Apple’s Removal of the Headphone Jack isn’t ‘Courageous’

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By Sean Williams

When Apple announced the new iPhone 7, they shocked the world when they said it would ship without the 3.5mm headphone jack, the standard port used by audio devices for years. In response to backlash, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller defended the “courage” it took, making a reference to Apple’s history of bucking trends and abandoning outdated hardware. However, the shoe doesn’t fit: rather than pushing a new technological standard over something old and outmoded, Apple’s push for their own audio port puts a strain on consumers and manufacturers.

Phil Schiller’s “courage” statement intentionally harkens back to the design philosophy of Steve Jobs, who mentioned “courage of convictions” as one of the reasons Apple wouldn’t include Flash on the iPhone. Some are making comparisons between the iPhone 7’s headphone jack removal and Apple’s history of successfully leading the way in removing outdated features, moves that initially cause some outrage but work out in the end. For example, when Apple introduced the original iMac, they ditched the floppy drive in favor of the CD-ROM drive. No one uses floppy drives now and Apple’s move is seen in hindsight as very forward-thinking. So what makes the iPhone 7 so different?

In the case of the floppy drive’s demise, CD-ROM technology was already widely available and shown to be more efficient than the floppy disk. But no such standards exist today to replace the headphone jack. Users who want to hook headphones up to their iPhone will have to use Apple’s own lightning port, a port that only exists on Apple products and that Apple charges licensing fees for should third-parties want to manufacture products with it. Consumers can also use existing wireless headphones or shell out $159 on a pair of Apple’s new wireless headphones, the AirPods.

So we can see that this switch to the Lightning port is very unlike what Apple has done in the past. Rather than switch to something that’s cheaper and more available, Apple is pushing a proprietary technology that forces manufacturers to pay an extra fee. Instead of pushing for a widely-available alternative, Apple is forcing users to buy the products they designed.

It’s understandable that some users won’t be upset by the announcement. After all, the iPhone 7 is shipping with both a set of headphones that utilize their Lightning port as well as an adapter for existing headphones. But Apple’s move still represents an inconvenience to users. For one, carrying around a converter can be a huge annoyance to those who want to use their current headphones. If you happen to lose or break the headphones that come with it, you’ll be stuck lugging around yet another device — or paying Apple for a new pair. You should also not expect your new headphones to work with other products for the foreseeable future, since the port isn’t even used on Apple’s current laptops.

Apple has simply declared that this port, one barely used outside their iPhone technology, will become the new industry standard for wired audio technology. That isn’t forward thinking at all; it’s painfully close-minded. I can’t help but speculate about whether Apple’s desire to sell licensed products is behind the change, rather than some kind of concern for making future technology better.

I’ll admit it did take courage for Apple to do what they did, making an unpopular decision that inconveniences consumers. But this isn’t the kind of courage we should be celebrating. It’s the courage to insist that everyone else should just follow what Apple does even if it costs them. I don’t see that as forward thinking, and I don’t think that most customers or technology manufacturers will either.

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