Is Apple's USB wall adapter really worth $29?

By on May 25, 2012, 7:30 AM

While Apple is getting more competitive on system pricing, the company's accessories still seem wildly overpriced. For instance, the iOS USB power adapter costs $29, while generic units are readily available through Amazon for under as little as a dollar or two with free shipping. If you needed a new wall adapter for your iPhone, you'd undoubtedly consider evading the infamous "Apple tax." After all, a charger's a charger, right?

Wrong, according to electronics technician Ken Shirriff, who recently dissected Apple's charger alongside some cheaper alternatives. Shirriff's teardowns offer an incredible amount of detail -- much of which is admittedly over our heads -- but the important takeaway is clear enough: Apple's device is of a notably higher quality than off-brand components. This is true in many ways and cheaping out could have very real consequences.

Apple's charger has extra parts and/or design elements that reduce interference with the touchscreen and audio playback, in addition to improving safety. Shirriff said there are strict rules governing the separation of dangerous line voltage and safe output voltage. There's supposed to be 3-4mm of "creepage" and "clearance." Apple's charger exceeds that requirement at 6mm, while the off-brand device has less than 1mm.

"I wondered how this [knock-off] power supply could have met the UL standards," Shirriff said. "It didn't list any safety certifications, or even a manufacturer. I suddenly realized that purchasing the cheapest possible charger on eBay from an unknown manufacturer in China could actually be a safety hazard. Note that this sub-millimeter gap is all that's protecting you and your phone from potentially-lethal 340 volts," he warned.

Apple's adapter is also sturdier. In 2008, the company recalled iPhone chargers with a defect that caused the AC prongs to fall off in the wall outlet. This prompted a redesign that makes the prongs virtually impossible to remove from the charger without destroying it. By comparison, Shirriff used pliers to easily remove the no-name adapter's prongs, noting that they were only held in with friction, and seemingly little friction at that.

Despite the higher quality of Apple's charger, Shirriff acknowledged that its steep price is largely profit. He noted that a very similar Samsung cube charger uses about $1 less in components and retails for as little as $6. Although you'll sacrifice a little quality (more EMI interference and weaker, though perfectly safe prongs) Samsung's offering seems like a great compromise if you can't justify the full $30 for Apple's solution.

Charger component pricing per 1,000 units (Shirriff believes Apple gets even better rates)

  • 0402 SMD resistor $0.002
  • 0805 SMD capacitor $0.007
  • SMD transistor $0.02
  • fusible resistor $0.03
  • 1A 600V (1J) diode $0.06
  • thermistor $0.07
  • Y capacitor $0.08
  • 3.3uF 400V electrolytic capacitor $0.10
  • TL431 $0.10
  • 1.5uH inductor $0.12
  • SCD 34 diode $0.13
  • 2801 optocoupler $0.16
  • 1HNK60 transistor $0.22
  • USB jack $0.33
  • 100uF tantalum capacitor $0.34
  • L6565 IC $0.55
  • 330uF tantalum polymer capacitor (Sanyo POSCAP) $0.98
  • flyback transformer $1.36
  • Estimated BOM: $4.66



User Comments: 38

Got something to say? Post a comment
Guest said:

Well this Apple Toilet Brush is most definitely worth the price, I just wish Apple would buy out Toilet Duck. Come on already !

Ha ha ha

Staff
Steve Steve said:

It has the Apple logo, easily worth the $29! In fact its probably a bargain at that price.

Guest said:

Wow super GREED.Thats why I never buy their products.

mevans336 mevans336 said:

Apple charges it because they can, no pun intended. (That was terrible.)

In all seriousness, Apple has a loyal customer base who will grossly overpay because they are generally technically inept and trust Apple. If the "Genius" says they need that part, they're going to but it. They don't read tech blogs and aren't going to shop on eBay for a charger they need now. (This is the average Apple user I'm talking about. I'm typing this from a Macbook Air, so I'm not referring to ALL Apple users. Put the pitchforks away.)

Honestly, if my charger died, I'm not going to eBay either, as my phone wouldn't last long enough for shipping to get me the part, unless I wanted to stay chained to my laptop for hours waiting fora USB trickle charge.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I mean... hello why wouldn't you buy the amazing apple products? They have the apple thingie logo and thingies like that, that's simply amazing!

