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Bits Bobs and Chargers

Oct 13, 2020

Today Apple announced the new iPhone versions and seemingly the biggest news came from the part of the virtual presentation that was filmed on top of Apple’s giant headquarters. Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP for Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives reported on the environmental initiatives Apple has undertaken and noted Apple’s movement towards a carbon neutral footprint and use of recycled rare earth metals in the production process. Oh, and Apple isn’t shipping phones with chargers or headphones.

That second fact has long been rumored and bits of the internet are deeply frustrated with that fact now that it’s reality. Some of the complaints relate to the fact that the phone is still the same price as previous versions, ignoring the technology improvements in the phone itself and the undoubtedly low cost to produce headphones and charging bricks. Others are aghast at the fact that the cable included is a USB-C cable rather than the old USB-A standard. Or maybe you’re annoyed that Apple will sell you a $20 charging brick to make up for what isn’t included in the box.

I, frankly, am not all that disturbed by any of this. The iPhone has had fast charging through USB-PD since the introduction of the iPhone 8 in 2017, which necessitates a USB-C charger and cable. At the time people complained about the need to buy a new charger and a USB-C cable that had to come from Apple. Apple has continued to ship USB-A charging blocks with most of their phones but there are a wealth of reliable USB-C chargers if you wish to use the USB-C cable in the new phone box and don’t have a charger. You can, of course, continue using the old USB-A chargers and cables you have as well. There’s also a huge number of wireless chargers, so Apple is right, there’s a wealth of options beyond a charging brick in the box.

I’ve been using non-Apple charging bricks since fast charging was introduced and honestly can’t remember the last time I was in desperate need for an Apple charging block. I actually wandered around the house looking for my Apple chargers and found three of them – none being used for charging my iPhone. One Apple charger is powering an old Amazon Fire stick, another is powering a random charging mat I almost never use, and another (one of the old bricks with the removable plug) was powering a light strip in my tv console. It’s more helpful to have backup headphones for the random times I need a wired set but even there I’ve got two or three sets lying around.

Apple has taken a relatively slow approach to all of this. Airpods were first introduced in 2016, and Apple added support for USB-C with Yosemite in 2015 and iOS 12 in 2018. It continued to ship USB-A with most phones because had it shipped USB-C chargers many people would’ve probably complained because of compatibility with laptops or desktops. Apple at this point is also more willing to cut out the headphones and chargers under the not-unreasonable idea that many iPhone users are well integrated into the Apple ecosystem and either have usable chargers, lightning headphones/Airpods, or computers with a USB-C port. Obviously if this is your first iPhone or you’re updating from an iPhone 6 you may not have lightning headphones or a charging brick, but at this point that number of people is a relatively small number that Apple is apparently comfortable potentially leaving partly behind.

If there are a large number of people caught off-guard by this change it probably doesn’t bode well for Apple’s 5G roll-out today. 5G was an obnoxiously large part of the presentation, both in terms of minutes and the giant 5G blasted to an empty theater. But most people aren’t really going to see 5G as we’d define it, e.g. faster speeds. The blazingly fast 5G is only available in a few cities and even there the coverage is undoubtedly spotty. In the rest of the country it’s non-existent. Sure there’s the pseudo-5G but it’s not all that much different in terms of speed than 4G, which is still a spotty affair in many parts of the country. So if users are completely flumoxed by the lack of a charger and wired headphones, how are they going to respond when they buy a new phone that proclaims it has 5G only to find out there’s not much difference?

The important thing is Apple seems to be very committed to a carbon neutral footprint and reducing waste, both of which are fundamentally important to support in 2020. There’s not really a reason to use the environmental impact as an out to cut costs, let alone to sticking it right in the middle of the presentation. If this was about cutting costs it probably would’ve been much easier for Apple (and Lisa Jackson) to simply dump this news in the product pages rather than devoting time to it during an hour-long presentation. So as far as I’m concerned, no charger or headphones? Cool.