Introduction

There are a number of articles about the new iPhone 7 and its absence of a standard headphone jack. Some are critical and some favorable. For purposes of this article, I’ll be referring to points raised by Jordan Novet of Venture Beat in the article “Why it stinks that the iPhone 7 has no headphone jack.”

Before getting to it, I’m going to provide some industry historic context.

From 1/4 Inch to 1/8 Inch

For context, I should explain that I lived through one of the first industry changes with regard to headphone plugs – the transition from the 1/4 inch plug to the 1/8 inch plug (more popularly implemented in the 1970s). It was a hassle. To use new headphones with old equipment (or vice versa) it was necessary to use a dongle. For portable devices, it meant having a big plug sticking out of your device. Eventually people adjusted to the new standard, and it meant devices could be much smaller.

For example, the iPod Shuffle has evolved over time. The 2nd generation iPod Shuffle shown below had a bump where the headphone jack is.

20160913tutu1149-apple-ipod_shuffle_2g

The current iPod Shuffle is still constrained by the 1/8 inch size of the headphone jack (see below).

20160913tutu1149-apple-ipod_shuffle

The size of an older 1/4 inch stereo phono plug (shown below) is actually bigger than the entire iPod Shuffle. This is an example where the human scale of accessibility exceeds the technological scale of what’s possible.

20160913tu1156-quarter-inch-audio-stereo-phono_plug

At present, the newest MacBook is constrained in thickness due to the 1/8 inch headphone port on the right side of the unit. (shown below)

20160913tu1208-apple-macbook-headphone-jack

It’s reasonable to think that Apple will remove the 1/8 inch headphone jack from their MacBook. It’s unlikely it will be replaced with a Lightning port. Most likely they will deliver audio over USB C, or preferably over Bluetooth.

A headphone jack is susceptible to oxidation (which causes a static noise) and having debris or objects stuck inside. Headphone plugs snap off if bumped. These are significant inconveniences.

Lighting Adapter is Not a Standard

What Apple is doing, however, is different than moving the industry to a new standard. In the case of their Lightning adapter, it’s proprietary and not something that is likely to become industry standard or used in other equipment. So, a specialty Lighting-adapter-compatible headset will only work on Apple equipment, and then, only Apple portable devices that have the lighting plug (not on Apple laptop or desktop devices).

With Bluetooth 4.0, the reliability, distance, and power efficiency of Bluetooth connections became much better. The assumption is that future headsets will use Bluetooth rather than any type of cord.

However, that said, there are slated to be some Lightning compatible devices that use power from the phone for active noise cancelling technology in the headset.

Headset Not the First Casualty of Downsizing

To reduce the thickness and complexity of their laptop computers, Apple removed DVD drives and has recently moved to USB C for power and accessories, thus eliminating all the ports typically found on a computer. This makes the internal workings of the computer much simpler. It ensures that dust is less likely to enter the computer through exposed ports. Removable batteries in laptops of all brands required additional enclosures for the batteries as well as a mechanism to secure and remove the batteries.

So, Apple has removed a half dozen ‘industry standards’ from their recent MacBook laptop computer and nobody seems to have complained much. The new MacBooks are exceptionally popular, being one of the lightest, faster, most elegantly designed mobile computers on the planet. People don’t seem to miss their old Ethernet adapter or other peripheral connections.

Steve Jobs on Adopting New Technologies

This video is of Steve Jobs in his own words describing how Apple has embraced new technologies and standards over time.

Defending Apple’s Move

If the above weren’t enough explanation, the rest of this article will address each criticism brought up in the Venture Beat article. Quotes will be given, then indented responses below those quotes. Note: This is not my usual writing style. It’s pithy and reactive, but I thought I’d try it out.

