Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak may be a beloved figure in Silicon Valley, but he hasn’t had a big voice in Apple product decisions in a long, long time. And right now, that seems like a shame, as Woz is absolutely right to object to Apple’s widely reported plans to eliminate the headphone jack in the next model iPhone.
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Wozniak told the Australian Financial Review this week, that if the iPhone 7 is “missing the 3.5mm earphone jack, that's going to tick off a lot of people.” And Wozniak doesn’t believe Bluetooth wireless connections—which work with a wide variety of devices—are the answer, claiming Bluetooth doesn’t sound as good as a wired connection.
I admit I’m a big fan of Wozniak’s, but in this case, he’s merely the latest big name saying something that most everybody outside of Apple already believes. Ditching the iPhone headphone jack is a bad idea that no amount of adapters and glitchy Bluetooth connections can fix.
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Yes, there are legitimate technical reasons for losing the headphone jack—thinner devices, more room for batteries, the ability to send a digital signal and power through the Lightning port, and more—but that’s not the point. The point is that millions of iPhone users have invested billions of dollars on devices to work with their smartphones, and many of those peripherals rely on the headphone jack.
Not the first time
The problem—well, one problem, anyway—is that Apple has done this before. Many times, in fact. And mostly, they’ve gotten away with it.
The company is famous for eliminating ports from its Macintosh laptops before most consumers are ready to see them go, but it hasn’t seemed to hurt sales. And I was one of many iPhone users who complained mightily when Apple ditched its old 30-pin connector in favor of the new Lightning Connector. Still, even though I had to give away my old sound docks because they no longer worked with my new phone, I continued to be an iPhone user.
But my patience is running out. I’ve spent good money on peripherals for my iPhone, most recently a sweet pair of noise cancelling headphones. They cost more than the subsidized price of a new iPhone, and if I can’t use them with an iPhone 7 (or have to buy—and carry—an expensive, awkward dongle in order to use them), I’m not sure I really want to upgrade my phone. Especially if there isn’t a truly compelling improvement in the new models. And, no, more storage space isn’t compelling enough.
The case for following the standards
The bigger solution, as is often the case, would be for Apple to leverage universal standards, not proprietary alternatives. The 3.5mm headphone jack is one such standard, but so is USB-C, which Apple has eschewed on the iPhone even as it becomes common almost everywhere else.
The value of using standard connections to share accessories across devices can’t be overestimated. Apple could safely ignore that value when it was the dominant smartphone maker, but that position is ebbing as Android piles up market share gains, and as Android smartphones increasingly employ standard connectivity choices.
It used to be that Apple’s ecosystem gave it a huge advantage in terms of a wide range of devices configured especially to work with iPhones. You go to a random hotel room, and they might have an iPhone connector, but nothing specific for other devices.
Ceding the peripheral battle to Android
But as Android grows and connectors standardize, the tide is turning in the other direction. Increasingly, it’s Android devices that work with the widest selection of peripherals. That erodes yet another of Apple’s key competitive advantages and gives hesitant iPhone users another reason to switch platforms.
Tim Cook, if it’s not too late—though it probably is—please listen to Steve Wozniak on this. He’s got your company’s best interests at heart. And he’s right.