The release of the HomePod Mini, noticeably lacking a number of features (including access to Spotify?!), smells of a desperate maneuver to break into a market so very much entrenched with Amazon Alexa and Google Home/Nest products.
But the next big thing, the iPhone 12 series of phones, something was even more off.
Before I go on, this opinion piece expresses the views resulting from collaboration between myself (Peter Bower) and Kevin Cheng. And, fair warning, these come from a (tired, grumpy) proud iPhone user (Peter) that has had an Apple in his pocket since 2011 (and an iPod well before that).
One iPhone, mwahaha! Twooooo iPhone, mwahaha...
The 2020 iPhone line of products represents the complete capitulation against the Jobs ideal “to have it fit beautifully in the palm of your hand”. Under Jobs, the iPhone was a singular crowning achievement for Apple. It came in one set of dimensions and you take it or leave it.
It was clean. Simple. Eloquent. Unique. And you had no choice but to take what they offered!
iPhone is now the tech world’s BMW, premium branding but with a model and option for everyone... And just like the said automobile maker, all attainable as long as you ignore that budget factor.
Even the base model of the new range, being the iPhone 12 Mini, comes in at AU$1199. This is in spite of it sporting a 5.4” inch screen, significantly smaller than the 6.1” screen of the iPhone 11 which also debuted at AU$1199 in 2019. So, at first glance, what sounded like a way to make iPhones more affordable and allow consumers to access the new range of phones at a cheaper price than the previous base-model phone... well, no, it’s just allowed them to add more models at higher premiums at the other end of the range. (Hello AU$2369 512gb iPhone 12 Pro Max!)
As such, at the time of release, Apple will fill a whole wall in my local JB Hi-Fi with a massive range of phones available. In any given store, ignoring the iWatches and iPads and new HomePod range, you will find the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone Pro Max joining the iPhone SE, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and the iPhone XR. And, hell, I still see the iPhone 7, brand new, in various stores.
Not that long ago the finger was pointed at Android for all the options, variations and fragmentation. I fear the shoe is now on the other foot, because Apple craves market dominance and has sold Steve Job’s soul to get there.
And I can’t help but picture Tim Cook as The Count, laughing with all the billions to certainly come rolling in...
The Computational Power Of EVERYTHING... but not yet
We can proudly say that in our pockets, we carry over 100,000 times the computation power of what got mankind to the moon.
But this comes at a hell of a cost.
Starting at AU$1199 for a 64gb iPhone 12 Mini and stretching all the way to AU$2369 for an 512gb iPhone 12 Pro Max, these things don’t come cheap!
And, let’s not forget that the release of four different models from AU$1199 through to AU$2369 is more than a bit hard to comprehend as the world struggles more and more due to financial impacts of COVID-19 (and in Australia, drought, bushfire, toilet paper shortage etc).
In fact, the top of the range iPhone 12 well exceeds the price of a basic PC or laptop. There has been talks of the promised land, the convergence where our phone is the work, personal and everything in between. You turn up to work and dock the phone and start ... working.
The reality is, the iPhone 12 or any other mobile phone on the market does not yet translate to replacing a desktop or laptop computer. Companies issuing phones to their staff are also providing a computer or notebook, sometimes even both. We are not seeing the promised land and each and every device is escalating in purchase cost, upkeep and now basic accessories that are no longer included.
Whenever we arrive at the point where a mobile phone becomes our computer and the use of a magical dock allows us to sit at our desk and type on our 4k monitors, it will probably cost as much as my first car. Actually, probably my third car.
Charging Ahead... without a charger?
This year, Apple has decided not to include a power adapter brick or earbuds with any model iPhone 12. The company is proudly boasting environmental reasons for this radical move. Which, don’t get us wrong, if it is for environmental reasons, huzzah! DRN is fully supportive of helping the environment where possible.
In fact, Apple claims by not including a power adapter brick or earbuds with the iPhone 12 range, or indeed any iPhone it sells in future*, it will save some two million metric tons of carbon annually.
