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We don't need chargers in our iPhone boxes anymore

Chargers
Chargers (Image credit: iMore)

Alright, take a second. I understand that headline might seem like a tough sell at face value. All I want is five minutes of your time to explain why I think the hour has come for Apple to take the iPhone's charger out of the box. Yes, I know that not everyone has an iPhone charger already. Yes, I understand that chargers break, and that right now they are probably more expensive than they should be. I'll tackle all of this and more in the course of the next few paragraphs, just stick with it, I think you'll come round.

The rumor

Firstly, why are we even discussing this? Well, a rumor earlier this week claimed that Apple might be planning to drop both headphones and the charger from the iPhone 12's box. We've previously heard separately that Apple might eschew its Earpods from future iPhones, but that rumor was about pushing Apple's customers to buy AirPods. This latest rumor makes more sense in the context of the environment, packaging, wastage, and hopefully savings that could be passed on to the consumer. The veracity of this rumor aside, would ditching the charger make sense?

What's in a box?

Since the dawn of both iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Apple has shipped its devices with a charger. You get a phone, a plug, and a cable to join the two. Mobile devices have batteries, batteries need power, this is not rocket science. But, like us, you must have noticed just how much space a charger takes up in the box of a new Apple product. In fact, the iPhone's charger is the only reason that its box is the size it is.

iPhone XS and box

iPhone XS and box (Image credit: iMore)

If Apple were to ditch the charger (even just the plug, not the cable) from its iPhone box, the savings everyone would make in shipping costs, plastic wastage, manufacturing, etc. could be astronomical, and I for one sincerely believe that the benefits of ditching the charger from future iDevices vastly outweigh the benefits of keeping them.

Too many chargers

If you're anything like me, then you probably have a charger for every device you own in every room in the house. Our household has six iPhone chargers, and only two iPhones, the same goes for iPads and Apple Watch too. Everywhere we turn, we have more chargers than we could possibly need. Frequent Apple fliers likely build up a surplus of charging paraphernalia that grows with each passing purchase. My wife and I could happily never purchase another charger and still be set for life. It seems likely that there is a very big chunk of iPhone users who feel the same way. People who could buy an iPhone and happily plug it in using a charger they already own from a previous purchase.

The alternative

So imagine, you buy a new iPhone, and you get, just an iPhone. (We will talk about all of the problems that might present later) The box for an iPhone could be transformed, less than half the size of current offerings, and perhaps only slightly bigger than the iPhone itself. Even a little extra space for a cable would still represent a huge improvement over what we have now. So what would be the benefit?

Shipping

When you make as many products as Apple, shipping is a big deal. Any savings that a company can make in the volume, weight, or size of its shipped goods is a huge bonus. Multiplied by the astronomical amount of devices shipped by Apple, any decisions about weight, size, and volume are really important. In fact, Apple has shown us this once before when it adopted the folding charger for its iPhones. Not only is the folding charger more convenient for us, the customer, but it has also likely saved Apple a substantial amount when it comes to shipping costs too. The box is smaller, so the iPhone takes up less space on planes or in courier vans. Not only would smaller boxes reduce shipping costs, but it would also reduce the carbon footprint of each device. And don't worry, Apple ships its Genius Bar replacement phones in thin, cardboard boxes that are only slightly bigger than the iPhone itself, so there's no need to worry about damage in transit either.

Iphone Boxes

Iphone Boxes (Image credit: iMore)

The environment

The European Union estimates that chargers for electronic devices generate 51,000 metric tons of waste per year. To put that into context, Apple's entire packaging plastic footprint in 2018 was 19,000 metric tons. (opens in new tab) The EU has desperately been trying to push manufacturers to a common charging standard to try and reduce the amount of e-waste device chargers generate. Currently, every time you buy a new iPhone, a new charger enters circulation.

Not only would fewer chargers mean less e-waste, but it would also create savings in terms of manufacturing, as Apple would be making fewer chargers, and it would be using less packaging to box up its iPhones. Less packaging would equal less waste, and less manufacturing would reduce resource consumption and carbon emissions.

