Apple Should Have Gone Further for the Environment (and here's how)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read
Apple Should Have Gone Further for the Environment (and here's how)

Jon Porter writing for The Verge:

Apple’s core argument for taking the charger out of the box is that it avoids piling on accessories that a lot of people already own. During its presentation, Apple estimated that there are 2 billion of its power adapters out in the world, and “billions” of third-party chargers.

This point has struck me weirdly since I watched the event last week. Leading up to the event, we heard endlessly how "you already have these chargers" because you've bought iPhones before or you've bought third party bricks that you could already use. On the one hand that's true, most iPhone 12 buyers likely already have a USB-A charging brick or two (or ten) in their homes.

But "USB-A" is the key in there: literally every charging brick to ever ship with an iPhone is useless with the charging cable Apple is shipping with the new iPhones this year. I don't know how Apple got to their 2 billion power adapter number, but shout out to the USB-C market if that's only counting charging bricks with USB-C on the brick.

To me this says that a whole lot of iPhone 12 buyers are going to need a new charging brick this year. And before you can say "but Magsafe," I'll add that the new Magsafe charger also has USB-C on the end.

I bring this up because I've talked to a few "normal people" about the new iPhones and in my small sample size, no one is buying the environmental argument. I think Apple genuinely wants to do better with the environment, and this move likely comes from a good place, but I don't think they went far enough to convince folks that the reason is anything more than penny pinching.

My Suggestion

Here's what I would suggest engender more "I'm happy to be helping the environment, and Apple is a great partner," and less "evil megacorp tries to convince me a worse product is actually a good thing."

One: Keep doing what you're doing

We're off to a good start, so go ahead and omit the charging brick from the box. You get the packaging material saves, as well as the shipping load reductions, both of which are big wins.

Two: Offer a free brick at checkout

When someone buys an iPhone from Apple (in-person or online), they should be prompted to get a free USB-C charging brick as well. Not the same $19 it is after the fact, and not a reduced price of $9 or something, free. This is an essential step in making it not look like a cash grab.

Apple would still have a lot of people say they need one, but it would be far less than the 100% that it is today.

If someone says they need one, just ship it along with their phone and call it a day, everyone's happy.

Three: Plan to move to USB-C next year

This is more of a next year thing, but do you know how to get even fewer people to need a new charging brick for their iPhone: let them charge with USB-C.

I know there are a lot of Lightning cables out there, but USB-C is the standard for every other tech product out there, from super-cheap tablets to phones to headphones to game controllers, and basically every category of product that needs to charge up in the past several years. Hell, my house has a single USB-C plug in the living room that charges my iPad Pro, my Switch, my Pixel 4, my wife's home laptop, her work laptop, my headphones, and more things every few months. I know I'm a bit ahead of the general curve when it comes to tech, but let's not talk about USB-C like it's some bleeding edge tech that's not ready yet. Apple itself hasn't shipped a new laptop with anything else in 4 years.

And I know, USB-C has some confusion around what it can do with video-out, how fast it can trasnfer data, and all that, but that is such an edge case for iPhones. 99% of people are going to use this port exclusively to charge their phone, so as long as it transfers data, then it's fine. Also, if the concern is with the cable, then it's a good thing that Apple is the one shipping a cable in the box so they can know it will work great. As for third parties, make it a part of the MFI program that cables will need to meet certain standards so that users get a predictable experience.

Yes, people will grumble about a port change ("another port change, they do this every 2 years!") and people will be inconvenienced if they have accessories that use Lightning, and that's certainly a cost, just as it was a cost when Apple switched away from the 30-pin dock connector a decade ago. This is about the environment, not right? If it means that much, then this is the sort of flack that would take courage to absorb.


I will reiterate that I think Apple is doing this for good, core reasons. That said, there is certainly a, "good for Apple's bottom line," element here that's impossible to ignore as well. How much you love Apple will color how favorably you see this move.

Apple is a company that makes the hard choices and does things that other companies won't. That's why we love them! I think that reducing the waste created by iPhones is a good thing, and doing things that are good for Apple's bottom line and is good for the environment and is good for customers is the trifecta that the company aspires to achieve. I think that this move is a step in the right direction, but it's a bit of a half step, and because they didn't go a little further, I think they're going to annoy a large number of customers.

Will they lose these customers? Probably not. Hell, the iPhone 12 pre-orders are apparently huge! I'm simply suggesting that there was a path forward that I believe could avoid upset customers all while helping Apple's bottom line and the environment at the same time.