Forced Innovation - Apple and the 3.5mm Audio Jack

I've been harsh on Apple in the past. The whole iPhone 5 debacle was one. Last year I ranted at their "innovation" that was heralded across the entire internet. It is safe to say that, despite this post written on a Macbook, I don't really like Apple's technology anymore. I try to use Connie's iPhone and feel hampered by the lack of the things I take for granted on my Android.

It was with amusement and a smirk that Apple revealed last week that they had decided to drop the 3.5mm audio jack from the new iPhone, the iPhone 7. I ordered my iPhone 5 the moment it was announced, and then left the walled garden sharply, but if I had been waiting with baited breath on the iPhone 7 for my next major phone upgrade I'd have bailed straight away.

Let me state this obviously - getting rid of the 3.5mm jack is a very idiotic idea.

And the first reviews coming in suggest that an impressively updated and powerful smartphone has been hampered an innovation one step too far.

The port is gone and has been replaced by a single Lightning port, the same one that the iPhone 5 debuted. A reversible replacement for the old iPod connector, it was a tough one to bear - I had two docks for playing music through my phone and losing access to them was rough and tough to bear. Both of those hi-fis are in use still today, however - one connected to my phone via - yep, you guessed it - a 3.5mm audio jack, and to Connie's iPhone through the Lightning to iPod connector adapter, and the other is connected to a Google Chromecast that is connected via - yep, once again - a 3.5mm connector.

The replacement of the audio jack connector with the single lightning connector is a mistake for a raft of reasons, most of which are mildly trivial ... all bar one. The main issue is that despite the "future being wireless" as Apple so keenly pointed out, the key word is "future". We don't live in the future. We are heading there, and we can predict what it is going to be like, but we're still in the present, and in the present almost everything in my life connects via the 3.5mm adapter. 

Yes, it is hundred odd years old, and it certainly takes up loads of space in my devices, but good engineers work around that. The jack is universal and has been for decades. The headphones I have invested time and effort in discovering are designed for analogue input. They can be used with my iPad, the Macbook, my Android phone, the old iPod nano, my old MiniDisc player, the old 2004 laptop. Even the Yeti has a 3.5mm connector!

So Apple have decided that to forge progress they needed to drop it whole sale - and in the past that has worked. Getting rid of the CD-ROM drive was bold. So too was their dropping of the floppy disc. But this smacks of forced innovation.

The jack we all use daily (bar the select few who put up with the drawbacks and restricted wireless headphone work) is gone from the best selling smartphone. Replaced with a single port for everything else - how do you charge your phone and listen to audio? You can't (without a few adapters). It seems like someone has wanted it to work and it has been decided that it must work and therefore it has "worked".

Bundling an adapter is a kinda smirky thing to do; it's a strange inelegant solution for a problem they've created. Rightly, they're damned if they do or don't - not putting it in the box would be as big a deal as the Lightning switchover I was so pissed about back in 2012. The big problem is that everything else uses that jack and nothing uses the lightning jack and, even worse nothing else ever will because it's a lock down Apple standard. If they'd used USB-C I might have had a little more sympathy for them. 

When Connie moves next year to upgrade her iPhone 6S it is unlikely she will aim for the iPhone 7. Instead, maybe an iPhone SE, or an Android. Who knows. I just know that some people, like me and her, don't want the hassle of wireless headphones or multiple adapters. I've got used to the wires. I actually, despite hating them, kind of rely on them a bit. 

I guess time will tell if it was the right move. In my experience however, when I used to work for The Link, there was a time where every single phone on the market came with it's own set of headphones and connector, and we screamed for the day where a 3.5mm adapter would appear on a regular phone. Motorola and Apple no less figured that out with the Moto ROKR E1 which didn't have it, and when Nokia released the N90 and Sony went for the jugular with the Walkman range, the world had figured it out. Back then, the reasons for excluding the jack were obvious; no one used their phone to listen to music and there wasn't any space in the devices for the jack. Now, today in 2016, everyone listens to music on the smartphones almost all the time anywhere and by god have you seen the size of the phones we have today? There's loads of space!

The future is wireless but we're not there yet. Now I just need to untangle my earphones to be able to listen to my podcast.