iPhone 12's big risk: Will shoppers accept no charger in the box?

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The iPhone 12 may wind up being just as notable for what Apple leaves out as what it includes. Based on multiple reports, the iPhone 12 may not come with a wall charger in the box, which would be a first for the company. Every single iPhone since the original model in 2007 has shipped with a wall charger, so this would be a huge change.

Why would Apple make such a move, and, more importantly, could it backfire? There are multiple reasons for not including a charger in the box, ranging from cutting Apple’s costs to helping the environment, but the company will have to explain itself — as well as possibly provide incentives — for this omission to not be perceived as a money grab.

An unprecedented move

We’ve heard from a couple of different sources that Apple may not include EarPods or a charger in the box for the iPhone 12. But the latter move is seen as more controversial since you need a charger for the phone to work.

The hubbub started in June when a research note from Barclays surfaced that said that the iPhone 12 lineup would not include EarPods and possibly not a charger. Then analyst Ming-Chi Kuo followed up and seemingly confirmed that the iPhone 12 would not ship with a charger, even though the upcoming phones would be capable of supporting a new 20W fast charger.

The report said that Apple would make the 20W power adapter an optional accessory. With the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple included a fast 18W charger but shipped a slow-charging 5W adapter with the regular iPhone 11.

So if these reports prove true, you would likely have to pay extra to get the fastest charging speeds no matter which model iPhone 12 you buy.

iPhone 12: Benefits of leaving the charger behind

For Apple, there could be numerous reasons why it would not include a charger with the iPhone 12. For one, it would help Apple cut down on costs, especially at a time when 5G modems are driving up prices for handsets.

“I think the major driver is trying to limit price as [build of materials] goes up for 5G,” said Carolina Minaesi, a principal analyst at Creative Strategies.

“Many people are drowning in chargers. The e-waste issue is real. Even the environmental cost of shipping all these chargers is significant.”

Avi Greengart, Techsponential

Apple would also presumably pay less for shipping each iPhone 12, which would really add up for the company when you’re talking about moving millions of units in a given quarter. 

Another benefit for Apple is that it could win points for being green. Anker CEO Steven Yang told The Verge that his company, which is known for making chargers and accessories, estimates about 300,000 tons of e-waste a year just from in-box chargers.

“Many people are drowning in chargers,” said Avi Greengart, lead analyst at Techsponential. “The e-waste issue is real. Even the environmental cost of shipping all these chargers is significant.”

iPhone 12 backlash? Remember the headphone jack...

The initial reaction in forums and on social media to Apple potentially not including a charger with the iPhone was largely negative . And there could be another wave of disappointment should the rumors prove true. 

“I’m sure there will be some consumers who are upset, but I think most will just be surprised,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC. “It’s not unusual to come across a gadget today that doesn’t include a charging brick, but it is unusual for this to happen in an iPhone.”

The reaction to Apple ditching the charger will largely depend on how Apple implements the change. One suggestion: don’t use the word “courage,” as Apple did when it scrapped the headphone jack starting with the iPhone 7.

“It’s hard to know how people will respond as a lot of it is emotional. Thinking logically the headphone jack had a more material impact for people.”

Carolina Milanesi, Creative Strategies

“If Apple simply drops the charger, yes, consumers will be upset, especially given the high cost of Apple’s accessories,” said Greengart. “However, if Apple makes the charger optional by offering an offsetting credit to buy one if you need it, that’s a consumer and environmental friendly move that will be welcomed.”

While there very well could be a backlash with the iPhone 12 should Apple not include a charger in the box, chances are it won’t create as much controversy as Apple’s move decided to kill the headphone jack four years ago. There was a huge uproar, but ultimately Android phone makers followed suit.

“It’s hard to know how people will respond as a lot of it is emotional,” said Milanesi. “Thinking logically the headphone jack has a more material impact for people who had wired headsets they wanted to use.”

How Apple could ease the pain

If the rumors prove true, chances are there will at least be some initial controversy around the iPhone 12 not including a charger. But that could very well be offset by a cheaper price for the iPhone 12 itself.

“Most buyers will have a charger already so I am not sure this is a big deal especially if Apple shows a competitive price point on the 5G model,” said Milanesi.

However, if you want to charge at the fastest speed, you’ll likely have to wind up springing for a 20-watt charger. The current 18W fast charger for the iPhone costs $29, so we would expect the price for the new charger to be in the same ballpark. 

To ease the sting of not including a charger, Apple could offer some sort of bundle or discount to at least ride through the initial backlash. 

“Offering a discount on the purchase of a new charger would go a long way,” said Urbani. “Only those who truly need a new charger would utilize the discount and thereby still help Apple protect the environment and lower costs.”

Ultimately, the strength of Apple’s brand will likely be able to weather whatever storm comes from dropping the charger from the iPhone 12. But it will need to do a good job messaging why it’s making the move so that it’s seen as a benefit for the earth and consumers instead of just a new way to goose the company’s margins. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.