Opinion: Why Apple were wrong to remove the headphone jack in 2016

It’s too soon to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from consumer electronics. To deprecate a universally standard interface for anything should require a very good reason, “courage” is not a good reason in my book.

On a technical level there is no solid reason to remove the jack today as there was for similar ‘technological advances’ in the past. I am of course talking about the removal of the Floppy drive, the CD-ROM drive, the VGA port and so on where Apple was often the first major manufacturer to drop support. The difference between this episode and those is that each time previously there was a legitimate, viable set of alternatives and broad support from early adopters. Reactions I’ve observed have been mixed but largely negative. It’s fair to say that I and my fellow ‘early adopters’ are no longer Apple’s target market and have not been for a while. It is unfortunate that innovation now means fixing a problem by creating dozens more.

Floppies were slow, corrupted themselves in a stiff breeze and had very limited capacity. CDs were easily scratched, the drive mechanisms took up a lot of room inside a thin and light computer and their usage dwindled as most people switched ubiquitious USB thumb drives. The VGA port was an analog connector in a digital world and had a plethora of alternate options including HDMI, DVI and mini-displayport.

This is not solving a technical problem, it’s an excuse for vendor lock-in.

What is the alternative to the 3.5mm jack? You might argue bluetooth, but now I have yet another device to remember to charge. Apple’s own exorbitantly expensive Airpods (£159) only have a runtime of 5 hours – granted it’s not often I listen more than 5 hours in a single session but when I do, I do. You might also argue a dongle, but how do I listen to music through my ‘legacy’ headphones and charge my phone? What problem is removing the jack solving? It’s clearly not a technical one, it’s an excuse for vendor lock-in. Apple need to push their lightning connector over the rapidly advancing USB-C connector before that becomes the new standard and they’ve missed the boat. Apple are in a unique position to do this controlling the single most popular phone hardware in the world and Beats simultaneously.

Only Apple could this. No, really. Other vendors will now immitate Apple’s headphone jack-less design leading to poorer compatibility for consumers in the end. The days of buying a pair of headphones that work with your computer, tablet, phone, car aux port, etc are over.

RIP – the headphone jack.

IronicBadger

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