No Charge

There’s a rumor making the rounds that Apple will not include chargers with their phones in the future. Depending on who you listen to, it’ll either be all iPhones or only this year’s models.

Assuming, of course, that Apple manages to release new models this year. With 2020 being the year it’s been so far, let’s not take anything for granted.

It’s an interesting idea, but I have to question the logic.

Most sources of the rumor I’ve seen suggest that it’s a cost-saving measure for Apple. Does anyone really think Apple needs to save the cost of a charger when they’re selling their phones for more than a grand? Okay, yes, the SE starts at $400, but the point stands. They sell 18 watt chargers for $29 and 5 watt for $19. Given normal electronic industry markups, Apple’s cost is likely about $5.

Increasing their per-phone profit by $5 isn’t going to be that much of a win. Even if you assume another $5–which probably overstates the case–for a no-longer-included, formerly obligatory cable, you’re still not looking at a significant boost to Apple’s bottom line.

The other common argument is that Apple is reducing electronic waste. Everyone already has a pile of chargers lying around the house, so they don’t need another one.

That’s a very optimistic assumption.

Apple wants to sell phones to people who don’t already have a phone–or at least don’t already have an iPhone*. They don’t want to take a PR hit from people who get their new phone and can’t use it because they don’t have a way to charge it.

* Yes, they want to get iPhone users to upgrade, but that doesn’t build market share.

Because a large percentage–probably a great majority–of those old chargers sitting in desk drawers are going to be low power devices. Anyone who’s ever tried to charge a modern phone with a charger that struggles to deliver five watts knows just how slow and painful the process is.

Can you imagine Apple dealing with hundreds or thousands of phones being returned because “it doesn’t charge worth shit”? Me neither.

The only way I can see this working at all acceptably for Apple would be if they stop including the charger and cable in the box with the phone, but very prominently offer a bundle: “Buy the new iPhone 12 Super Pro Max and get an accessory package for $44.99!” Said package would include a charger, a cable, and perhaps a lightning to headphone adapter (Apple’s estimated cost: $2.) Now we’re talking a serious bump to revenue!

Actually, I can think of one other way the “no charger in the box” model might work for Apple.

What if Apple goes completely wireless and gets rid of the charging port entirely?

Nobody’s going to expect them to throw in a $40 wireless charger with every phone. No PR hit.

And–bonus!–eliminating the port improves the water resistance of the phone and allows Apple to make the phone skinnier.

Of course, that port does have other uses than charging. Audio out for those who don’t want or can’t use wireless headphones. Connection to a computer for loading data and doing backups.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Apple has done away with a popular connection option–anybody else old enough to remember floppy drives?

And Apple has certainly been discouraging the use of iTunes for doing backups–they’d far rather everyone paid for iCloud storage. And if you aren’t ripping your own CDs, why would you use iTunes on the computer to load music on your phone? Just stream via the Music app and pay Apple a monthly fee for that as well.

Eliminate charging and syncing, and the only remaining uses of the port are a few repair scenarios. I can think of a few ways Apple could work around that with an appropriate phone design–or ignore it altogether and require a phone replacement in those situations.

I’m not convinced Apple is ready to go port-free. But it is, IMNSHO, a more likely possibility than that they’re just going to stop including chargers with their phones.

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