Over the past couple of weeks, the tech world has borne witness to a contentious and fiery debate surrounding Apple’s alleged plans to remove the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack from the upcoming iPhone 7.
Understandably, not everyone is on board with Apple’s rumored decision to kick a ubiquitous standard that has been around for decades to the curb. And while some in the tech community are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, others have come out with guns ablazin’. Last week, for example, Nilay Patel of The Verge penned a widely circulated piece wherein he calls Apple’s abandonment of the headphone jack “user hostile and stupid.”
But here’s the thing: Apple isn’t stupid. Apple may be many things — arrogant, paranoid about product leaks, and selfish are just a few adjectives that come to mind — but stupid isn’t a word that really fits. As a result, I believe that there’s a strong chance the 3.5mm headphone jack that we’ve all come to know and love isn’t going to completely disappear once the iPhone 7 hits store shelves. Will one or more iPhone 7 models ship without a headphone jack? It’s entirely possible. But the idea that Apple, in one fell swoop, will completely abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack with a single iPhone release just doesn’t add up.
One of the core things Apple cares about is the narrative that surrounds its products. The unveiling and subsequent release of each successive iPhone model is incredibly well-structured and thoughtfully constructed. The product unveilings themselves are highly rehearsed and extremely polished. Meanwhile, the accompanying marketing campaigns behind each new iPhone model are expertly designed to highlight the features that Apple deems to be the most important.
By this yardstick alone, if Apple were to release a slate of new iPhone 7 models with no headphone jack, it would completely lose control of the narrative it prizes so dearly. It’s not even July and the debate surrounding Apple’s alleged ambivalence towards the headphone jack has already engendered an insanely passionate debate. And while that debate, for now, has mostly circulated within nerdy tech circles, it will inevitably spill over, if not explode into the mainstream if the headphone jack is, in fact, tossed by the wayside.
With rumors that the iPhone 7 will be largely devoid of particularly marketable or exciting new features, do you really think Apple wants the top talking point surrounding its next-gen iPhone to be the company’s controversial decision to remove the headphone jack? Apple may be arrogant at times, but do you really think that the company is willing to risk a headphone-gate type controversy from overshadowing the iPhone 7’s release?
It would be one thing if Apple with the iPhone 7 could encourage users to focus on a crazy new display technology or an incredible new feature like TouchID — but with no wild new features on the radar, omitting the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 would come to define the device itself.
Furthermore, there’s no telling how the public will react to such a design shift. Do people really think Apple is stupid enough to release a selection of new iPhone models without even an option for a headphone jack? If Apple truly believes that a world devoid of the 3.5mm headphone jack is where the future lies, it’s going to strongly encourage users to agree while still providing users who disagree with an iPhone purchasing option.
Apple may be arrogant, but it’s not blind.
Compounding matters is that the iPhone 7 is already shaping up to be an extremely important and strategic product release. Recall that Apple in 2016 experienced its first year over year sales drop in iPhone history. Consequently, now isn’t the best time for Apple to unleash what may very well be its riskiest iPhone design yet. Apple needs the iPhone 7 to be a success, and abandoning the headphone jack altogether is entirely too risky, especially given that the device will reportedly lack any crazy new features that might otherwise overshadow the device’s glaring lack of a port that has been around for decades.
All that said, I believe there’s more than a strong chance that at least one new iPhone 7 model will feature the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack. Notably, some leaked iPhone 7 photos which surfaced last week support this claim.
For those inclined to support Apple’s alleged plan to drop the 3.5mm headphone jack, a commonly raised argument is that Apple has a long history of abandoning legacy technologies, with the original Bondi Blue iMac shipping without a floppy disk being a prime example. On the surface, such comparisons may seem astute, but a deeper examination reveals that such analogies are misplaced for reasons that we’ll address in more detail in a subsequent post.
In the meantime, consider this: Apple has no problem kicking legacy technologies to the curb when better alternatives exist. But from a usability, reliability, durability and efficiency point of view, what’s the superior alternative to the headphone jack?
Bluetooth headphones as a replacement is laughable, to say the least. And as for, lightning headphones? Well, they already exist. In other words, where’s the value proposition?
Apple may very well want to phase out the headphone jack for upcoming design considerations — say the rumored edge to edge display on the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8 — but such a move will likely be staggered. Much how Apple didn’t completely abandon the optical drive across its entire product line when it released the MacBook Air, I believe that the headphone jack will live on with the iPhone 7, though perhaps in a more limited form. Perhaps the regular 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will sport a headphone jack while the larger iPhone 7 Pro will do away with it completely.
For a design shift this big, Apple is smart enough to recognize that a staggered rollout is the way to go. Besides, a world where the headphones that ship with every iPhone aren’t compatible with any shipping Mac product seems decidedly unlike Apple.
My prediction? If Apple really wants to get rid of the headphone jack, it’s going to ease us into the idea slowly with the iPhone 7 before completely removing it with the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8.