I’m starting to buy the logic of ditching the 3.5 mm traditional headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and using the single lightning port for headphones instead. I’m not saying I’d have voted to do it, but there’s at least a defensible argument to be made.
Before I get into that, though, let’s just stop and marvel at the totally tone-deaf claim by Phil Schiller that dropping the port was an act of “courage.” Not only is that borderline offensive in a world where real people are doing real courageous acts every day, saying it in that venue and with that attitude does nothing but perpetuate every negative stereotype of Apple being run by elite, out-of-touch individuals with an over-inflated sense of their own importance. It will end up immortalized along with “you’re holding it wrong” atop the list of inartful Apple quotes. It’s far worse than “you’re holding it wrong” because that comment was off the cuff and arguably misconstrued while “courage” was written into a presentation that’s been weeks or months in the making. It was intentional. And it was just plain dumb. Like, a flinch-when-you-hear-it kind of dumb.
Anyway, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to how I use my iPhone since the rumors started getting serious about the headphone jack going away. The design of anything (from a phone to a car to a camera app), is about tradeoffs. And those tradeoffs are about balancing the possible against use case scenarios. As in, what does the designer think the user of the product will need it to do and how is any given use case prioritized over others? In my personal experience, over the past several months, the number of times I needed to listen to my phone over its headphone jack and charge it at the same time have been zero. That was surprising to me, but it’s true. Most of the time, I listen to my phone over Bluetooth. At home, in the car, at work. Either Bluetooth or Sonos via wifi. When I use headphones, it’s in scenarios when I wouldn’t be charging it anyway (shopping, exercising, etc.). So, for me, losing the ability to charge and use headphones at the same time is will lead to essentially no impact whatsoever to my enjoyment of the product.
My bet is, I’m not unique. My bet is Apple knows exactly how many users are like me. Not a company to live and die based on focus groups, they nonetheless are very much aware of how people are using their stuff. This is probably not the very earliest time they could have dumped the jack, but it’s the earliest time they could do it where the majority of their customers wouldn’t be radically inconvenienced.
Phil said in an email to a customer that there’s a $39 fix for those who are in need of using headphones while charging. It’s the Lightning Dock. It’s probably the case that most of the use cases for needing both ports at once outside an automobile involve a stationary fixed position like sitting at a desk or laying in bed. In those cases, the dock is a good solution. I can see the need for sitting somewhere where a dock doesn’t work, like a plane or on a train, when one would want to listen to their phone and plug it into a charger at the same time. I bet in a matter of weeks (if not sooner) there will at least be announcements of if not actual releases of external battery chargers with headphones jacks on them.
The car is interesting since older models don’t have Bluetooth and are a great place to top off a charge while listening through the speakers while driving around. That’s done with a cheap cassette adapter that plugs into the headphone jack. Those folks, too, have an option, though, in that there are Bluetooth versions of cassette adapters on the market already and they’re also pretty darn cheap (under $20).
Many will lament having expensive headphones that now will require a dongle to use. I get that. I’m in the same boat. How much of a bummer that is depends a lot on what the dongle is like. Does it bend easily? Does it stay on the headphones well? Well enough that leaving them together all the time is no big deal? But the bigger question from a product design standpoint is what am I getting in exchange for this inconvenience? Here’s my list based on their presentation:
- Longer-lasting battery. The iPhone 7’s battery lasts, on average, two hours longer than the iPhone 6s, according to Apple. Some of that is probably optimization in iOS 10, but I’m guessing a bit more space for extra ions is also contributory.
- Non-mechanical Home button. This is a big deal in that the Home button is used, like, a zillion times on my iPhone and is often the component to fail if something does. iPhone 7 has a taptic Home button like the new MacBook’s trackpad. It’s solid. No clicker. It just feels like it clicks. The room they needed for that taptic engine is at least partially where the headphone jack used to be.
- Water and dust resistance. No hole for a Home button or headphone jack means no access points for water and dust. This is a major new feature for the phone and one Apple is heavily promoting. It is the case that other smartphone manufacturers have made water resistance phones with headphone jacks but it’s also possible Apple’s phone is more resistant for not having that port. I don’t know for sure.
They also added a much better camera, a brighter more colorful display, and stereo speakers. None of those are in the vicinity of the headphone jack, but every open space in that case is utilized so a gain on one end probably means more space for something else in another spot.
Apple will always (always always) choose the pain of transition over holding on to “the way things have always been done” if the tradeoffs are good enough in their estimation. Apple is usually really good at timing these transitions so that the benefit of the transition makes sense to consumers once they see it in action. That list is long and goes all the way back to dropping the SCSI interface, the ADB port, or the floppy drive.
People are really pissed about this though. I’ve never seen more shitshows being thrown on social media from people I know, let alone the press, over any other decision Apple has ever made. I’m not entirely certain this will be one of those things people get over in the near term, but I do think that the idea of losing the port is more troubling to people than not having it will ultimately end up being.
What I do know is the Apple haters out there will hate Apple all that much more if, in six months, this kerfuffle goes the way of “antennagate” (i.e., nowhere). Chances are, that’s what will happen. Folks will grumble and upgrade when they need to anyway and then forget what they were complaining about once they adapt. Whatever the case, Apple should focus on selling the logic of the move and not invoking bullshit platitudes.
But yeah. Not saying I would have ditched the jack.