Apple believed to be ditching leather accessories for environmental reasons

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Last month an X (formerly Twitter) leaker posted the dramatic claim that Apple would not release a leather case for its upcoming iPhone 15 handsets. Little further detail was offered to either support or explain this theory, but most observers assumed the decision was an environmental one, following the company’s pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Numerous car makers have already ditched leather in their products citing ethical concerns, and it made perfect sense for Apple, which trades so much on its frequently left-adjacent values and brand image, to follow suit.

I’ve heard that Apple won’t be releasing a Leather Case for the iPhone 15 series.

— DuanRui (@duanrui1205) August 17, 2023

But with one week until the iPhone 15 launch event, there’s now a more substantial feel to that rumor. The tech writer and leaker Sonny Dickson today posted a video and a number of still images of what appear to be iPhone 15 and 15 Pro prototypes or dummies, and the respected Bloomberg leaker-reporter Mark Gurman promptly corroborated that the video shows “a sample/replica of the new leather-free iPhone 15 case.”

pic.twitter.com/JmxQ8tldpy

— Sonny Dickson (@SonnyDickson) September 5, 2023

It would be kind to say that commenters are divided on the aesthetics and practicality of the case. One says it looks “kind of awesome” and another posted simply “Finally.” But most are critical of the appearance, bulkiness or cost of the case, with another accusing Apple of being “a bit hypocritical.” Par for the course for the always-argumentative social network, we suppose, but it does look like ditching leather will not be the straightforward and uncontroversial PR win Apple might be hoping for. Welcome to the next hotspot in the endless culture war.

Interestingly, Gurman doesn’t stop at the leather-free iPhone 15 case. He goes on to add that he is “expecting Apple to begin moving away from leather on its Apple Watch bands as well.” And if that sounds like pure speculation, a later tweet fleshed out that theory too: “I’m told that Apple last month started offering employees its Hermes leather accessories (and leather link bands) at up to 90% off. Clearly some inventory clearing going on.”

Leather might just be on the way out at Apple Park. But is Apple really committed to the cause?

As I discussed at some length in an article from a few years back, Apple has always felt like the kind of company that would be environmentally friendly: the hippy founders, the gay, pro-immigration CEO, the utopian Californian headquarters, the socially liberal adverts, the stereotype of the affluent, Democrat-voting hipster customer. Yet until relatively recently it simply hasn’t been especially responsive to the green lobby, and has indeed been responsible (along with other, less headline-friendly tech companies) for a great deal of environmental damage.

The Apple we see today, which publishes reports about its environmental efforts and pledges to be carbon-neutral, is late-stage Apple, an Apple that has mended its ways and turned things around. It’s debatable, of course, to what extent this change of heart is motivated by any kind of ethical stance. One might cynically speculate that on a corporate level Apple has not changed its views on the competing importance of the environment vs profit; it’s simply that the political window has moved in such a way that caring about the environment (and other traditional leftwing concerns such as animal welfare) is now more profitable.

We’ll get more definite information about the animal- and environment-friendly elements of Apple’s new product line-up at the Wonderlust event on September 12. Keep up with the latest news and rumors with our regularly updated iPhone 15 superguide.

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