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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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