Can Apple really leave the plug out of the iPhone 12 box?

Rumors are making the rounds that the iPhones 12 will launch not just a little later but a little leaner than usual this year. Namely, there won’t be any wired EarPods in the box. Or USB to AC power adapter. You know, the brick. The charger. Not even the measly 5 watt one we’ve been griping about for years. Nadda. Nothing.

The rumors about the EarPods started back in late May, with supply chain exfiltrator extraordinaire, Kuo Ming Chi saying Apple was axing them from the box.

Then, earlier this week, Barclays repeated the same rumor, then I’ll-do-you-one-better’d Kuo by saying the USB and AC power adapting was also being deleted.

Kuo came back a couple of days later matching and calling — no EarPods, no charger, but also that the old 5 and 18 watt chargers would be purged from this reality completely and Apple would instead be offering a new 20 watt charge sold separately.

Jon Prosser of Front Page Tech commented on Twitter that it’s not what he’d heard.

But, if these rumors are true — always a big if — what’s going on here and why?

The Costs

So, probably the first thing that’s going to go through anyone’s head on hearing “Apple’s deleting the EarPods and charger” is just “no. Oh hell-to-the-no. Intolerable. Unacceptable. Cancel Apple.” Something to that effect.

And for sure. We, as people, have a real, visceral reaction to things being taken away from us. We had it with the headphone jack. Some of us had with with the Home button. More recently with the 3.5mm to Lightning adapter they gave us when they took the jack. Just… stop taking our stuff!

Like the 5 stages of grief but jumping straight to the anger part. But then still bargaining.

So, the next reaction is, well, then, if Apple is taking this stuff away, then they better give us something back. Cash back. Drop the price by the cost of the parts.

By 30 bucks for the EarPods and another 20 bucks for that miserable little 5 watt USB-A charger still included with the base model iPhones and 40 bucks for the 18 watt USB-C charger Apple just started including with the iPhones Pro. Teases.

So, something something math — by 50 bucks for the iPhone 12 and 70 bucks for the iPhone 12 Pro.

Of course, those are retail prices. Apple doesn’t pay anywhere nearly that much for EarPods and power adapters. Apple doesn’t even pay wholesale. Apple makes them so Apple gets them at cost. Components, manufacturing, assembly, packaging, and R&D long since scaled up and paid down. A few bucks.

Though, yes, sure, at iPhone scale that’s still a hundred million few bucks in total.

Still, I don’t think anyone would be thrilled if the next iPhone sold for $692 instead of $700. Apple, because that price would just look hella ugly, and us because if we have to go buy those accessories separately, we’ll be paying that full retail price regardless.

Now, there is a school of thought that Apple will be reducing prices… kinda… in a way. Or, rather hedging against a price increase.

See, the iPhone 12 series is supposed to be getting 5G cellular networking. Sub-6 or 7 or 8 or 9 or whatever the hell that range finally settles on, for all of them, and mmWave for the Pro models.

And, if Android phone maker’s prior rollout is any indication, Qualcomm is charging a pretty penny for those modems, or the systems-in-package they include them on, especially the rumored next-generation versions Apple may be using.

Pretty enough that we’ve seen those phones go up in price by $100 or more. In the case of the Samsung Galaxy S20, enough to make even the iPhone 11 seem cheap.

Apple, by contrast, is rumored to be maintaining the current pricing on the iPhone 12 Pro models, and splitting the pricing on the iPhone 12 models, slightly less for the smaller one, slightly more for the current-sized one.

I mean, picture Phil Schiller on stage, picture the slides on the big screen — And, even with the better coverage and signal and speed that 5G offers, things that competitors are charging way more for, at Apple we’re thrilled to tell you that iPhone Pro prices are staying exactly the same.

In other words, even though Apple uses their own SoC, they’ll be eating the cost of the much more expensive 5G modems. And maybe, just maybe, killing the EarPods and charger is way to eat just a little less cost.

But, even if true, I’m not sure most people will notice or, frankly, care.

Again, we have this almost instinctive, feral reaction to being nickel-and-dimed.

Like when our favorite bag of chips stays the same size even though the amount of chips in it seems to go down every year.

So, I’ll ask you — if Apple ditches the EarPods and the charger, but keeps iPhone prices the same even with 5G, is that any more acceptable? Or still no, hard no?

Let me know in the comments below.

The Environment

Another theory being bandied about to explain or justify Apple deleting the EarPods and power adapters from the box is that it’s better for the environment.

Specifically, that putting headphones and power adapters in boxes has caused an incredible amount of eWaste over the years. That people, knowing they’ll get new ones for quote unquote free in the box just carelessly, callously throw away old or extra ones.

As part of ongoing efforts to cut down on eWaste, the European Union, always more vigilant about this sort of thing than North America, is reportedly considering regulations that would require charges not be put in the boxes and only sold separately for people who really want and need them.

We’ve already seen the EU try to mandate universal charger standards for the same reason, though whether they’ve meant cables or just plugs hasn’t always been clear or reported clearly over the last couple of years.

Apple has resisted moving away from Lightning on the iPhone end but has recently started moving to USB-C on the charger end, at least on the Pro models.

So would they suddenly start caring about what the EU wants now?

Well, maybe when Lightning or not Lightning isn’t the issue.

See, Apple has been super serious about the environment in general, with Lisa Jackson leading that charge, and with Phil Schiller delivering a report card at every iPhone and device launch for as long as I can remember.

So, it’s easy to see Apple just folding this in with a set of slides that provide stats on how many headphones and chargers they’ve shipped since the advent of the iPod, how everyone upgrading or switching to iPhone already has chargers, and how much eWaste could be saved by no longer assuming everyone needs a new one by just no longer putting them in the box.

If that’s the reason Apple gives for deleting the EarPods and power adapter, would that make any difference to you? Or, my preferred option here to keep any of this any kind of acceptable, if there was a discount or option to get one of the fancy new 20 watt charges free with purchase if you really do need it? Especially for the first couple of years, like the adapter bandage on the headphone jack wound.