Apple VP Lisa Jackson said that there are more than 2 billion power adapters in the world already, so continuing to include them in the box with the iPhone was wasteful. The company also said that more and more customers are switching to wireless charging methods.
This may be true but I don’t have wireless chargers everywhere around my house. I do, however, have a power adapter brick in my office, my bedroom, next to my couch, in the kitchen. It is also easy enough, if not particularly efficient, to shift around a cord and power adapter brick as required.
And of those 2 billion power adapters in the world, how many do I have in my house that are USB-C compatible? Exactly zero.
How many of my friends have USB-C compatible power bricks? A couple, but not that many. Because we don’t tend to buy a new phone every year. Or more accurately, at the going rate, we can’t afford to change it yearly.
One could assume that the USB-A-to-Lightning cords from older phones will charge the new phones from an older power adapter brick. They might. But perhaps it will be liking plugging an iPad into an iPhone charger --- it might not charge as fast or perhaps not at all!
Nothing Apple (or really any big tech company) does should be taken at face value. I do not dispute the points made by Lisa Jackson above. There are a LOT of power adapters out there, and yes wireless charging is convenient and no longer a novelty.
But let’s call a spade a spade, the environmental reason is utter BS (read: rubbish).
* What hasn’t been well picked up is the fact that all previous iPhone models now no longer come with adapter bricks, either.
It’s ALL about the $$$
This move is absolutely about economics.
This works two-fold for Apple.
- They no longer include the power adapter brick or earbuds in the box, saving them money without having to include them. Of course, that saving has not been passed on to the consumer, with the base-model iPhone 12 Mini still launching at the standard AU$1199 (despite being a smaller phone than the iPhone 11) and the iPhone 11 still clocking in at AU$999 (standard price change following the release of a new model).
- Apple is ensuring the sale of a whole bunch more add-on accessories after you have purchased your iPhone 12. Which, let’s face it, a lot of people do love that Apple brand, rather than your generic third-party.
And so, the big question is: Is this REALLY Apple saving the environment one power adapter brick and earbud at a time?
But, Apple, since you're insistant on not offering a charger adapter brick I will offer you a radical idea for free.
Want to really help the environment? Want to help solve the problem of millions of charger adapter bricks floating around the world? Offer a scheme where your consumers can get a new USB-C charger brick for FREE if they purchase of a new iPhone and bring in an old charger to trade in.
Reduce, reuse AND recycle!
A Rotten Ideology
Of course, stop for a second and think about who is cheaping out (despite not passing any saving to the consumer) by not including a power brick and earbuds in order to save the environment.
This is a company who, at the end of 2018, had produced and sold some 1,468,140,000 iPhones (Source). That was two years ago.
In 2019, the Apple iPhone wound up the best selling tech product in the US with sales of some 185 million units (in the US alone!) (Source). The iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max accounted for a reported 69% of all iPhones sold in the US between October and December 2019 (Source). In fact, Apple made $142billion from iPhone sales alone in 2019.
That said, Apple made a further US$51.62 billion from iPhone sales alone in the first quarter of 2020 (Source). That is in the FIRST quarter of 2020. You know, when a global pandemic was breaking out.
It is great they want to cut back impact on the environment by reducing packaging sizes, using recycled packaging, and, now, not including earbuds and chargers because “you all already have one!” (Nope! Tell that to my USB-A charger).
But, perhaps, they could release a few less iPhones!
If this was really about saving the environment, why release new models every year and force more waste as people upgrade? Do we really need a new model every year? Do we really need four?!
Lightning Fast: But from eons ago
I was about to give props to Apple for sticking with the Lightning adapter. But I thought about it some more.
The iPhone 12 is still using the proprietary Lightning connector, with a USB-C-to-Lightning cable included in the box. The Lightning adapter is a technology that was necessary in 2012 when we just saw the tail end of the wild wild west of charging adapters.
Yes, the Lightning adapter is now eight years old.
