with the products themselves. By eliminating iTunes installation CDs from its iPod line, Apple has been able to reduce the size of iPod packaging considerably; the newest iPods' packages are barely bigger than the iPods themselves, and packaging for both Macs and iPhones has shrunk, too.

iPhone 3G vs. iPhone 4 packaging

MobileMe's product packaging hasn't changed a bit in three years, other than the name on the front. The package still occupies the same footprint as the boxes for AppleCare, OS X Snow Leopard, and even an Airport Express -- all products which contain DVDs with installable software inside. Those products have a reason to be the size they are. MobileMe doesn't.

One of these products is a marvel of minimalist packaging. The other is MobileMe.

The activation codes for MobileMe could easily transition to electronic-only, especially once the Mac App Store goes online. If, for whatever reason, Apple feels that MobileMe must continue to have physical (i.e. paper) activation codes, then as the New York Times suggests, the company could mail those codes in a small envelope rather than using all that wasteful cardboard packaging.

There's another alternative that I like even better: skip the activation codes entirely and make MobileMe free to all Mac and/or iPhone owners. I'd like to believe that Apple has something like this up its sleeve -- perhaps that's part of what Apple's new North Carolina data center is destined for. But if Apple wants to keep charging for MobileMe, the least they can do is shrink the size of the product's packaging to something less wasteful, because in its current incarnation, MobileMe may be Apple's least "green" product of all.

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