Guest said:

It makes me cringe every time I see them at that price because if they're stocking them, presumably there's some poor mug somewhere buying them. Of course they're not worth that much but if it's $3 elsewhere and $29 from Apple. Assuming a $1.50 (guess) production cost, Apple only need to sell 1 for every 19 of the cheap ones to make the same amount of money and we all know that there's more than 1:19 ratio of smart people:****** out there!

MilwaukeeMike said:

This article isn't really news... Everyone does this. I had to buy an HP laptop charger a while back and they wanted $80 for one. I got one for $13 on Amazon.

Yes, the quality is lower, but that's what the reviews are for. The reviews tell you if something fried their device or if it charges slower than the stock one etc.

Renrew Renrew said:

It's certainly worth every penny since it includes an average meal for an Asian.

Prosercunus said:

This is what Apple is as a brand at its very core (pun intended).

Apple makes solid products, but the premium cost of their products and accessories is because it has become essentially a fashion statement and icon to the point that people just buy the products mostly because of the excellent marketing skills of Apple. There is of course legitimate reasons to buy an Apple product, they make excellent screens for example, but lets not try to pretend a good chunk of their consumer base is just uninformed buyers that are looking at brand identity and/or worse, a fashion statement.

You can say the same for a lot of other things as well.

PC nerd PC nerd said:

Apple in a nutshell. Why anyone still buys their crap is beyond me.

Guest said:

Apple pencil sharpener coming soon, in stores now for only $50! Why would you want an Apple sharpener? Because it just works!

Guest said:

Unless you are holding it wrong.

Tygerstrike said:

If you guys had read the article instead of glass eyeing it. It states that the Apple product is put together better and is rated better then any of the cheap knock offs. Personally, I dont want to accidentally fry out my Iphone by being cheap. That would hurt more then loseing my phone. Then its my fault for being cheap not Apples, as they would like me to use their charger. Yes it is pricey. Apple knows this. But what is even more expensive is trying to replace your Iphone after some cheapy knock off charger kills your phone. So yea $28-30 bucks and if it fries my phone Apple has to replace it. On a knock off charger, Good Luck getting ANYTHING.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

All this rage about Apple's profit margin... What about Nike, ReeBok, etc? I'm not an Apple fanboy, as many here already know, but I will admit that they have a good business model. It isn't greed, it's simply smart business.

Wagan8r Wagan8r said:

Oh, come on! $29 is a small price to pay for some magicalness!

raybk said:

I wonder how many fools have bought it.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

You may be getting better quality components, as one can argue with the Mac line in general, but you're certainly paying for them. In this case, the markup is probably way more than on a Mac.

Nobody can really say that Apple makes poor quality products. They usually choose good quality components. But they're the same components you can buy other places, and they're assembled by the same suicidal factory drones.

So at the end of the day a person can buy the same quality components as in a Mac, but for a much lesser price.

Guest said:

@ Tigerstrike, most ppl also read it and noticed this statement in addiiton that you seem to omit in your reply.

"Charger component pricing per 1,000 units (Shirriff believes Apple gets even better rates)"

The point is this article shows that apples unit is of a better build quality and that gives one peice of mind and assurances but also the price factor is obsurd considering the mark up from a wholesaler to an apple store.

I have no issues personally with apple, they are the best marketing corporation in the world and kudos goes to them for that, but a consumer knows when they are being over charged and when they are getting a fair deal or not most of the time but then again not always apparently.

slh28 slh28, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I've used £3 iPhone chargers for years without any problems.

A lot of Apple hardware is not overpriced, the prices for iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are easily justified when compared to the competition. However some of their things really are hilariously overpriced: Mac Pro, iPod nano/shuffle and all their accessories and RAM/HD upgrades. But nobody is forcing you to buy them, and if you're stupid enough to buy a charger or a set of the worst ever headphones for $29/£26 then you deserve to be ripped off.

Adhmuz Adhmuz, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I've used £3 iPhone chargers for years without any problems.

A lot of Apple hardware is not overpriced, the prices for iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are easily justified when compared to the competition.

Hard to believe when the "New iPad" had a bom of $365 at launch and retails for $729, nice margins there... Sadly I know far too many people who have bought in to the Apple fashion statement, and then when they don't know what they're talking about argue with you over it. Easy solution is to just avoid these people and pretend Apple doesn't exist, its been working for me and think more people should try it.

Guest said:

Far too simple are most of the comments here. The value of a product is far beyond the sum of its parts.