Frankly, the environmental case for ditching chargers, or significantly reducing their circulation, is reason enough for Apple and other big tech companies to take drastic action. But that doesn't mean there can't be benefits for the customer too.

Savings

By most people's standards, Apple's chargers and cables are quite expensive. A USB power adapter and a Lightning Cable from Apple will set you back $19 each. (This will also show up in the challenges section, so don't worry) Removing the charger from an iPhone would certainly offer Apple the opportunity to pass on a small, but still meaningful saving to its customers. And in fact, our research shows that's really important to you too.

Polls

We asked our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook audiences to vote on their thoughts in the wake of this rumor to try and gauge how people feel about this, and the results might surprise you. We asked people 'Would you buy an iPhone if it didn't come with a charger or headphones?'

Facebook was pretty much equally divided, but 'No' won out with 52% of the vote, 'Yes' taking 48%. Meanwhile, over on Instagram, a whopping two-thirds of voters (66% exactly) said they would buy an iPhone, even if it didn't have a charger.

Img

Img (Image credit: iMore)

On Twitter, we added two extra options, 'Yes if it meant a cheaper phone', and 'Yes if they didn't cost too much' (separately).

Only 20% of people on Twitter voted 'no', nearly 40% said 'yes', and another 34.3% said they would if it meant their iPhone was cheaper. Now, this is only a small sample of keen customers, but I think the results are pretty clear. Not as many people are put off by the prospect of an iPhone without a charger as you'd think, and certainly, many people would jump at the chance if they thought they were saving money.

Passing on the savings

So, if Apple took the iPhone charger out of the box, what would it need to do to keep customers onside? The obvious answer seems to be price reduction. An iPhone that comes with fewer accessories, but was the same price as previous generations would certainly draw ire. Not only are customers getting less in the box, but Apple is likely paying less to make the phone for the reasons suggested above. Apple needs to pass on the savings it makes to the customer.

This is key when it comes time to examine some of the objections people might have to a phone without a charger. So let's take a look at those

First-time buyers

Of course, a phone without a charger would be useless to anyone who doesn't already have an iPhone charger. Apple would still be able to offer customers the option to purchase a charger for their new device, perhaps in the way it does BTO Macs, you could simply add the charger as an option to your purchase online, or tell in-store staff you'd like a charger when you buy. If customers knew that the phone was cheaper than it once was for lack of a charger and that they were no worse of financially by adding a charger than they would have been the last generation, then I think it could work.

Sweetening the deal

For any and all users that do need a charger for valid reasons, there's plenty Apple could do to sweeten the deal. Firstly, it could make these accessories cheaper, Apple is a $1.5 trillion company, turning over billions in revenue each quarter, it does not need to sell chargers at $20 to stay afloat. Secondly, why not encourage people to trade in their old chargers, which would benefit the environment even more? Apple lets users trade-in their Android phones towards an iPhone, why not let them trade-in their charger and offer an iPhone charger free in return? The most important thing is that customers know they are saving money by not getting a charger, or that they are not financially worse off if they need to buy one.

Apple could continue to sell replacement chargers, so perhaps rather than reducing the price of all chargers, why not offer users a one-time deal on a charger when they purchase their iPhone? A charger could retain its normal price, but be significantly cheaper when bought with an iPhone.

Apple would never...

Would never what? Switch from 30-pin to Lightning? Remove the headphone jack from the iPhone? Apple has never shied away from wholescale change it thinks is in the best interest of its business, products, and customers. Make no mistake, this would be a radical, radical change, but I honestly think that if anyone could make it work, it would be Apple.

And don't forget that rumors are suggesting we aren't far away from a totally portless iPhone anyway, in which case we'll all have to rethink our charging solutions anyway.

To sum up

It seems to me that there is a very large number of iPhone users who, faced with a future iPhone lacking a charger in the box, would simply take it home and plug it in using one of ten they already have. Perhaps, if Apple made chargers an opt-in accessory and reduced the iPhone's cost accordingly, it could please both the customers who already have more iPhone chargers than they know what to do with and first-time buyers joining the ecosystem. With a cheaper base price for the iPhone, recycling incentives, or a one-time purchasing deal for a charger, could Apple successfully make a "chargerless" iPhone a reality? I think so.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.

