Apple's Legacy of Innovation
A Wave of Inconvenience
October 2nd, 2016
Apple has always thought differently. Their reputation roots from being the frontline of technology. However, their newest leap has caused notable controversy: the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. While Apple is now able to make the phone water resistant, more powerful, and ready for even more future, Apple is asking the consumer to take the hit of inconvenience. The update limits headphone choices for the consumer, pushes expensive accessories and adaptors, and takes away the convenience of listening while charging.
Phasing out the technology is not something new for Apple. Always pushing for the latest, “skating to where the puck will be,” Apple has a history of killing old technology. In 1997, they shipped the first iMac without a floppy drive, discarding the standard of memory of the time. In 2008, netbooks were all the rage, but despite immense pressure to get into the hot netbook game back in 2008 and 2009 Apple didn’t touch the market--and instead released the iPad. Netbooks died out pretty quickly after that. These cutting edge departures of the norm are ingrained in Apple’s legacy of innovation. Phasing out the headphone jack, a technology from the 19th century, could be their next chapter. The 3.5mm jack, an ancient technology used as far back as 1878 for telephone switchboards, may need a makeover.
The iMac G3, which phased out floppy drives
Removing the headphone jack allows Apple to do a lot more. Without the pesky 3.5mm slot, the iPhone 7 can be truly water resistant (unlike other phones with the slot who can’t quite live up to the claims). The hardest things to waterproof on a phone is naturally the ports, so simply removing the jack solves the issue. In order to have water resistant phones right off the shelf, this step is necessary.
The 3.5mm jack also takes up a lot of space in the phone. Without it, Apple can pack more powerful and modern equipment in this new cavity the 3.5mm fossil filled up. It This extra real estate allows for more powerful phones, thinner edges, and larger screens.
Apple also claims that without dependence on the 3.5mm connection, audio quality will go up. As techradar.com explains,
Smartphones generally have their own headphone power amplifiers built into them - that's what boosts an audio sound so it's loud enough for people to hear. There's only one problem: they often aren't as good as they could be. Using the power from Lightning cables, headphone manufacturers could build headphone amplifiers right into the headphones themselves, boosting the quality of audio in a way that offers users a much better listening experience.
This potential jump into the future drags with it a problem: an incredible inconvenience. We’ve known the trusty 3.5mm jack all our lives, and now the band-aid is being ripped off painfully. The headphone jack is so ingrained in our technological lives. Doing without it never really even crossed the mind. But now the tech giant, who often is the standard for technology, is doing just that.
The headphone update will likely lead to a push of wireless headphones. Apple has already announced AirPods, essentially their regular earpods with all the wires gone. This has been greeted with mixed reviews. Despite the portrayed convenience of wireless earbuds, headphones with wires are not something people are clamoring to get rid of. There has never been much flac put on them, and sometimes they can even be more convenient. If on a jog and a headphone pops out, it doesn’t fall into the grass, or street, or bush, one doesn’t have to stop what they’re doing to crawl around searching for a little $159 (yup, that’s what Apple AirPods will retail for) piece of plastic that could potentially be damaged from the fall. The wire catches it, and it pops right back in. Investing in tiny little headphones (from a notoriously unreliable headphone manufacturer) that cost almost as much as a new phone themselves may not be an investment consumers will want to make. The cost of new headphones from other manufactures likely won’t be cheap either. Budget shopping will be tough.
Yes, the new iPhone comes with a lightning adaptor so old headphones can still work, but this brings up another issue. Apple is notorious for myriads of overpriced accessories, and many consumers see this as a ploy to sell more. When they last rolled out a new hardware change, altering the 30 pin charger to the lightning port, the adaptor retailed for $29.99. The lightning port to 3.5mm will likely be in the same price range. This is pretty expensive for a bit of wiring. And if you do take the plunge and invest in the new headphones, if you want to plug those shiny new babies into your laptop, iPad, or other device, you’ll still need an adaptor.
A third issue with the lightning adaptor comes up when you think of the end of the day. Many people like to plug their phone in for the night, pop in some headphones, and indulge in media before falling asleep. With headphones and charger coming from the same port, this ritual becomes impossible. If one wants to listen to anything before they go to bed, they have to get out of their comfy throne, wake up their computer, plug in the phone, make sure it’s charging, it’s all extra hassle. And don’t even think of listening to something to go to sleep (bye ASMR).
Based on the history and power of Apple, we can expect this leap to stick. There are many kinks and inconveniences to work out, but it is likely the 3.5mm jack has begun its death rattle. Apple may not be going about it the right way, but it seems this will be the future.