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  • The iPhone 7 Headphone Jack Controversy and the Nothing Burger

    July 25th, 2017

    Last year, some people made a huge deal over Apple’s decision to ditch the old fashioned headphone jack on the iPhone 7. A feature that had been part and parcel of tech gear for decades would become history, and what was Apple’s follow-up plan?

    Some speculated that the headphone jack would also be removed from iPads and Macs too. But that hasn’t happened yet.

    So only the iPhone was given this treatment. One reason had it that this legacy port contributed to the difficulty in making the iPhone water resistant, and the free space could be used for other components or a larger battery. It’s also true that headphone jacks are a not uncommon source of breakage, and when it happens, replacement means a new logic board.

    I actually had it happen to me once, on a PowerBook, long ago. I managed to find a repair shop that could handle a component level repair at an affordable price. But remember that the headphone jack dates back to the 1950s, so what’s wrong with getting rid of it at a time when more and more headphones are wireless?

    Clearly Apple didn’t dump the headphone jack because it could, or to inconvenience customers. Even if you don’t agree with their decisions, there are always reasons behind what they do and why a feature is added or removed.

    I remember when floppy drives were given the heave-ho back in 1998, beginning with the original Bondi blue iMac. That decision spread to Power Macs and PowerBooks in short order. That you could buy a cheap external floppy drive helped ease the transition more or less, although lots of people still complained. But one day, I realized I hadn’t used mine in over a year, so I took it and stored it somewhere. I’m not even sure where, though I suspect I’ll open an old box one day, and find one or two lying around.

    Apple also killed SCSI, a peripheral port used for hard drives, scanners and other accessories. Those who had to endue SCSI conflicts, terminators and general voodoo to get a complicated chain to function properly, were pleased. Yes, there were adapters of one sort or another, and when all of those devices transitioned to FireWire and USB, a troublesome relic of the past was history.

    To ease the transition from the headphone jack, Apple bundled an adapter plug with the iPhone 7. They even provided a pretty standard set of ear buds, with a traditional plug. If you wanted to charge the device and listen at the same time, however, you needed an adapter that supported both the headphone jack and a lightning port. Apple sells one from Belkin for $39, but you can buy similar accessories for considerably less at Amazon.

    It may seem inconvenient, but I dare say only a small number of people actually need this 2-in-1 adapter. I find it awkward to charge an iPhone and listen at the same time, but maybe that’s just me.

    I expect Apple sees a future where all iPhones will ship with wireless earbuds, and, no, not AirPods. The need for the wired connection will disappear over time, but it’s normal for a period of awkwardness as people cope with adapters and such when Apple does a port change. Don’t forget the switch to USB-C on the MacBook Pros.

    So will there come a time where Apple will switch the iPhone over to USB-C? What about the iPad? The lightning port has been around for nearly five years, arriving with the iPhone 5 in 2012. So give it a year or two? Wouldn’t USB-C result in a larger selection of cheap adapters and charging cables?

    Now Apple doesn’t usually say much about future plans, well except for a certain future Mac Pro and display, and that iMac with pro features, known as the iMac Pro. But it’s also reported that Apple surveyed MacBook Pro users last year about the need for a headphone jack. Perhaps the fact that there was no such change in the Mac upgrades this year means that most customers wanted Apple to keep them. That, however, hasn’t been confirmed.

    If true, however, it may be that the iPhone will be the only Apple gadget to lack a headphone jack for now.

    At the same time, other than the occasional complaint and a negative bullet point in a product review, the loss of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 has not amounted to very much. It doesn’t appear to have had any noticeable impact on sales, but Apple certainly minimized potential blowback by shipping units with an adapter, and selling extras for $9 each if you lose one or want an extra to keep around.

    You just know that Apple will continue to remove legacy ports to streamline and improve its products. You just know that people will complain, and some of those people will be genuinely inconvenienced. Other tech companies will keep these peripheral ports for a while, but, in the end, they will also get the memo and embrace the future.



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