Apple’s Keynote yesterday unveiled a few new devices – a smaller iPhone, a smaller iPad Pro, some updates to Apple TV, the Apple Watch, and perhaps a few other items I’m forgetting. While there is much chatter about the revival of the 4” iPhone, most people glossed over what is likely Apple’s biggest innovation in years – a robot with 29 arms named Liam.

[spb_video link="" full_width="yes" width="1/1" el_position="first last"] [spb_text_block animation="none" animation_delay="0" padding_vertical="0" padding_horizontal="0" width="1/1" el_position="first last"] In Apple’s promotional video, Liam is seen removing pieces of an iPhone both large and small, with the voiceover describing the recycling of material components made of copper, lithium, gold, silver, and platinum. The development of a recycling super-robot is innovation in Apple’s manufacturing, as well as great marketing. Here are four reasons Liam is Apple’s biggest innovation in years.

Four Reasons Liam is Apple's Biggest Recent Innovation

There’s a Material Shortage Problem

Apple’s release of the iPhone 5 in 2012 was the first evidence of material shortages effecting demand and pricing. Because of overwhelming demand, and a shortage of LCD screen supply and labor, the phone’s release suffered from delays and higher pricing. If you look deeper into the hardware, rare earth minerals were used in various parts of the phone, an issue CNET covered at great length a few years back. Nine out of fifteen rare earth elements are found in the phone, and used to build the LCD display, polish the glass screen, assemble speakers, make the phone circuitry, and allow vibration mode. The mining process to obtain ever larger amounts of rare earth minerals is expensive, time-consuming, and out-of-step with Apple’s public commitment to sustainability. If the minerals are essential to the device manufacturing process, the next best solution is to recycle and repurpose as much of these materials as possible from previously-built devices. Enter Liam.

Apple’s putting its Manufacturing in the Spotlight

Most companies would assume manufacturing, distribution and other questions of logistics are not on the minds of the customer. In Apple’s case – where they’ve sold over a billion devices – the target demographic has expectations of not only their devices, but the company that produces them. By literally opening the keynote with a celebration of a 29-armed robot that customers will never see intelligently backs up claims of sustainability and ecological mindfulness with the physical results of what was likely a multi-year project. Even naming the robot Liam, humanizes the robot, reinforcing that Apple is not simply shipping as many devices as possible, but thinking of the lifecycle of every product.

Good for the planet, good for the bottom line.

Apple’s creation of Liam goes far beyond showcasing the mindfulness of the company. Much of the materials found in iPhones and iPads – xxxx – are in short supply. Without a strategy to harness used materials in the supply chain, Apple takes on increasing risk.

Adapting Manufacturing to the Sharing Economy

The market has shifted drastically since the release of the first iPhone. Personal computing devices had a shelf-life, a few years if you were careful, only to be replaced by a newer device. As smartphones proliferated and exploded in popularity, the replacement cycle sped up, a development that benefited consumers, but also created a massive supply of older devices. The payment and upgrade plans now offered by every major carrier are a response to this faster cycle, which have also meant carriers and companies are getting devices returned to be either refurbished or recycled. Apple understands the increasing return of manufacturing and disassembling devices sustainably.