The time around the introduction of the Lightning adapter also ushered in the mainstream era of micro-USB, a pretty ordinary, sometimes pathetically implemented and non-reversible plug as mostly the default in the Android world. And yes, some devices used micro-USB 3.0 ports which again required a different charging cable. So, the Lightning adapter and its continued use through the years is deserving of some praise.
I won’t also dismiss the fact that the debut of the Lightning port was the iPhone 5, which was not all that different in size to the iPhone 12 Mini, which harks back to when phones really did fit in your hand.
But why stick with the Lightning adapter in 2020? After all this time?
The newest iPad Pro and iPad Air range and MacBooks have all moved to USB-C-to-USB-C cables (utilising Thunderbolt 3). Oh, and guess what? They come with power adapter bricks, too.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 family has been left languishing with the Lightning port. Complete with a bizarre move to come bundled with a USB-C to Lightning cable and no charger adapter brick.
One day, it would be nice to see a nice universal charge cable come into play. C’mon Android, Apple: why don’t you guys talk and everyone just start using USB-C-to-USB-C cables?!.
How can I charge my phone?
So, if I purchase a new iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max (that’s a mouthful!) and want to take advantage of fast charging, there are four options at play.
- My previous phone was an iPhone 11, SE or XR and I might have a power adapter brick from that phone. That said, I will again emphasise, if I buy one an iPhone 11, SE or XR today, Apple have also removed power adapter bricks and earbuds from the older models, too.
- I hopefully have a laptop or desktop that has a powered USB-C port and I charge my phone from that, forever more.
- I buy an add-on accessory (probably from Apple, since I’m already in the shop) in the form of a power adapter brick.
- Or I buy a new MagSafe wireless charger.
Yes, the shiny new iPhone 12 range has introduced (or reintroduced) a MagSafe wireless charging option. So, let’s look at that.
If I am going to have to fork out more money after spending AU$1199 for an iPhone 12 Mini (or, hell, even AU$2369 for a 512gb iPhone 12 Pro Max!), at this point I may as well go the whole hog and get a damn MagSafe charger.
There’s no guarantee that it will be futureproofed and the iPhone 13 will continue to work with MagSafe, but, in standard Apple fashion, we will cross that bridge later. (The one more thing?)
But while MagSafe is great, it does continue to screw over people with earlier models. You see, Apple’s new iPhone 12 line up will access the faster wireless charging speeds, but only from Apple’s new MagSafe chargers or MagSafe-compatible chargers from authorised third-party accessory makers.
Yes, MagSafe will help your phone securely lock on to the correct part of the wireless charge-pad and provide super-fast charging speeds. But, ONLY MagSafe chargers will.
Yup. That nice Qi wireless charger you just picked up on Amazon’s Prime Day sale? Well, that will work, but it’s going to be a slow charge with your iPhone 12. May as well throw it in the bin.
Nice work saving the environment there, Apple.
One more thing...
Yes, we’re a bit grumpy with these announcements. And we definitely don’t speak for all of DRN staff with these thoughts. (In fact, I think we will get bashed in the group chat after this goes live.)
Perhaps we are cynical. But for Apple to offload the cost onto the consumer, with no saving to said consumer, and spruik that it is doing it with pure motives and intentions to save the environment. It is a hard pill to swallow.
Really, the environmental sham here is insisting that we persist with Apple’s own Lightning adapter and not moving iPhones to a universal USB-C charge cable. Cutting back the number of different cables in the world would also help a lot!
But, no, in our cynical views, this is just a tech giant sitting atop their pile of money, flexing their muscles, and hiding behind a convenient populist agenda.
The funny part is, the non-inclusion of the power adapter brick is not the greatest disappointment with the new iPhone 12 range. That disappointment, for us, is sticking with the Lightning port. A move that also doesn’t help the environment much!
So Apple, all we ask is that you cut the PR spin and sell it to us straight. COVID hit you hard, too... Wait, no it didn’t. Maybe go plant a few dozen million trees with the billions you made from iPhone sales this year! That would help a lot more than not giving me a charger and earpods!
Editor’s Note: Well, doubt Apple was going to invite us to review anything or take us anywhere, but this probably certainly killed any chance of that!