  • Criticism: “If you want to use your regular headphones while using one of these phones, you’ll always have to carry the dongle.”
    • Response: You’re carrying headphones with you anyway, so it’s not that difficult to leave an adapter on the end of the cord.
  • Criticism: “If you lose that adapter? Well, then you’re going to have to pay.”
    • Response: Seriously? You could say that about any product. “If you lose it, you’ll need to buy a new one.” That’s not really a drawback, it’s just a fact of life. If you’re worried about losing stuff all the time, try getting a Tile.
  • Criticism: “But what about the Lightning EarPods? They’re a headache just waiting to happen, too. They won’t work with any device that doesn’t have a Lightning port. When you lose them, you’ll have to buy an extra set of the milky white earbuds from the Apple Store, only to lose them again — and buy new ones, and lose those, and on and on.”
    • Response: Again with the ‘What if I lose it’ complaint? Just stop losing your stuff already. There is likely going to be a lighting to 1/8 inch plug adapter from Belkin and other companies. So, that will make the devices legacy compatible.
  • Criticism: “Wireless headphones will work over Bluetooth. But not everyone has a pair. They can be expensive, the sound quality isn’t always perfect, and it’s not hard to get out of range when you’re wearing them. Then again, wireless headphones outsold wired headphones in the U.S. in June. Should you buy a pair? Should you wait? Ugh.”
    • Response: Aren’t you going to mention the possibility of losing your wireless headphones? Seriously, it’s not necessary to buy anything. The iPhone 7 comes with earphones and comes with an adapter. You can use old headphones with the iPhone 7. You can use new headphones with the iPhone 7.
  • Criticism: “Apple has behaved this way in the past. The company started moving away from its proprietary Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) protocol after 12 years of use in 1998. In 1999, Apple came out with devices featuring its FireWire standard, only to drop it after 12 years in 2011. Apple introduced the 30-pin dock connector with the iPod in 2003, only to drop it 11 years later in 2014.”
    • Response: Having roughly 12 years between changes to integrated connectors seems reasonable. With each change there’s an improvement.
  • Criticism: “Apple is not the only computer and mobile device maker to adopt USB-C in place of USB-A or micro USB, but it is one of the first to ditch the headphone jack. (It’s not the first, though. Lenovo announced the Motorola Moto Z sans headphone jack in June.)”
    • Response: I hadn’t heard about the Moto Z being without a headphone jack. Maybe that’s because nobody really cared. Now that it’s Apple doing the same thing, the entire industry is in an uproar. At least Apple provides a legacy backward compatible adapter.
  • Criticism: “In other words, Apple devotees are used to this sort of thing.”
    • Response: Ah, okay, I get it, Apple product users are devotees and fanboys who are like brainwashed cult-members who accept any change that come from on high. Oh, but what about the previous sentence where you talk about Motorola doing the same thing? Are they Motorola devotees? No. The fact is that after several decades of using the 1/8 inch headphone adapter, the industry is ready for a change. We want smaller devices. We want waterproof devices. What consumers want is inconsistent with what a 1/8 inch 40-year-old headphone port offers.
  • Criticism: “The modern 3.5mm jack has been around since the 1960s. Its predecessor, the quarter-inch, 6.35mm jack, emerged in the 1870s, it seems. … All these thoughts make me anxious. Why can’t Apple stick to what’s worked for more than a century?”
    • Response: Okay, I’m starting to think the Venture Beat article might be a satire or something. Seriously? You’re kidding me, right? Apple should stick to technologies and standards that are a century old? Wow. Okay buddy, here’s your new iPhone 8 ahead of schedule. It only has one ringtone to choose from and there’s no hands free, but otherwise it’s a doozie.
      20160913tu1237-apple-iphone-8-old-phone-crank-handle

Cartoon – “If Apple Was a Democracy”

I saw the following JoyOfTech.com cartoon posted to Facebook by the Friendly Techie. It’s a response to some of the criticism that Apple has received for dropping legacy technologies in moving forward.

20160913tu2258-if-apple-was-a-democracy-cartoon-legacy-technologies-8-track-tape