A number of simultaneous reports today, all from reputable sources, appear to have confirmed that this year’s iPhone will not have a headphone jack. As you’d imagine, the news spawned a series of internet Hot Takes, including one particularly withering listicle from Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel.
“Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid” does, in all honesty, raise some excellent points about why ditching the headphone jack is…well, user-hostile and stupid. I would personally like for my next phone to have a headphone jack. But an otherwise-worthwhile piece ends with this one observation:
6. No one is asking for this
Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles.
I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.
This is stupid, and hostile to common sense.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of earnest tech blogging, it’s that you should never, ever, ever listen to what the armchair phone designers of the internet want. I’m not trying to deify Apple’s product designers — the new Magic Mouse is a stern middle finger to the laws of common sense — but catering to fanboy’s whims is no way to design a product.
If I added up the suggestions from our comments on what the next iPhone should look like, it would probably be an inch thick, have three-day battery life, a 6-inch screen, 8K display and 6GB of RAM. There’s a vast divide between people who follow Apple rumors daily, and the kind of people who buy 90% of iPhones.
But Nilay isn’t the average internet commenter, I hear you say? Yes, he’s the EIC of arguably the internet’s best-known tech site. But he’s really no better at predicting industry trends as a result.
When Apple first came out with the Macbook Air, Nilay was working at Engadget, and criticizing the Air’s lack of removable battery and ports, or optical drive. Despite all that, the Air completely changed the category for portable laptops, cutting unnecessary features to create a device thinner and lighter than anyone thought they needed.
Oh, and what’s that about Flash on the iPad?
I’m not predicting that killing the headphone jack is going to be the same as killing the optical drive. Personally, I agree that it’s a dumb move. But I also realize that Nilay, I, and probably everyone reading this are niche users. We care about crap like playing our extensive DVD library, hooking up laptops to Ethernet ports, or using our large collection of very nice headphones.
Most of my friends use Apple’s stock earbuds, or if they have fancy headphones, they’re Bluetooth connected. If the iPhone 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, they probably won’t give one solitary shit. They’ll just see the phone that’s thinner and has better audio quality, and just fork over the requisite fistfuls of cash.
Removing the headphone jack might be a gigantic mistake in waiting, but it won’t be because people didn’t ask for it. Without wanting to sound like a Jobsian disciple, no one asked for all-in-one PC kits, graphical user interfaces, or, indeed for a laptop without an optical drive. But despite all that, all of those turned out to be the right products for a huge number of people.
Take a crowd-sourced opinion to building a phone, and you end up with the Fairphone. Build the phone 90% of people secretly need, and you get an iPhone.