December 6, 2023

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Unlimited Technology

What’s the Deal With Smartphone Makers Not Including Chargers?

At the launch of the iPhone 12, Apple revealed it’s no longer including charging bricks in the box. And while other manufacturers first ridiculed the Cupertino company for this, some of them eventually followed suit.

Samsung does not include a charger with the S21, nor with the recently released Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3. Google’s Pixel 6 won’t have one either. Even Xiaomi announced its Mi 11 smartphone wouldn’t have a charger in the box, although it eventually relented and put one in.

But what’s the real reasoning behind this move? Take a look out the possibilities below and figure out why.

For the Environment

Apple event screenshot 2 million tons of carbon of saved

During the iPhone 12 launch in 2020, Apple declared it would not include Lightning headphones and a charging brick in the box. The rationale behind this decision is that most iPhone users already have Lightning headphones, and more are switching to wireless earbuds.

The company also said there were already over 2 billion Apple power adapters out there, with more made by other manufacturers. Considering these numbers, Apple decided not to include these items in the box anymore, thus reducing resource consumption while at the same time allowing the iPhone packaging to be smaller.

And because the iPhone box is more compact, Apple could ship up to 70% more phones in one container, thus reducing its logistical carbon footprint.

Saving a Few Bucks in the Box

US banknotes in a box

On the face of it, Apple’s move looks like a sound decision. After all, shouldn’t we be in favor of reducing waste and resource use? Eventually, other companies like Samsung and Google followed suit, with the S21 and Pixel 6 reportedly not including a charger in the box.

The more cynical of us may think that companies are doing this to milk more money from its consumer base. However, reports state that Apple will only make an additional 1% by taking these items out of the box.

Although 1% seems like a large amount of money for ordinary people, it’s a drop in the bucket for mega-corporations like Apple, Google, and Samsung. Furthermore, because users are not constrained with OEM charging bricks, they can pick up adapters from other makers, thus fueling competition.

Waste-Making Accessories

sorted e-waste on a white table

However, one argument against this decision is that it’s actually exacerbating the waste problem. Because even though the company may have saved on resources, packaging, and shipping, some users will still need to buy accessories not included in the box.

So instead of having to create a slightly larger box for one smartphone, manufacturers now have to make two entirely different kinds of packaging to accommodate the phone and the charger. And if a consumer buys an adapter from another manufacturer, it would constitute a totally different supply chain—thus expanding that particular user’s carbon footprint.

While Apple argued that most of its user base already has these accessories, you have to look at evolving technology. For example, past iPhones came with a Lightning adapter. However, the current model comes with a USB-C to Lightning cable, thus rendering the old iPhone charging brick incompatible.

The development of fast charging technology may also render your old “fast” charger obsolete. Previously, high-powered adapters had a max output of 18W or so. But as faster charging phones that accept 65W or more become available, these old bricks won’t do the job anymore.

Take a look at this: the iPhone 12 has sold over 100 million units in its first seven months. Assuming half of those people bought a new adapter, that’s an additional 50 million boxes and 50 million deliveries. So if you look at the bigger picture, this negates the reasoning behind taking out the charging brick.

But Do You Really Need a New Charger?

generic smartphone power accessories on a table

However, before you start crucifying phone makers in your head, take a look at yourself first. How many charging bricks do you have lying around the house?

According to some studies, the average smartphone lasts for about two and a half years. So if you’ve been a smartphone user since the first iPhone, you would have had roughly five phones already. Assuming your latest phone isn’t an iPhone 12 or a Samsung S21, that means you have five charging bricks around you—most probably all of them are still working.

And because charging technology doesn’t change with every phone generation, you could’ve probably used one adapter for the following phone model or two. If smartphones had optional chargers from the beginning, then we probably would have saved millions of tons of carbon since then.

Related: How to Check if Your Smartphone Charger Is Safe to Use

Consumer and Government Push Back

Whatever the reason, there were mixed reactions to Apple’s announcement. While other companies like Samsung and Xiaomi initially ridiculed Apple, they eventually followed suit. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 did not come with a charger, and neither did the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3.

It was also reported in December 2020 that the new Xiaomi Mi 11 wouldn’t come with a charger. However, the company eventually relented and included a 55W fast charger in the box.

Even Google got into this debacle by announcing that the Google Pixel 5A will be the last Pixel phone to come with a charger in the box. It justified this by saying that most people already have a USB-C charging brick, so why add to everyone’s charger collection?

Related: Why Apple Should Ditch the Lightning Cable

But whatever the case may be, one country pushed back against this development. In December 2020, a Brazilian consumer rights organization called Procon-SP requested Apple to provide documents proving that removing chargers from the box is good for the environment.

Although Apple did respond to these requests, the organization claimed that Cupertino’s reasons for the removal aren’t justified. This came to a head in early 2021, when a consumer in Sao Paulo sued Apple for not including chargers in the box.

The verdict was released on May 23, 2021, where Apple was forced to deliver a free charger to the consumer. The Brazilian government also fined the company $2 million for failing to include chargers in its phones.

Brazilian flag on a pole facing a black and white photo of the Apple logo on an office window

Nevertheless, if you look at the Brazilian Apple store page for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you’ll find that it still doesn’t come with a charger in the box. So far, there has been no other news whether Brazil will pursue Apple for not including chargers with the iPhone.

Finding a Compromise

Both manufacturers and consumers make valid arguments. Shipping phones without chargers and earphones does mean less use of resources for accessories that might be unwanted or unused. However, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth if you take out accessories people expect without reducing the price.

One reasonable solution to this problem is to ship phones in two configurations—with and without chargers—at different prices. That way, the consumer can decide for themselves if they need it or not.

This is a win-win-win solution for all involved—some savings for the manufacturer, freedom to choose for the consumer, and less actual waste for the environment.


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