Toggle Dark Mode
People are making a lot of noise about Apple’s (just about confirmed) plan to remove the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 this fall. Just the thought of either having to plug existing headphones into an adapter or buying new headphones that are powered via a Lightning connection is enough to send people over the edge. And don’t get me started on all the empty threats to switch to another brand if Apple selfishly goes through with it.
Let’s take a deep breath.
First and foremost, you know you aren’t switching from Apple to something else, despite all of your tweets to the contrary. If you think using an adapter is hard work, you’re going to love learning a new operating system. No, this is not the worst thing to ever happen to you. And no, Apple doesn’t hate you.
I don’t understand all the fuss. I like it. I really believe that Apple’s plan is a good thing for how we consume music. I’m fine with using an adapter and eventually purchasing new and better headphones.
Listening to music via an analog headphone jack, no matter how good the headphones are, is just analog. It’s the same connection you or your parents used on a Walkman or boombox in the 80s and 90s. Your grandparents may have used one on a transistor radio. In a world where we innovate and change and adapt, this seems like something that should have happened 20 years ago.
A digital connection for your music is going to mean clearer sound and open up a world of cool stuff. I can clearly see a future where Beats headphones allow us to download audio profiles based on popular artists. So if a performer uses a specific equalizer setting, you could download that setting right to your headphones just as easily as you download a ringtone or text tone to your phone. Then you’ll really be hearing the music as the artist intended. And when it happens, people using older devices with that classic analog jack are going to want to borrow your headphones and listen to what they’re missing. People will be jealous.
I love technology.
There will be a transition period, though, and unfortunately that means a lot of adapters — aka dongles — that allow standard headphones to plug into a Lightning connector. The adapter will be ugly and bulky and just hang there. In just a few years, Apple will rewrite history. The old style of headphones will end up in boxes in the closet and attic while new fancy headphones will become the norm. Bluetooth headphones will grow in popularity too because the technology will continue to improve to the point where wires will truly be optional and you won’t have to sacrifice quality. Dongles will be but a footnote in Apple’s history.
But wait, there’s more.
Besides clearer music, this leads the way to smaller and thinner phones. The amount of internal space a headphone jack takes up is a lot more substantial than you are probably thinking. And some of the concepts showing phones made with glass that stretches edge to edge are very exciting. 2017 will mark 10 years since the launch of the iPhone (wow, that makes me feel old) and the design really hasn’t changed that much over that period. The thought of a newly-redesigned iPhone 8 is exciting. And by the time we get there, we’ll have been through the 7 and presumably 7s, so we’ll be used to the new style of headphones. The iPhone 8, in my mind, has the potential to be the biggest iPhone launch since Steve Jobs gave us our first in 2007. That’s huge for Apple, and that’s huge for CEO Tim Cook.
Remember that Apple isn’t the first company to make a change that affects a lot of people, and it won’t be the last. And again, Apple really does have the user in mind here. And we all know despite the inevitable growing pains that change is a part of technology. There’s no alternative and no substitute.
Depending on how long you’ve been using Apple products, you might feel a touch of deja vu. Let’s take a look at some of the other things Apple has removed, much to our chagrin.
- Optical disc drives: I still use a MacBook Pro from 2008 with a DVD-ROM drive. Remember the pushback when Apple removed all optical drives in favor of downloading software? I do, and it seemed as though we weren’t going to survive. Now think about the last time you needed a computer with a disc drive. I’ll wait. Can’t think of one, can you?
- The need for physical media in music. The world went from albums to 8-track tapes to cassettes to CDs and finally to streaming music. Having a song on media we could carry used to be the norm. Media needed to be protected from scratches in paper sleeves. Now it’s a story we tell our kids as they stare at us in amazement.
- Adobe Flash: Apple is going to stop supporting Flash? The headlines were clear as day. Apple has finally lost its mind. You can’t have a computer without Flash! Spoiler alert time travelers: turns out you can — and a pretty darn good one to boot.
- FireWire connections: There’s no way Apple is ever going to get rid of FireWire. Nothing will transfer files between devices faster than FireWire. While there was nothing technically wrong with it, FireWire outlived its usefulness and compatibility became the name of the game. FireWire was always a Mac thing while USB was everyone else’s. And while Apple uses and embraces USB now, it still dabbles in the proprietary. The Lightning connectors we were talking about earlier, the ones that will take over for the headphone jack, are very much an Apple thing.
That was then. What does it all mean going forward?
Someday, Lightning will fizzle out and go the way of FireWire. Someday, USB-C or whatever the equivalent is at the time will take over everything. Apple has just started embracing that standard on its newest MacBook, replacing the other USB ports with one port that handles everything — including power. It’s inevitable for other devices; the only reason it’s not happening now is because it was pretty recently that Apple changed from that 30-pin port and connector to Lightning. Another change of that caliber so soon would anger the masses. But like everything else we’ve talked about, it’s a matter of when and not if. First Apple will take its lumps by removing the headphone jack and once that dies down then it can turn its attention to other things.
And you can be sure that once Apple does it, everyone else will follow suit. We’ll remember fondly the satisfying click when the connection was made as well as the static we heard when the connection wasn’t quite right. The next iPhone will be the start of a whole new era. The dongle required to connect older headphones to new iPhones will be clumsy and expensive to replace. Yet we’ll learn to love it and embrace it because we love our iPhones. The things we love now will get better with iOS 10. Soon we’ll forget everything just like we forgot about the optical discs and Flash and FireWire. We’ll look back with a chorus of “remember that?” And we’ll laugh.
I’m prepared for a world without headphone jacks. I’m prepared to future proof my 80s playlists and wrap them in digital goodness. I’m prepared to take that leap. I trust Apple to do the right thing because it’s done it before.
Who’s with me?