Complex Made Simple

Will smartphone makers soon charge us more for less?

For the first time ever, Apple began selling new iPhones this year without including chargers and earphones.

The Cupertino-based company claimed that this was to reduce the cost to the environment, supporting its decision by saying that many iPhone buyers already own chargers The problem, however, was that the charging cables that are included with iPhone 12 devices are not compatible with old iPhone power adapters, calling to question Apple's intentions here To make matters worse, it seems Samsung will soon follow suit

This year, Apple unveiled the iPhone 12 series of phones, its first devices featuring 5G connectivity. 

For both consumers and the overall market, this was big news. 5G adoption has been slow this year, and iPhone 12 devices successfully stimulated interest in the technology, so much so that they became the world’s best selling 5G smartphone within two weeks of launch

Aside from 5G connectivity, the new iPhones came with the usual minor upgrades we’ve become accustomed to annually – i.e. incremental, if not exactly notable, new improvements.

“[The] best iPhone ever features the powerful A14 Bionic, all-new design with Ceramic Shield, pro camera system, LiDAR Scanner, and the biggest Super Retina XDR display ever on an iPhone,” Apple said in a press release announcing the iPhone 12 Pro Max, part of the Pro line which features the higher-end models of Apple’s lineup this year.

“These experiences and so much more make this the best iPhone lineup ever,” the company said, as it usually does every year. 

However, in the midst of all this fanfare, one small detail was often swept under the rug: iPhone 12s will no longer include chargers and earphones in the box. 

“[We are] 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,” Apple said in defense of the move, tucking away this key info at the end of their announcement press release. “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.”

There was some heated debate about this online, with both consumers and the media discussing whether this was the correct move for Apple to be taking, and whether this could set a troubling precedent for other companies to follow.

M.G. Siegler, investor at Google Ventures, explained the likely reasoning behind this move months before Apple officially announced their decision:

1) Margins. The next iPhone’s margins are going to be under assault due to the ‘5G’ components, amongst other new technology. And COVID has altered the supply chain immensely. The charger may not seem like a huge margin savings, but it adds up in aggregate. Also, there’s up-sell opportunities galore with the new faster charging bricks — or, even better, Apple’s inevitably still-forthcoming wireless charging solution.²

2) Shipping. You know what else adds up in aggregate? Shipping these units from China. If Apple can make these boxes more svelte, they’ll pack more in. This helps the environment, in a way, but it helps the bottom line even more.

3) Transitions. The next iPhone — the one after this one — is already rumored to forgo wired charging entirely. If that’s the case, it may make some sense to move people beyond the notion of including a wired charger in the iPhone box now. Force more customers to get ready for the wireless charging revolution.

4) Environment. This is on the list. But it’s the last item on the list. Not the first item on the list.

It’s not all point number one, but it’s a combination of all four points with the first one being the most important in terms of deciding what to do here. They could have made this change at any point over the past few years with the same rationale. Yet they’re doing it this year. 

What Siegler couldn’t predict, however, was that Apple would actually change the charging bricks of the iPhone 12. 

Previously, iPhones included a Lightning-to-USB-A cable, which is compatible with most previous iPhone chargers. 

The Lightning-to-USB-A cable included with a majority of older iPhones. Image: Apple

iPhone 12 models, however, come with a Lightning-to-USC-C cable, which is incompatible with the chargers that Apple allegedly wants users to be using to ‘save the environment.’ 

The Lightning-to-USB-C cable that is included with the iPhone 12 is not compatible with old chargers. Image: Apple

If you want to charge your new iPhone 12 using the cable included, you need to shell out $19 for iPhone’s new charging brick, which only accepts USB-C input.

The iPhone 12 adapters Apple wants you to buy in case you don’t already own an old iPhone charger. But wait, old iPhone charger adapters don’t accept USB-C input. What gives? Image: Apple

Apple clearly knew what they were doing with this move. What’s worrying, however, is that other companies could soon follow. 

Samsung to follow suit?

While Samsung was quick to criticize Apple for their charger-less new phones back in October, in the usual rival PR stunts we’re used to between big brands, the company has since deleted their mocking post. 

This post by Samsung has since been removed. Image: Samsung, via 9to5Google

The reason behind this sudden move is because Samsung is likely to follow in the footsteps of Apple, as a few reports are indicating that Samsung will similarly no longer include chargers with upcoming devices from the flagship Galaxy S20 line. 

If this is true, with two of the biggest smartphone makers in the world charging extra for power adapters, then it is only a matter of time before other companies like Huawei, Xiaomi and others follow suit. Customers won’t likely see a drop in retail price to accommodate this loss, as OEMs will chalk up any price hikes to the inclusion of expensive 5G tech. 

From now on, smartphone manufacturers could very much start charging us more for less.