After months of speculation, Apple did it: It killed passing the aux cord.
For those not in the know, the iPhone 7 (announced this afternoon, and in stores September 16th) won’t have a headphone jack. The little hole you’ve spent your entire life clicking a thin rod of ringed metal into when it was time to listen to something, anything, is not going to be a part of the most ubiquitous piece of technology on earth. This means that there’s no more handing over an aux cord when you hop in a car and, more importantly, the expensive headphones you have? They’re going to be obsolete. Leave them behind.
The real question here isn’t whether the headphone jack is dead, it’s why Apple made a move so clearly against its customers’ current interests. Headphone jacks are everywhere—they’ve been around for over 100 years. People aren’t pleased, and with good reason: the headphone jack is perfectly good, the Lightning port has its flaws, and wireless headphones are an untested quantity. One thing is abundantly clear here: Apple just made listening more difficult.
To let Apple VP of Marketing Phil Schiller tell it, onstage with a completely straight face, it’s because of “courage.” Lol, sure.
Apple does things that benefit Apple. Sometimes, that’s synonymous with giving technology a shove in the right direction. The company has killed before, often to widespread protest. It famously nixed the floppy disc from its computers early, dropped disc drives from its laptops, and switched from a 30-pin charging cable to the Lightning port. The company loves to pare things down: Apple’s ideal device seems to be something with a single port, nothing else, and taking the headphone jack away is a step in that direction. Apple tends to design the future, and it pays to be ahead of the curve.
Many, however, don’t buy that a sincere decision to push everyone, kicking and screaming, to a new technological format is behind Apple ditching the headphone jack. Apple did not become the most profitable company of all time without some savvy decision-making. Apple does things that benefit Apple, and this move will, certainly, benefit Apple.
For one—and this is the theory behind why most people are crying foul play in this move—Apple owns Beats. It bought the headphone manufacturer (and streaming service that later became Apple Music) for $3.2 billion. Some are pointing at this change, coupled with Apple’s stake in the high market headphone business, as the company engineering its subsidiary’s success. Apple will certainly make money off of customers buying new headphones, as well as royalty payments from third-party manufacturers using Apple’s patented Lightning technology. All signs point, however, to kicking the headphone jack to the curb as only a first step towards going fully wireless, rather than a cash grab. Other companies are gravitating toward headphone jack-less phones, and not all own their own headphone manufacturers. The three new Beats Apple unveiled today are wireless, not Lightning-enabled.
The truly woke baes in the mix have a much more slippery conspiracy theory: DRM. Digital Rights Management is how, when you used to buy songs on iTunes, you couldn’t put the song on multiple iPods, or send it to a friend. It’s what lets labels, publishers, and, today, streaming services, make sure you can’t pirate their music. When Apple launched the iPod, able to hold 10,000 songs of dubious origins, DRM was the labels’ best means of retaliation—the headphone jack, our old, old friend, was too dumb to recognize DRM-protected mp3’s. Now, with the digitally-encoded audio afforded by a Lightning cable, Apple (and the companies on an Apple device) can decide what can and can’t play out of your headphones. Now, this is probably not going to be used to, say, prevent Spotify from playing on iPhones, but this move does give Apple greater control over what you’re listening to.
To hear Apple tell it, both theories are incorrect. The company says it’s a simple matter of space: the headphone jack could get nixed to make way for haptics, batteries, and, most importantly, cameras—all the things that makes the iPhone better, even if it makes simply listening to music worse.
The end result of today’s announcement, regardless of motive, remains the same: The headphone jack is on its way out. The death won’t happen right away. It usually takes at least one product cycle for a change like this to really take hold—the majority of iPhone users will still have a headphone jack for the next year, maybe two. But, rest assured, it will happen.
Of course, your Uber driver might keep a dorky dongle—the little device used to to connect a Lightning cable to a 3.5mm audio port—on hand. You might use a dongle, to keep your headphones from falling out of use. But that’s not going to last. You’re not going to keep using a dongle. You won’t want to say the word “dongle.” Apple, a company obsessed with minimalism and ease of use, certainly doesn’t expect you to use a dongle for long, either: the one its distributing with the iPhone 7 is a short cord designed simply to stop people from yelling about this decision.
Instead, we’ll be listening to music with Lightning cables and, later, if Apple has its way, with little white wireless earbuds that look like earrings and might end up bounce into a sewer grate while you watch. The reason is simple: Apple has already sold a head-spinning one billion iPhones. Tim Cook described it as “the best-selling product of its kind in history”—I am not sure what “kind” of product he’s describing, but that’s an enormous amount of anything to sell, and it means that people are buying them over and over and over again. It’s going to take a lot to derail that train.
If Apple had announced, say, that it wasn’t going to include internet access on its phones anymore, or the ability to make phone calls, or that all nudes would be routed to the FBI and a person you went to high school with selected at random, the hordes might switch to Android. Anything less? Habits outweigh principles when it comes to something like your choices in technology.