Ever since Apple introduced the original AirPods back in 2016 there’s been speculation that Apple would eventually phase out its wired earbuds entirely. After all, the elimination of the iPhone headphone jack happened at the same time, and it’s safe to say that wasn’t entirely a coincidence.
As Apple did with the floppy disk back in the 90s, and later on with optical drives, the company saw the writing on the wall and seems to have been determined to lead the charge into a new, wireless future.
Of course, wireless headphones are still pretty expensive, and since Apple’s original pitch for the iPhone was that it was a media player as much as it was a smartphone, the company has included wired headphones in the box since the very beginning.
As much as Apple may have wanted to push technology adoption forward, it also knew people weren’t ready to give up getting inexpensive headphones in the box back in 2016, so as a result, it shifted its EarPods to use a Lightning connector and otherwise carried on including them.
However, now it looks like that could be set to change. Although we heard some rumours last year that Apple could bundle AirPods with the iPhone 12 Pro, we remained pretty skeptical that this would happen, considering that the retail price of AirPods are $159, while the selling price of EarPods is only $29, and it’s a safe bet that they cost a lot less to package with the iPhone.
While it wouldn’t be completely out of the question for Apple to find a way to include them in the most premium iPhone models, it doesn’t seem likely the company would do so without also needing to raise the price or otherwise cut corners on iPhone features — both things that it would be loathed to do.
An alternative suggestion was that Apple may have had some “AirPods Lite” in the works that would provide less functionality than the entry-level second-gen AirPods, but this would also be a difficult balancing act for Apple, since it would need to include wireless earbuds that wouldn’t compromise on its reputation for quality without cutting into sales of the standalone second-generation AirPods.
‘EarPods Not Included’
If analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is correct, however, it looks like Apple is going to take a third approach, and that’s simply going to be to make another courageous decision to stop including the EarPods in the box at all, thereby requiring users to shop for their own earphones in the hopes that they’ll choose to buy AirPods.
Removing the EarPods from the box would almost certainly be an unpopular move in certain quarters, especially since the lack of a headphone jack would limit people’s options for purchasing wired headphones; they’d either need to buy EarPods for $29, pick up Apple’s 3.5mm to Lightning adapter for $10, or shop around for third-party MFi Lightning headphones.
Apple undoubtedly hopes that this extra effort might encourage more people to consider the $159 AirPods instead, but in the very least it would also save money and potentially reduce e-waste, since there’s a significant enough portion of customers who probably never even unpack the EarPods, either because they already have a pair from a previous iPhone or they prefer their existing headphones.
It’s been fairly easy to see this coming, as a couple of years ago, Apple also stopped bundling the 3.5mm to Lightning adapter that was originally included with the iPhone 7 in order to ease the transition for people who were upset at the removal of the headphone jack.
Apple continued selling the adapter separately for those who wanted to use their own wired headphones, and it’s likely the $29 EarPods will also continue to be available in the same way for those who really want them, but those who would prefer a different set of headphones will have many other options to choose from.
Keep in mind that most Android phones don’t bundle a set of earphones in the first place, so Apple has always been an outlier here (although to be fair, most Android smartphones also still include a 3.5mm headphone jack).
As part of all of this, Kuo suggests that Apple may also use the opportunity to promote or discount the AirPods during the holiday season after the new iPhone 12 models are released. With no new AirPods expected until 2021, it would be an opportune time for Apple to do this.
Apple could simply discount the second-generation AirPods outright, or it could come up with some kind of bundle promotion whereby users purchasing an iPhone 12 are able to pick up a set of AirPods at a discounted price, or get some other perk such as included AppleCare+ coverage, in the same way that AppleCare+ for iPad also covers the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil.