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iPhone EarPod Packaging Misses the Design for Environment Boat

I bought the new Apple iPhone 6 Plus to “dematerialize” what I tote around with me. The 6 Plus screen is 57% larger than my iPhone 4 (now handed down to my 12-year-old), enabling me to be connected and productive without a tablet, laptop, or e-reader. Use one item instead of four. Less is more. I like it.

But evidently, the Design-for-Environment (DfE) principle of “dematerialization” — minimizing overall hardware per functionality and realizing greater convenience, profit, and efficiency — wasn't atop the California designers' list when developing the packaging of the included EarPods packaging (pictured here). This plastic “storage and travel case” is — from user, business, and eco-design perspectives — difficult to use, costly, and overly sturdy compared to DfE-savvy options. See how.

This hard-plastic, complex case for EarPodscan be improved through DfE principles.

This hard-plastic, complex case for EarPods
can be improved through DfE principles.

About the iPhone 6 itself, AppleInsider says it “introduces an entirely new industrial design that looks and feels not only more modern but more practical and functional.” But the EarPods plastic case (used also for the iPhone 5) could have benefited from DfE in three ways.

1. Greater convenience
I want to answer my phone within 2-3 rings with hands-free functionality and privacy. After practicing four times, the fastest I could open the case, pick out the EarPods and mic, and fully unwrap the cord was 11 seconds. By then, my caller would assume that I'm too busy posting to my blog to answer the phone. It takes only 2.5 seconds to remove the EarPods from my purse's outside zipper compartment.

After my call, podcast, or video, I'm on to my next task or meeting, and I need to place the EarPods in a secure yet accessible place. It takes 5.5 seconds to return them neatly to my purse's zipper pocket. With the EarPods case — even after I watched a how-to video and practiced four times — 59.9 seconds was my best time for straightening the cord, inserting the left and right pods, winding part of the cord to press in the mic, winding the rest of the cord, and affixing the lid. Granted, 59.9 seconds is much quicker than my first try (nearly five minutes to get it right), but when that's multiplied by the dozen or so times I stow my phone daily, I'd rather spend those 12 minutes stretching between meetings.

Yes, if consistently used, the case can prevent a tangled mess, but so can a pocket, compartment, or some of these (overly cute) Pinterest ideas — saving you 12 minutes/day.

2. Lower cost of goods sold
Over-materializing packaging is expensive for the manufacturer. Here, the two pieces of plastic have to be sourced, formed, transported, and inspected. Then the EarPods must be inserted and wound. The case takes up more space than needed in the phone's package and adds ounces to the shipping costs.

DfE to the rescue: Instead, you could source at most a 5cm-square, post-consumer recycled, unbleached paper envelope in which the assembler can loop the cable and insert the pods. Even better, you could just loop the pods and place them in one of the wells inside the product's box for zero packaging. If you were looking to reduce cost of goods sold, which option would you choose?

3. More environmental efficiency
The beauty of dematerialization is that you source less, assemble less, ship less, use less, and waste less . Unlike the dissolvable EarPods case delivered with the iPod, the hard plastic case in my iPhone 6 package looks just the same now as it did yesterday when I submerged it in warm water.

Some iPhone users report throwing the “case” away (thinking it was just one-time-use packaging), sticking it in a drawer and forgetting about it, or finding it months later in the bottom of their backpacks.

What will I do with mine? I found one pair of earrings that sort of fits in the case, but instead I'll add it to our workshop's box of designs that missed the DfE boat, along with the 2006 mouse with 10 screws when only two were needed.

Other than the EarPod packaging
The rest of the iPhone 6 packaging has some DfE muscle. The outer box is made of renewable and recyclable paper (though it could have been unbleached, like the pre-2000 Mac boxes). It's no larger than needed, and it's lightweight. The paper tab for pulling out the mini booklet works well. A weak point is the plastic inside the box (who actually recycles #6?), which it seems could have been made of paper, as well.

Dematerialize the case for the masses; make it available as an accessory
The design of the case is innovative, and Apple does get DfE points for making the EarPods compatible with 29 other Apple products. But Apple shouldn't put the case in every iPhone box. Instead, it should offer the dissolvable version of the case at the Apple Store, priced above cost, for users who love to wind.

In less time than it took me to write this post, you can take an online DfE course to learn to how embed dematerialization and dozens of other DfE principles in your product and packaging designs.

Please share your examples of dematerialization wins and losses in the comments section below, or call me on my new iPhone 6 Plus.

6 comments on “iPhone EarPod Packaging Misses the Design for Environment Boat

  1. JGilbert
    December 11, 2014

    This sort of packaging is all about making the object look desirable, and less about ongoing use.

    The amount of care and effort it would take to actually use the apple earbud case is comical.  Beyond that, I can't believe someone made a video explaining how to put the earbuds away; yet there it is on YouTube under “How To Put Back Your Apple Earpods In The Travel Case.”

    Let's all encourage our clients to move away from this sort of waste, and make packaging that is easy to open and re-use, minimal in material consumption, and delightful in design.  

    Who's with us?

     

  2. sahith
    December 11, 2014

    Exactly

  3. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    December 11, 2014

    You said it, jgilbert. Like Pam, I recently got an iPhone 6. Yesterday, i was rooting around in my purse, looking for my earbuds and what did i find? The plastic box. Empty. And a layer below that, my earbuds! Tangled. Sigh.  When i opened the original package, I kept this little box because it was too good to throw out. However, the last time i used the earbuds, I ran into someome and hastily took them off and tossed them in my bag. I dind't have time to repackage them. Not at all. And that's the reality of my life. Now they are neatly wound on themselves and stowed in a side pocket. Pamela, you put your finger on a very real experience here.

  4. SunitaT
    December 14, 2014

    “You said it, jgilbert. Like Pam, I recently got an iPhone 6. Yesterday, i was rooting around in my purse, looking for my earbuds and what did i find? The plastic box. Empty. And a layer below that, my earbuds! Tangled. Sigh.  When i opened the original package, I kept this little box because it was too good to throw out. However, the last time i used the earbuds, I ran into someome and hastily took them off and tossed them in my bag. I dind't have time to repackage them. Not at all. And that's the reality of my life. Now they are neatly wound on themselves and stowed in a side pocket. Pamela, you put your finger on a very real experience here.”

    @hailey: Exactly, there would be better and useful designs for packing up the headphone chords with the mobile phone. Actually it wouldn't make much of a difference in the sales of the phone because we aren't concerned about the packaging of the headphone, although it looks good and makes us like a brand a lot more for finished products.

  5. SunitaT
    December 14, 2014

    “This sort of packaging is all about making the object look desirable, and less about ongoing use.”

    @Jgilbert.I agree with you Jgilbert. Better packaging makes the product look better in the eyes of the buyer, but has no value except maybe usefulness in transportation. Safe packaging is always better than funky packaging.

  6. _hm
    December 20, 2014

    @Hailey:

    This is storage and travel case. It does not mean that one can keep buds inside and take it out very quickly – in 10 second or very close to it.

    I assume author has wonderful speed of doing it so quickly. But why often she keeps it back in case, just like little kid or old person? Also it is just $35 a piece. Just throw it wherever in purse and if it breaks over time, get new one, different color.

     

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