34 Comments
  • "Removing the charger from an iPhone would certainly offer Apple the opportunity to pass on a small, but still meaningful saving to its customers. And in fact, our research shows that's really important to you too." HAHAHAHAHAHHA you actually think apple would lower the price even with including less in the box. L O L. Not to mention if you are on the "better for the earth" schtick, why include those stickers, or the paper pamphlets inside the box when they are all online? Also the charger is only a small part of the reason the boxes are so large. Get rid of the plastic the iPhone sits in and the box could be half the thickness it currently is. Or even better, ditch the boxes overall for something more environmentally friendly. This is nothing more than a $$ grab by apple.
  • Did you seriously just suggest that Apple would sell an iPhone without stickers? I would buy the stickers even if the iPhone was sold separately! The stickers are what make the iPhone the iPhone!!!! (Just kidding, in case you couldn’t tell...)
  • Gotta admit I was getting lowkey mad while reading this at first lol
  • I can't see Apple selling an iPhone without a charger anytime soon but then again, they removed the headphone jack and sent from 30 pin to lightning so I wouldn't put it past Apple which are already making iPhones cheaper and more accessible to new customers.
  • Those things didn’t keep the device from working though. Without a charger is something a little different (even if some users already have the charging block)
  • (I'm not on social media.) Yes, the cable-only package would make sense to me. Currently, I'm into purchasing power tools (like drills) on battery power. Many of these come in varying packages, like the thing "solo" in a carton, a set with add-ons, a charger and one or more batteries. (Battery life in power tools may be as short as a few hours, hence the multiple.) The "solo" option serves two purposes: on the one hand the addition of yet another tool to an ecosystem (product line of a vendor) with "enough" chargers and batteries present, on the other hand the choice to the client to buy the batteries of the size that suits him: bulky batteries for demanding jobs, small batteries (with fewer cells inside) for light jobs. I could transpose the charger part of that to smartphones and tablets: leaving it up to the user to choose from el cheapo to branded, from wired to wireless, matching the wall-outlets of a certain area. Drifting away: I could also imagine the battery part of the options being transposed - eventually. I bet that the worlds of power tools and smartphones (including tablets) resemble each other in using incompatible (and in smartphones often unremovable) batteries that consist of the same cells and some logic.
    In power tools, such logic seems to communicate between the tool and the battery, like "Hi, I'm a powerful and eager tool." - "Hi, I'm a powerful battery, but I need recharging." This logic seems to be ecosystem-specific. That could be solved. Rather than making the batteries physically incompatible, they could be made physically compatible, and even the "language" used for communicating between device (power tool or smartphone) and battery could easily be standardized. For those of you creating music with synthesizer gear (built from 1983 onwards): remember the MIDI protocol, more specifically the SysEx command that will be ignored by any receiving device except a given make and model. Battery logic could contain a modest database of models and makes. Perhaps the whole SysEx matter could be avoided by drafting a list of parameters. Then you'd have options between buying your device (smartphone, power tool) with the batteries (plural) that suit you for price, portability or performance and a matching charger - or neither. I would love that. But I'm European, used to SIM-lock free smartphones, forced compatibility of smartphone chargers and in general a commercial "level playing field". Could you imagine American vendors jumping unto that bandwagon?
  • If Apple past on the savings I would have no problem with this.
  • It's everyone else's chargers that make the box so big. American plugs are quite small. That said, if the iPhone were to ever go portless, I'd switch to Android
  • This is ridiculous. The verbal gymnastics iMore goes through to justify Apple’s moves is amazing. “Pass the savings on”. LOL. I have a bridge to sell you.
  • This is one of those it would never happen. Yeah Apple might change the packaging, they might stop including the charger... but pass on the savings?! You're having a laugh mate. At best both the charger and packaging may cost Apple $10-20 (and this is probably very high). DO you really think they will reduce the cost of the iphone by $20 because of no charger and smaller box??
