Apple: Jacks Off iPhone 7


That’s what Apple’s Phil Schiller said was behind Apple’s removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

We’ve been talking about this for more than a year, and I had pretty much resigned myself to accepting the company’s boneheaded decision, and living with yet another dongle (though I hadn’t planned to buy an iPhone 7, and I still don’t plan to do so).

But when Phil Schiller said “Courage,” that flipped my bits.

Courage is refusing to move to the back of the bus, not removing a connector so you can force companies to pay licensing fees to use yours.

What Apple did is remove a technology that works very well, and has for some time, and replace it with something they control. Saying the technology is old, therefore not good any more, is puerile. They haven’t replaced the AC power plug, most likely invented by Thomas Edison. They haven’t replaced pushbuttons on the side of the phone. They haven’t replaced the keyboards on their computers.

Now, you’ll probably say “but the floppy disk…” And I’m tired of that comparison. The floppy disk was a storage medium that was inadequate. At the time, I recall often having to split compressed archives to fit them on multiple floppy disks, and I was already using Zip disks for backups. Everyone wanted a replacement for the floppy disk. I don’t know many iPhone users or music listeners who want the headphone jack to go away.

Yes, with a digital output over the lightning port you can allow headphones to do signal processing and offer better sound. Currently, there are so headphones that do this, at price points that rival those of the iPhone itself. But you can do that with the lightning port anyway; you don’t need to remove the headphone jack. And only the 1% of music listeners care about that kind of headphone. Anyway, if you’re listening to music on an iPhone outdoors, you won’t hear the difference between audiophile headphones and average headphones.

The headphone jack has one advantage: it’s very good at what it does. It’s a simple technology, and an adaptation of Occam’s razor says that the simplest technology is often the best. It’s also ubiquitous. You know that you can connect a headphone to just about any audio device in the world. The only exception is hifi amplifiers and receivers which still use the larger 1/4″ headphone jack; you do need a convertor for that, but if you have large headphones, they generally come with the smaller jack plus a converter.

So now “courageous” Apple bundles a dongle with the iPhone. Another little gadget that people will lose and have to buy again. (To Apple’s credit, it only costs $9.) But if they use wired headphones, they’ll be using that inadequate technology called the lightning connector. Because lightning cables are anything but robust. They split at the cable-to-jack connector, and the metal nib breaks off. This happens far more often than headphone cables breaking.

And you can no longer charge your iPhone while using its headphones. But, hey, Apple has their new AirPods.