Can Apple Afford to Cut the (Headphone) Cord? Yes.
All of the speculation— and nightmares for some— has been confirmed this week, as Apple finally unveiled the seventh iteration of the iPhone. In the weeks leading up to the launch event, bloggers speculated on new features for the mobile device. There was talk of a new camera, new colors, and an upgraded operating system. But the one thing that had even non-tech head talking was whether or not Apple would kill the headphone jack. They did.
Apple and music have gone hand in hand. Since the launch of the original iPod and iTunes, Apple has made their music services integrate seamlessly with each of their products. The iPhone wasn’t the first phone to offer mp3 playback (that would actually be the Samsung SPH-M100 series, first available in 2001) but owners loved its usability and intuitive design. No one owned an iPhone and didn’t load it up with their favorite tunes. Some years later, they launched iTunes Match, a cloud service that allowed you to listen to your entire audio library on the go. We don’t think about it much, but the included earbuds in each iPhone package were more than a complimentary gift. They were necessary to fully enjoy the product. Were they the best headphones? No, far from it (though they got the job done). But for audiophiles or those who could appreciate improved sound quality, the great thing about the oft-overlooked 3.5mm headphone jack was that you could plug in your favorite headphones to enjoy your tunes on your terms.
When all of this is taken into account, it’s easy to understand the outrage. Killing the port now means that a lot of users will be forced to play nice with Apple’s included Bluetooth “Airpods”. If you are going to be using your own headphones, you’re going to need to buy a thirty dollar adapter. But is Bluetooth really so bad after all? Maybe not, but that is a discussion worthy of a tech blogger. But here we’re going to be asking a tougher question: When you have a company as rich as Apple, can you afford to usher in a game-changer on this level? Sure you can, for these reasons:
What Apple did here is not analogous to Coca-Cola nixing a secret ingredient and sending customers to Pepsi. If anything, the Airpod move has been in line with their actions from the past. They’ve made smaller changes (like the iTunes overhaul) that were met with negative criticism, but they survived. Their brand has become so synonymous with quality that Apple fans rush out to buy their latest products without question. Their closed model may be a point of contention for huge tech-heads, but for many people, Apple has been trusted because of its straightforward and intuitive user experience.
Apple products are rarely built to stand alone. Your iPod, iPad, iMac, Apple TV, and Watch are all in sync with one another. You don’t need to own one of every Apple product but it you do, it does feel a bit strange when you swap one out. Users have no doubt gotten used to cross-platform functionality, and the idea of giving up omnipresent project management might not be worth dropping the mobile device because of a design change.
Keep a Finger on the Tech Pulse
Like it or not, Bluetooth headphones are gaining ground. 2016 was the first year that Bluetooth headphone sales surpassed corded ones, taking 54% of the sales pie. People may be freaking out about the design, and you could argue that there are some flaws. For example, the Airpods aren’t connected by a cord (making them easier to lose) and they have around five hours of battery life (you’re out of luck on a long plane ride). But there is a solution: users will buy their own headsets— they already are. From this perspective, Apple is just embracing trends early. Other companies in the coming years will be playing catch-up. When the market shifts, listen. It’s OK to take that leap of faith.