  • there are better ways to save the environment, besides, dont give ideas, apple will remove them :p
  • Unless Apple switches to USB-C this would be a major no from me. I literally have only one lightning device, and that is my iphone. Everything else, my ultrabook, headphones, my old android phone, all use USB-c. Even then, your arguments are rather weak as to why we should want Apple to do this. I mean Apple passing on the savings? Apple? Apple would sooner abandon iOS than pass on the savings to the consumer.
  • so if you get a new phone just use the charger you currently have?
  • This needs to go into the iMore fluff pieces hall of fame. The iPhone 12 will be the most expensive iPhone in history and it will not include a charger or headphones. None of those missing items will be passed on as savings to the customer. This is nothing more than a way for Apple to save money while still charging the same amount for their products. I'll still buy it, but I'm not going to pretend that this is anything more than a way for Apple to screw over the consumer and make even more money off of us.
  • The Galaxy S20 Ultra costs more than the iPhone 11 Pro Max so even if the iPhone 12 is the most expensive iPhone, the iPhone 12 will still be cheaper than the Galaxy S21 from a brand which I think is overrated.
  • Is any other phone maker selling their phones without a charger? If not, Apple would be criticized and heavily ridiculed for being “cheap” with its customers. Being one of the biggest companies in the world by stock market value, it can afford to provide a charger. They actually need to provide a better charger, not the already-cheap (and horrifically slow) 5-watt charger. The base iPad comes with a 12-watt charger, and is half the price of an iPhone. The iPad Pro comes with an 18-watt charger (with a device price comparable to and iPhone 11 Pro). So if anything, Apple needs to be providing better chargers for phones, not none at all. Otherwise they can expect much more ridicule than they received with the removal of the headphone jack, especially from reviewers outside the “Apple camp” of bloggers/web sites.
  • I hope Apple has the courage to sell a phone without a charger. (LOL) Actually that wouldn't bother me. I do have numerous Apple chargers, and with my other tech have numerous chargers that work fine with Apple. Seriously, who doesn't? One benefit would be that the tech could no longer ask, 'are you using the charger that came with it', when you call with a charging issue. Apple needs to accept you are going to charge with whatever you have. That fact may be a reason this won't happen. As far as passing the cost on to the consumer, what do you think Apple will save by not including one? $20? No, it doesn't cost them that. Let's guess high and say $5. So instead of $1000 your iPhone is $995? That make a difference? What I would appreciate is Apple including a lighting to USB-C cable, and a USB-C to USB-A adapter, so I'm covered no matter what I have laying around to charge with.
  • Ok. I read the whole thing with an open mind before commenting. I still landed where I started - this is an incredibly stupid (and naive) idea. If you respect your customers, items you need to make a product work should be part of the package - not a separate accessory. Warwick, go find something else to do. IMore is really going downhill. Have been very disappointed with the new batch of writers that iMore has added over the last year or so.
  • It's not nearly as cut and dry as you're trying to make it. There are literally tons of things out there that don't ship without the required items in the box. For instance, a cell phone plan. An iPhone can charge in virtually any USB port on any computer, charger, dock, or car out there.
  • Always amusing when a post opens the first few paragraphs with the “stick with me here” platitudes and still arrives at the same laughably ridiculous unconvincing conclusion. At this point, Apple might as well ship their iPhones in an environmentally friendly bubble-lined envelope and call it a day. But then, they’d have to ship replacement chargers as accessories, so there goes another package, added cost and shipping, right? And “pass on the savings”? Really? I think this post was written in jest just to draw reactions and meet a writer’s deadline at the same time. Two birds with one stone, yay. You win...
  • Actually, think about your scenario. Chargers can be shipped via cargo ships rather than airplanes, taking months to get to the destination and not requiring being packaged as efficiently. Chargers can be stocked everywhere at all times throughout all generations of iPhones and iPads. Yes, in this case it would make a ton of sense to provide chargers separately. People who do not need these chargers are absolutely more prevalent than those who do. Anyone in the iPhone upgrade program is essentially getting a new charger every single year as you don't turn them in on the upgrade. New iPhones ship every year, yet Nintendo did this same thing back when new DS models shipped every 3-4 years and people got over it very quickly.