Quite often you will get exactly what you pay for. You will reap what you sow.

Try, at a minimum, reading the article.. Even better, think about it for a while before commenting. Think about all the ramifications of any action such as this purchase. There are many.

slh28 slh28, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Hard to believe when the "New iPad" had a bom of $365 at launch and retails for $729, nice margins there...

The 16GB one has a BOM of $316 compared to the retail price of $499, that's extremely reasonable when you consider the $316 doesn't include R&D, marketing, licensing, software, wages, support, shipping, etc. Anyway looking at the BOM breakdown isn't even valid most of the time, if you used that analysis on Windows 7 then that should be selling for $5. Relative to the competition, the new iPad blows every other $500 tablet out of the water. Whether $500 is a reasonable amount to spend on a non-essential gadget is another question, but the actual hardware is very reasonably priced. Like I said, it's the memory upgrades and accessories that they milk people on.

m4a4 m4a4 said:

<p>There is of course legitimate reasons to buy an Apple product, they make excellent screens for example</p>

They do not make most (if not all) of their components, they buy them and have a plant put them together...

Otherwise, This is half of the reason why I will never pay for an apple device. It's more fashion/toy than anything else...

Guest said:

If cannot afford the -- then what a shame.

Guest said:

asked all my colleges that own iphones/ipads or ipods, and 100% of the 52 people I asked said "they couldn't care less who makes it as long as it serves the purpose it was intended for" Where are all these iSheep people talk about so much?

p51d007 said:

Well heck yes it is worth it. 29 is BETTER than 5 bucks online. the 29 dollar one works 24 dollars better! And it has that apple logo, that alone is worth it.

LOL. Fool, meet money, you will both be parted soon.

nismo91 said:

for something that I plugged into the wall all the time, a little price to pay is justifiable, especially if you have seen the internals of 2$ china usb chargers. however, genuine usb adapters from htc, samsung, lg, nokia, motorola can be bought for about half the price of apple ones and I believe they're not two times inferior.

Guest said:

Fool, meet money, you will both be parted soon.

There sure must be a lot of fools out there. Every last one of us will be parted from their money when they are dearly departed. Relative to how long there has been "life" on this planet, this "soon" is a mere blink of the eye.

Wealth is pervasive but the blind mind is oblivious.

killeriii said:

<p>
Hard to believe when the "New iPad" had a <a href="http://www.isuppli.com/Teardowns/News/pages/New-i
ad-32-GB-4G-Carries-364-35-Bill-of-Materials.aspx" target="_blank" class="externalLink" rel="nofollow">bom of $365</a> at launch and retails for $729, nice margins there...
</p>

<p><br /></p>

<p>The 16GB one has a BOM of $316 compared to the retail price of $499, that's extremely reasonable when you consider the $316 doesn't include R&D, marketing, licensing, software, wages, support, shipping, etc. Anyway looking at the BOM breakdown isn't even valid most of the time, if you used that analysis on Windows 7 then that should be selling for $5. Relative to the competition, the new iPad blows every other $500 tablet out of the water. Whether $500 is a reasonable amount to spend on a non-essential gadget is another question, but the actual hardware is very reasonably priced. Like I said, it's the memory upgrades and accessories that they milk people on.</p>

Ha

I was going to respond the exact same way.

I got my new ipad for $499. That's a pretty sweet deal in my books!

Guest said:

I find it quite amusing to see how the Apple brand is connected to its clients ego.

Guest said:

People should realize that things like EMI are completely ridiculous to talk about when all you are doing is charging a USB device.

All the thing is doing is providing +5VDC over one of the USB pins. That...is....it.

It is unfortunate that people have been duped into believing that its "worth it" because the Apple product has better EMI. That's like saying you would pay $1,000,000 for a carrot because it has fewer green leafs on it. EMI would be a relevant parameter to talk about if the device was supposed to exchange information with a target (rather than just supply it power). The writer has drank the kool-aid.

Guest said:

I have been using Apple products since I was 3. When I was 20 and had a black MacBook Pro and everyone I knew harassed and made fun of me and my computer...

Then came OS 10 (X). Now my computer had the strongest, most powerful operating system in the world. Unhackable at the time and still the strongest OS available. The PC market is crumbling and you pricks are still trashing Apple.

