Apple is a company that’s used to making headlines with its decisions to leave things behind. Headphone jack, optical drive, and — if you go further back — the floppy drive, among others, have found themselves sidelined by Apple’s relentless pursuit of design, technical, and business goals.
The latest to fall by the wayside are the EarPods and humble power adapter that, until recently, came bundled with every new iPhone. While many smartphones — especially those on the budget end of the spectrum — have shipped without any kind of earphones, the iPhone 12 lineup could potentially be the first mainstream phones to ship without a power adapter (aka charger) in the retail box.
For years, I — and countless others — have complained about Apple shipping its most expensive phones with puny 5W chargers, possibly the only “specification” that’s remain unchanged since the original iPhone. This in a world where even the most affordable smartphones — that cost a fraction of an iPhone — ship with a charger that’s at least twice as fast, while manufacturers of more expensive Android phones have been engaged in a “fast charging” race whose heady mix of marketing and actual technological innovation is reminiscent of the “megapixel wars” from a few years ago.
Apple partially addressed this complaint by shipping an 18W charger in the box of last year’s iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, while the $699 (9,195 SEK/ Rs. 64,900) iPhone 11 continued the 5W charger tradition. That, as we now know, was just a temporary relief, as Apple’s long term solution to those complaints has been to drop the charger from the box completely.
Apple wants you to believe that the move is all about the environment. Here’s what Apple’s press release announcing the iPhone 12 range says on the subject:
Apple is also removing the power adapter and EarPods from iPhone packaging, further reducing carbon emissions and avoiding the mining and use of precious materials, which enables smaller and lighter packaging, and allows for 70 percent more boxes to be shipped on a pallet. Taken altogether, these changes will cut over 2 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to removing nearly 450,000 cars from the road per year.
And here’s what Lisa Jackson, Vice President, Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple said during her rooftop appearance at this month’s special event:
“And just like we did with Apple Watch, we looked for ways to cut waste and use less material. Customers already have over 700 million Lightning headphones and many customers have moved to a wireless experience with AirPods, Beats, or other wireless headphones. And there are also over 2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third-party adapters.
So we are removing these items from the iPhone box, which reduces carbon emissions, and avoids the mining and use of precious materials. Removing these items also means a smaller, lighter iPhone box. We can fit up to 70 percent more products on a shipping pallet, reducing carbon emissions in our global logistics chain.”
The message Apple wants you to take home is that the move’s good for the environment (and any financial gains are purely coincidental). But what does Apple gain apart from securing the future of the planet, good PR, and the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing the “right thing”?
As many have pointed out, Apple saves on the cost of manufacturing accessories that would’ve otherwise been bundled in each box, but none of these savings have been passed on to consumers. In fact, on average the iPhone 12 range is more expensive than the previous generation, especially in markets like India, though at least part of that is down to higher local taxes and weak INR (the same way that lower Sweden pricing is thanks to a much stronger SEK).
Apple will also point to the fact that all models now come with OLED panels, which more than offsets the “next to nothing” (quotes mine) it costs to manufacturer the charger and earphones you no longer get in the box. This is perhaps the only time you’ll (unofficially, of course) get anyone at Apple to admit that the pair actually cost mere cents to manufacture, so there wasn’t much to pass on in the name of savings, all while continuing to sell them for $29 each until recently.
But my main gripe isn’t that Apple hasn’t reduced the price of the new iPhones. It’s that Apple’s move — when seen in its entirety, as explained below — will actually encourage purchase of more chargers, going against Apple’s public claim of doing good for the environment. Sure, not every iPhone buyer will end up purchasing a charger, but my guess is that a substantial percentage will, and Apple is well positioned to profit from that trend.
Apple is bundling a Type-C to Lightning cable in the box, rendering most chargers that majority of the people would have lying around useless. That, of course, means you’ll be in the market for a new, Type-C charger, one that Apple will gladly sell you for
Even if you do that, the charging speeds you get won’t match what chargers bundled with most Android flagships could provide, but that’s probably better for the long-term health of your phone’s battery and is a topic for another day.
Unless you plan to resell it, or hand it over to someone else in the family, you could decide to continue using the charger and cable from an iPhone you currently own. Well, the joke’s on me, because most people can’t keep their iPhone charging cable from getting destroyed within six months, forget about a year or few, so that’s not really an option either.
So, as it turns out, if Apple dropping a charger from the iPhone retail box wasn’t bad enough, bundling a Type-C cable actually makes the move worse, as the said cable will (by lying unused) only add to environmental waste Apple says it wants to avoid. The company points out there are “2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third-party adapters” but the real question is how many of them are Type-C? My guess is not many. So what will most people need to do to use the cable that came with their shiny new iPhone? Buy another charger of course.
What about the decision to drop EarPods from the box? Annoying as many will find it to be, that’s a move I can understand, not least because it’s one with precedence within the industry (though perhaps not with phones anywhere near the same price point). Regardless, it’s a decision that will add further fuel to the rocket ship that is AirPods sales.