  • What a promotional piece for Apple. Seriously - are you working for Serenity over in marketing? All of the savings, and profits, go to Apple. Some have argued maybe this balances out with 5g for everyone - that alone is an affront. If it costs more charge for it. Bottom line is packaging and shipping savings stay in Apple's pockets, and a charger and wired headphone becomes an ADDITIONAL $50 profit item, much more if the customer steps up to any of the wireless choices. And to top it all off, this just greases the skids for next year dropping the lightning port...wait for it...for NOTHING - it will be wireless charging and connectivity all the way.
  • On second thought, I think this would be madness from Apple to not sell a charger with the iPhone 12 without some sort of price reduction although getting rid of the charger that you get with an iPhone isn't really much of a saving. iMore needs to call out Apple from time to time and this is one of those times.
  • For everyone in the comments scoffing at the idea of Apple passing on the savings to the consumer, have you forgotten that the current iPhone 11 costs $50 LESS than it’s predecessor the iPhone XR did at its release? I really like the idea of a phone discount minus charger. Let’s say $679 instead of $699 iPhone 12. Add a charger at checkout for $19.99 Charger could cost same $19.99 separately.
  • I can’t even believe this is a rumour, and it has felt like click bait since it reared it’s head. This is a barrier to new iPhone users, and I suspect it’s more likely they will ship something new in the way of charging. They couldn’t get AirPower to work, so maybe they’ve taken the remnants of that, and found a way to manufacture individual units for the iPhone, that come in at a competitive cost per unit. This would be my take, because ‘charging people separately to charge their new device’, is not a headline Apple want at the launch of a new iPhone. They may not ship wired chargers, but there has to be something else to it.
  • Every wireless charger I have uses the same sort of wall wart that ships with the iPhone. You aren't saving anything there. Unless you ship a wireless charger plate and don't ship the wall wart needed to power it. Then you are back to this discussion.
  • Having the choice to buy one or not is a good thing, should been this way from day one.👏👏👍
  • So for all those who claim people have so many extra chargers lying around, what about those who sell their phones to buy the new phone? Not everyone stockpiles chargers for devices.
  • I don't care whether they include one or not, but the "passing on the savings" nonsense is what flips this story from possible fact, to laughable fiction.
  • “Not only would fewer chargers mean less e-waste, but it would also create savings in terms of manufacturing”
    Left Unsaid: and let’s not forget how much better it will be for our bottom line. thank-you NO
  • If the rumor is true they want a port less phone with a smart connector on the side or bottom (the mock ups I’ve seen it was on the side) to be able to charge the phone with a cord only means that we will need yet another cord in our already overflowing drawers of cords. Yes wireless charging is nice, but doesn’t work well if you’re in a situation where you need to charge your phone and use is at the same time, if you’re traveling on an airplane, at an airport, at a hotel, in the car for Car Play, some place where wireless charging just won’t work or isn’t available, and the fact that you need to carry a wireless pad and yet another cord in order to use wireless charging.
    So this is even more reason they need to switch the iPhone to USB-C. One cable with the same connector on each end to power everything. Period.
  • Frankly, I am offended more by your headline and this article than by Apple's action to drop the charger. Apple has NEVER given me a charger - I pay well north of $1000 for that glass and metal brick, with charger, and now I'll get the privilege of doing the same without one. Sometimes I wonder if iMore is just not a marketing arm for Apple...
  • Absolutely right. Apple sycophants like the writer are doing the PR heavy lifting for an act that is nothing but a cash grab for apple
  • didn’t take long for the Mac press to do the PR heavy lifting for this. I demand a charge a cable and earbuds with my purchase. Selling he device without a power supply cripples the device before it can be used. If ap[ple is doping it for cops cutting, I want to see it reflected isn a lower price for the device I buy. Apple hubris in action.