Apple builds the highest quality consumer products on the market. They pour millions of dollars into R&D and analyze every fine detail that goes into a product. They create industries... Like the smartphone industry, the digital music industry, the tablet industry. All the while you PC Nerd's follow. Do you have a touchscreen phone? Thank Apple for it. Does it have apps? Thank Apple for them. People buy Apple products because they are simple to use and work, everytime. I understand that you PC users are all about complexity in the operating system. You like a challenge... Nobody cares. I spend my free time going on dates and hanging with cute girls. I go drinking with my friends and I make money. Seriously, stop talking shit and get out of the house.

I own nearly every Apple product. They work seamlessly and have never failed me. Not once. Can any of you PC people tell me that you can say the same thing? If it isn't an Apple product, then it is a garbage cheap knock-off of real ingenuity?

I get it. Someone writes a story and people try to be funny or show a little e-attitude by talking sh1t... If you own more than one Apple mobile device, then you already have too many chargers lying around. Apple gives these things away with all mobile products. They cahrge 29$ to off-set the costs of giving them away. You say it costs 6 dollars to make, but I guarantee for every charger they sell, they give away 10,000.

Show me one original idea by another company... Just one and I'll concede. I won't hold my breath though.

Guest said:

apple created the smartphone industry? LAWL dude give me a break... Palm created the smartphone industry, apple comes along years later and claims innovation Meh... the iphone was nothing more than an iPod touch with a cellular radio and a mic added to it GTFOH fanboi!

Guest said:

None of that rant had anything to do with justifying spending 29 dollars for a USB charger. Its full of made up numbers and assumptions. The only number that is concrete is the cost of the charger, which is absurd by any measure. You deserve to lose your money to Apple if you believe it's worth it. I'll take the money I saved by and go on "dates with chicks," lol.

Guest said:

The people buying the $29 Apple charger are just as foolish as the people buying the $2 knockoff and expecting to get a quality product.

If you want to overpay and buy the Apple charger, no one's forcing you to overpay, so go ahead and waste your money. If you want to skimp out and buy the $2 knockoff, no one's going to feel sorry for you when it fries your device.

Arris Arris said:

Show me one original idea by another company... Just one and I'll concede. I won't hold my breath though.

I'm sure this is taking it a little out of context but this makes it look like you believe Apple are responsible for everything on the planet. Even in technological circles they aren't that big a contributer.

Mouse - Apple took engineers and mouse idea from PARC.

Ipad - Better software and better marketing than the original tablet PCs that came out from Microsoft years before.

Apps - Marketing gone wild (not as entertaining as Girls Gone Wild). Programs installed on a computing device. REVOLUTIONARY!!!!

Iphone - PocketPC/Palm PDA with phone built into it. Reworked concept with better software and marketing. For years I've watched HTC and other companies devices have better hardware and features than the IPhone. Only recently have they stepped up their game. As with any industry if there is little competition there is no need to improve things massively. Just stick and S or G on the end and hope your fans run out and buy almost the same hardware again.

Ipod - This one I actually can't fault. Have owned several myself as well as Sony MP3 players. Even purchased them as gifts for people. Great product, well put together.

Macs - For their specifications they are pricey but having quite a few friends that love them I know that the Apple Care can be good, and the OS is something they like so much more than Windows. Then again another friend who even worked as a Apple mac repairer for a while and owned many of their computers over the years now swears off them, even had a court case against them for not fixing an issue with Geforce graphics cards that were faulty and they sent out in Macbooks (some did, others didn't get them fixed - [link] ). Another friend in videography business recently replaced a mac with a custom built PC as the prices for CS5 certified Macs were many times more expensive for lesser specification hardware. Going to have lovers and haters of anything, regardless how good or bad it is.

I have to say that Apple are an amazing company, both in the quality, style and design of their products. But not so amazing in other areas (patent wars, some crazy markup on products, rubber bumper fix to iphone aeriel, every misleading advert using the excuse of "sequence shortened" . Not a company that I myself will consider making any major purchase from.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

Iphone - PocketPC/Palm PDA with phone built into it. Reworked concept with better software and marketing.

Apple started development of their Newton platform in 1987, first official release in 1993. Didn't look up Palm/Handspring/PocketPC but I'm guessing they were done after.

Arris Arris said:

Apple started development of their Newton platform in 1987, first official release in 1993. Didn't look up Palm/Handspring/PocketPC but I'm guessing they were done after.

Good point, I had over looked the Newton ("Some electronic engineering and the manufacture of Apple's Newton devices was done by Motorola" .

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