Apple’s courage

Posted by kdow on Sep 13, 2016 4:16:04 PM

During Apple’s most recent keynote, which saw the launch of the Apple Watch Series 2, and the iPhone 7, their head of marketing — Phil Schiller — got on stage and justified the new iPhone’s lack of headphone jack. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Apple’s iPhone 7 will not feature the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack that’s been around for decades to carry audio from the playback device to your ears.

Instead of having the 3.5mm socket on the phone, Apple will supply you with earphones that plug into the standard Lightning port on the phone. Yes, the same port you need to charge your phones’ battery with. Which means in most instances you can’t charge your phone while listening to music. And for all of your legacy headphones, you’ll need an adaptor!

Schiller stood on stage with various reasons as to why Apple was going to unceremoniously remove the 3.5mm socket. But one stood out as a source of infinite jest, as well as a source of instant curiosity: courage.

Did a grown man just say that the removal of a hardware feature came down to, in part, engineering courage?!

Dig a little into this: Apple is removing something that will almost universally annoy people. Even people like me, who value high fidelity audio and an accurate playing of music, will be inconvenienced by the removal of the headphone jack. At night, when I go to sleep, I tend to listen to podcasts while my phone is charging. I can’t do that anymore, unless I fork out for wireless earphones. So despite my love of high fidelity audio, I lose out by Apple’s decision.

Sure, I get a better battery life, haptic engine for force feedback on the hardware and a slew of other things that otherwise might not physically fit into the phone if there was a 3.5mm hole in it. But I’m still inconvenienced.

The ecosystem around wireless headphones is burgeoning at best. I have wireless, noise cancelling B&O headphones that I use for air travel. But I almost always use the cable, because the fidelity on wireless isn’t as strong.

And that’s sort-of the crux of the courage taken by Apple to remove the jack. Nearly everyone will be inconvenienced by this. And certainly a lot of people will be angered by it. And some of that anger will hit Apple in the pocket as they flock to Android phones, or even hold off on buying a new phone until the headphone situation works itself out. That’s where the courage lies.

It’s Apple’s commitment to making tectonic shifts in any industry that needs a kick in the behind that entitles them to having courage. It takes big cajones to shift an industry standard and create upheaval in your customer base.

For more information on this change and some good insight, check this blog post from Wooji.