Apple launches a trio of new iPhones, an apple watch and is not afraid of looking on the other side of its batteries

After months of rumors and leaks, Apple finally officially unveiled its 2018 iPhone lineup: the iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max and iPhone Xr, on 12 September, as well as the Apple Watch Series 4, at the Steve Jobs theater in Apple Park.

Based off the iPhone X design, it appears the launch of the new products at the event themed “Gather Round” will see iPhone models with a home button and large, chunky borders around the screen — like last year’s iPhone 8 — no longer available in the foreseeable future.

The Apple Watch Series 4 seems to be a beast in terms of health features. There’s ECG support for measuring electrical activity of the heart, irregular heart rate detection, and fall detection. It also features what Apple says is a 30 percent larger display. The body of the Apple Watch is slightly thinner, with about the same 18-hour, all-day battery life.

Apple Executive Phil Schiller then took the stage to announce two new iPhone models: the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max. Both feature improvements to water resistance, touting IP68 certification. In terms of internal upgrades, the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max are powered by A12 Bionic processors, the first 7nm processor. There’s an upgraded 8-core Neural Engine.

Apple rounded off the event by introducing the colorful and somewhat more affordable iPhone XR which comes in 6 new colors. The iPhone XR features an LCD display with a 1792×828 resolution with True Tone Technology – which Apple is calling ‘Liquid Retina.’

But while the slew of new products launched at its keynote event continues to drive cravings and consumption for faster, lighter newer models of mobile phones, the rapidly rising demand for the cobalt needed to manufacture electric cars, smartphones and laptops is on the increase.

People line up for hours to buy the iPhone 6s in the George Street Apple Store, Sydney. Photo: Twitter

60 percent of the world’s cobalt originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), yet the retrieval of cobalt from the DRC is laden with child labor, crude equipment and unwarranted poverty and death in the midst of so much resources. This remote landscape in southern Africa lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt, a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power these devices made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers.

In an article tracing the path from hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops, The Washington Post found out that the worst conditions affect Congo’s “artisanal” miners who mine without pneumatic drills or diesel draglines.

According to The Post, in March 2017, Apple announced it had put a temporary hold on purchases of hand-mined cobalt from the DRC while it addresses working conditions and child labor. Paula Pyers, a senior director at Apple in charge of supply-chain social responsibility, said to The Post that Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt, the Chinese company dominating distribution of the raw mineral, to clean up the supply chain and to address the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor, as “the company does not want to take steps aimed at just ‘making the supply chain look pretty.'”

However, a 2010 U.S. law — the Dodd-Frank Act’s ‘conflict minerals’— which requires American companies to attempt to verify that any tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold they use is obtained from mines free of militia control in the Congo region may be suspended. And while concerns have risen from the repercussions of this decision, cobalt is not on the list as it isn’t thought to fund wars.

Concern about how cobalt is mined “comes to the fore every now and again,” said Guy Darby, a veteran cobalt analyst with Darton Commodities in London who spoke with The Post. “And it’s met with much muttering and shaking of the head and tuttering — and goes away again.”

Worldwide, cobalt demand from the battery sector has tripled in the past five years and is projected to at least double again by 2020, with the increase mostly been driven by electric vehicles according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

As demand has grown, so has artisanal cobalt’s importance in global markets. A new “ethical cobalt” scheme is being trialed in the DRC’s artisanal cobalt mines, with blockchain being used as part of these efforts. However, implementing supply-chain measures without addressing the broader conditions could further marginalize artisanal miners already under pressure by large-scale mining.

Apple has begun treating cobalt like a conflict mineral, The Post reports, requiring all cobalt refiners to agree to outside supply-chain audits and conduct risk assessments — an action that could have major repercussions throughout the battery world.

“Yes, the iPhone Xs is the most advanced iPhone we’ve ever created,” says Apple CEO Tim Cook to an intrigued audience. The trio of new iPhones and a heart-focused Apple Watch are expected to prolong its growth as the first trillion dollar company.

Pricing starts at $399 and $499 for the GPS and cellular version of the watch respectively. iPhone Xs starts at $999, and iPhone Xs Max starts at $1099, while the iPhone XR starts at $749 for 64GB of storage.

The S4 Apple Watch, iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max are up for pre-order on 14 September and shipping 21 September. The iPhone Xr, however, will be available on 19 October, shipping on 26 October.