As far back as we can recall, smartphones have always come with a charger included in the box. In the very early days, manufacturers adopted proprietary pins unique to their product. Phones and smartphones were also just making the climb towards popularity, being nowhere near their current omnipresent state. It was necessary back then to include the charger in the box — after all, how else would you use the device once the battery depletes? The practice has carried on for decades now, but we might be looking at another defining moment in smartphone history, as reports now suggest that both Apple and Samsung are considering no longer bundling chargers along with the smartphone in the box.
The first set of reports rely on noted Apple analyst Ming-chi Kuo, who comments that with the upcoming iPhone 12, Apple will no longer include wired earbuds or a power adapter in the smartphone box. Apple is one of the few smartphone OEMs that has continued to bundle both, wired earbuds as well as a power adapter in the box for its smartphones. Many Android OEMs have either discontinued bundling earphones in the box, or they never bundled them in the first place. Kuo mentions that this removal from Apple will allow the company to sell the iPhone 12 at a similar price as the iPhone 11, and removing the in-box accessories will help offset the cost of the 5G components in the new phone. Further, this decoupling will reduce the size of the iPhone packaging considerably (since it will now just include the phone and some paperwork), which in turn will lower Apple’s freight costs, and at Apple’s immense scale, it will also be good for the environment overall. The analyst isn’t clear on whether a cable will continue to be included or not.
Perhaps taking inspiration from Apple, reports also subsequently emerged that Samsung is also looking to ship smartphones without a charger in the box. The company is currently evaluating the decision, and it has not finalized when to remove the charging brick and on which phones.
Now, before you jump up and criticize the move, let’s try and understand the rationale behind this seemingly-sudden decision from both Apple and Samsung. Note that the decisions are actually from emerging reports and not on the basis of official announcements just yet — that being said, analyst Ming-chi Kuo has been on-point for their comments on Apple’s upcoming moves, so the report does come from a position of high confidence. For Samsung, the decision is still under consideration as per our understanding of the original report. Both sets of reports also seemingly relate to the charging brick and not the “brick plus cable” assembly — though we wouldn’t be surprised to see the cable also make an exit once the brick is removed.
Smartphones have truly become omnipresent in this day and age. And with the adoption of standard connectors like microUSB at first, and now USB Type-C, the charging assembly has also seen a break down into the charger and the cable (i.e. you no longer get a charger with a fixed cable). The decisions also seemingly center around the charging brick, which doesn’t see as much wear and tear as cables do. The longer life of charging bricks has led us to a point where many of us have built up a collection of charging bricks, especially the slower speed bricks that boxes usually pack. If you have multiple people living with you, it isn’t uncommon to have a few chargers strewn across the house too. So phones that now do get purchased, we do end up leaving the charging brick and cable inside the box, until the time we need to replace an existing charger.
Apple’s move may appear to be typically capitalistic in nature — after all, Apple sells accessories at a fairly high markup on its stores — even the base 5W charger is $19 without a cable. So at first glance, the move appears to be going against the consumer’s real interest as it pushes them forward to make an additional purchase while seemingly providing a marketing point to Apple of keeping the pricing of the iPhone at the same level as its predecessor. But if you do think about the removal decision beyond the initial reaction, it does make sense. Maybe not as much for Apple’s iPhones that still sport a proprietary Lightning connector, but for Samsung’s Galaxy lineup that has completed the transition to the USB Type-C standard. With wireless charging also picking up pace over the past few years, the need to unbox a new shiny charging brick is even less than before, especially if you have faster or more convenient charging options around you.
The move to decouple the charging brick is also expected to bring the final cost of the smartphone down — but not by much. The end consumers will receive this benefit in the form of an offset against the increased cost of 5G hardware. Smaller device packaging will also bring benefits for logistics, and we hope these benefits also get passed on to the consumers. So the benefit may not be as apparent on the surface, but it will certainly exist in the form of better, more competitive pricing, at least on the Android side of the market.
And then there is the environmental cost related to chargers. E-waste is a real concern, and a BYOC (Bring Your Own Charger) model will encourage users to be a bit more conscious of how long they use this device accessory and how many extras they manage to accumulate. It will also push forth for a more uniform approach to charging across device segments — from Bluetooth earphones to smartphones to laptops and even beyond — and we already have the USB Type-C as well as USB Power Delivery standards in place to encourage the same. Google even requires new Android devices with Type-C to not break USB Power Delivery compatibility, so the foundation stones are in place. A BYOC approach will incentivize standardized faster charging as against proprietary solutions that require an additional purchase or an ecosystem tie-in. And it will also help the third-party ecosystem to flourish and give us even more competitive multi-device solutions.
Apple’s decision, if it does pan out, will certainly push the rest of the industry to do the same. The trolling and the jokes will exist for a short time, but eventually, everyone will adopt the same strategy — just as we have seen with the 3.5mm headphone jack. But for charging bricks and cables, I am actually on-board this shift as long as consumers can enjoy the better value across the spectrum.