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Box clever – is an empty iPhone box a good thing?

It’s time for Apple to look again at pack-in items

The Apple rumor mill exploded with the recent claim by an Apple analyst that the next set of iPhones would only have an iPhone in the box. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, there will be no earphones, no charger, and not even a cable.

A lot of people immediately decided this rumor was fact, and used it as further proof that Apple is evil. After all, by removing all these things from the box, that merely means more lovely profits for Apple, and loads of users subsequently having to buy extra accessories – also from Apple.

Waste not, want not

There’s nothing to say that point of view is wrong. Apple tends to keep an eye on its bottom line. If it didn’t, you’d currently be enjoying unlimited iCloud space, rather than the free tier giving you a miserly 5GB. But there’s also another angle here: waste.

When you take into account how many millions of iPhones are shipped every year, all the materials that go into them add up. In 2019, there were 7.1 million new chargers, cables, and earphones shipped with the iPhones Apple sold. How many of them got used? How many were effectively yet more waste, slung in a drawer and forgotten about? How much additional environmental impact did their combined weight cause during shipping?

Sustainable hardware

If Apple really is looking at eradicating everything but the iPhone from its boxes, this needs to happen as part of a concerted and focused push toward sustainability. Rather than dump yet more mediocre headphones on people, have users make the choice of what to buy separately from their iPhones. Already got some cables? You don’t need more.

Most importantly, instead of everyone getting a new charger with each device purchased, encourage people to buy a quality wireless or multi-port charger that will last for years. There are further potential user benefits, too, such as fast charging — rather than suffering with the low-end 5W charger Apple’s supplied to date.

User-friendly choices

Of course, there is a flip-side to all this: not everyone has spare kit kicking around. Some people sell their old devices – and everything that came with them. Also, some people might be able to stretch to the cost of an iPhone, but expecting them to then grab a premium charger and a pair of quality headphones might be a step too far.

There’s a solution there too: Apple could enable anyone buying a new iPhone to easily access a charger for a very low price, if they really need one. And they could incentivize people not to, for example by giving anyone who doesn’t want a charger a few free months of Apple Music and Apple Arcade.

If Apple really is going to minimize what it provides in the box with a new iPhone, the company needs to give these issues serious thought. But so too do all of us, lest we continue to be responsible for yet more unwanted waste.