The iPhone 7 Headphone Jack Controversy

August 25th, 2016

People outside of Apple frequently criticize the company and what it’s doing. That’s perfectly acceptable. Whatever Apple does is ripe for the picking, even if the brickbats are totally unfair. That’s to be expected.

Some of those criticisms come from people that gain credibility because of a past association with Apple. A key example is the other co-founder, Steve Wozniak. So if the Woz says something, anything, it gets headlines as if it’s something credible. After all, here’s someone who was there at the beginning, who evidently still derives a paycheck from Apple, and evidently doesn’t set off alarm bells for violating confidentiality requirements.

Now to put things in perspective, the Woz basically left Apple in 1981, after he sustained serious injuries in a plane crash. A rich man, he decided it was time to go.

However, that means the Woz departed Apple before the release of the Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch. There was no App Store, Apple Pay or iTunes. While what he says may be interesting from the perspective of his past involvement, would it otherwise have any more credibility than statements from other former executives? That’s a good question.

So consider that when you read his latest statements, where he expects a potential consumer backlash if Apple releases an iPhone 7 without the headphone jack. As rumored, Apple reportedly plans to rely on the Lightning digital connector instead, possibly supplying free adapters in the box. So in an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Woz said, “If it’s missing the 3.5mm earphone jack, that’s going to tick off a lot of people.”

I would not disagree, and Woz is probably right to denigrate the audio quality from a Bluetooth earphone, although I suspect that situation continues to improve.

Understand that Apple has never confirmed how the next iPhone would be configured, or whether it would lack a port that first debuted in the 1950s, in those early transistor radios. In turn, the earphone jack is based on technology first invented in the 19th century, so that would be reason enough to suggest that it’s time for a change.

Certainly, Apple has been proactive about ditching peripheral ports that are considered to be out of date. However, that means that millions of devices will suddenly require adaptors. Consider the move to Lighting as a replacement for the dock connector. If you spent a bundle on chargers and accessories using the older connection scheme, certainly you had good reason to be upset over having to buy another adapter. And what if you want to charge your iPhone 7 while listening to music? I assume it’ll work simultaneously, same as the USB-C connector in the MacBook, but it means you’ll need yet another adaptor, another dongle to take with you.

I’m also sure that, if the removal of the earphone jack is a given — and remember we are talking of unconfirmed rumors here — Apple will offer very specific reasons why. But having one fewer port means more space inside, which would allow Apple to make it thinner if that’s what they want. Or use a slightly larger battery or add other parts that are needed to leverage new technology.

While Apple goes overboard sometimes on thinness, I think the iPhone is perfectly fine as it is. There’s hardly the need to go much thinner, although I suppose it doesn’t make so much of a difference so long as the unit remains sturdy, not easily bendable. Although BendGate was way overblown, there’s no sensible reason to make the unit less sturdy.

I’m also a little concerned about the fact that this rumor is taken so credibly, although leaks from the supply chain seem to indicate it’s a lock. It’s unfortunate, too, that the reaction appears to be negative, that Apple is all about style versus function, and will therefore do things that may not make sense from the standpoint of product quality and usability in order to meet a specific fashion sense. Even if there are lapses, I think Apple undertakes some of these impossible engineering projects with the best of intentions. Besides, people are concerned about the looks, and if a new product appears different, that may fuel extra sales even if the technology isn’t a whole lot better.

So, the next iPhone, based on the present-day rumors, appears little different from the iPhone 6 series. That fueled perceptions that the iPhone 7 wouldn’t be altogether different from the current model regardless of what’s changed inside. When you add that to the sales headwinds Apple confronted with the current iPhone, you can well understand why one critics suggest the upgrade will be modest. Add to that the expected loss of the earphone jack, and it would appear to make sense.

But that’s not necessarily the case. Apple will surely package the iPhone 7 as something very different, and new features will be touted to the skies as the greatest things ever. Whatever it contains, Apple will make sure it’s presented as something major — and it just might be in some respects. But smartphone technology has reached the point where it is becoming more and more difficult to devise compelling new features.

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One Response to “The iPhone 7 Headphone Jack Controversy”

  1. dfs says:

    The only touted iPhone 7 feature I’ve heard about so far that strikes me as possibly worthwhile is an improved camera, better in low-light situations. Some folks might find this genuinely useful and use it justify making the upgrade. As for the loss of the audio jack, big whoop — it will take about a week before 3.5mm.-to-lightning port adapters start hitting the market (assuming they’re not already there, I haven’t looked). So nobody needs to worry about having to replace whatever gizmos he’s currently using via the audio jack, this isn’t one of those abrupt changes where the end user finds he’s been screwed and has to pony up for new equipment.

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