Close your eyes and think about what the world might look like in fifty years. You might imagine a city with a Neo-Shanghai aesthetic, decorated with neon, and dominated by the omnipresent skyline of 2067. Our grandchildren carry the natural evolution of our comparatively primitive smartphones…ones that appear to be nothing more than a slab of translucent glass, penetrated only by the sights and sounds that pass through.
This image reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad years ago while driving through the oldest district of my hometown. He commented on how all the buildings had been around for almost 150 years, and have never changed, and how science fiction always depicts the world, our world, as being so drastically different just fifty years into the future. What he said rings true. The world doesn’t change overnight into the neo-noir, rain drenched streets of Blade Runner, these things take time. Many of the buildings that towered over men riding on horseback will be standing long after the last autonomous cars have rusted into dust.
One might not think a headphone jack is worth all the strained metaphors and recollections of patriarchal wonderings that have been splayed out in the paragraphs above, but I would argue to the contrary. To get to that brilliant future of wireless convenience, we have to progress through the awkward adolescence of headphone dongles, shoddy bluetooth connections, and the unnecessary duality of charging versus listening to music.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll present four major points to support the eventual adoption of a wireless standard, and hopefully convince you that Apple leaving the headphone jack out of the iPhone 7 will come to be known as a move just as bold and visionary as anything they’ve ever done.
A History of Defining The Future: Apple has a strong history of ditching existing hardware standards, and moving on to technologies that they perceive to be in their springs. Examples include but are not limited to: optical disk drives, the 8-inch floppy, the 3.5-inch floppy, serial ports, wired gigabit ethernet, low DPI displays on mobile devices, Adobe Flash as a basic internet standard, and now wired headphones.
These decisions aren’t made to leave invested users in the dust, they are made so that future products can be relevant and useful for as long as possible before the next standard is created. Apple has been around for 40 innovative years so they might have something insightful to say about where things are headed.
The eventual endpoint of all this is that everything can connect wirelessly. Apple is helping everyone get there by eliminating all these standards and just forcing everyone to go wireless.
Size Matters: The headphones jack as we know it is in a static analog connector. It actually can’t get any smaller because the male end of the connector going into the device has to be a certain size. In an age of impossibly thin and light smart devices, the space inside the phone is at a premium, and everything in there is fighting for space. we all want things like larger batteries, better processors, better cameras, vibration motors, haptic feedback engines and stereo speaker systems in our phones, but it’s all fighting for space and at some point something has got to give.
It doesn’t make any sense to leave in a connector that only serves one purpose, and it can’t be changed to something smaller. It also impedes the ability to design water-resistant phones, what more and more users are clamoring for.
Curation: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses”, said Henry Ford, the great innovator and world changer of the 20th century.
Part of Apple’s success stems from their product philosophy leaning toward all-in-one designs with few moving parts, elegant form factors, and every faucet of the user experience thought out from beginning to end. The hardware, software, and services you find on these devices are all controlled by a singular vision of the future.
Part of what you are paying a premium price for is the expertise of Apple’s designers, and for their curation in knowing what makes a great product and what doesn’t. They have decided that in their vision of the future, the headphone jack is not a part of that. Some will have faith that Apple will be correct, as they have been for forty years, and some nonbelievers will leap off the bandwagon.
The Future: How can you look at the picture above, and not immediately think, “Wow, okay that’s clearly how headphones are going to work in the future”. It’s the most minimal expression of that singular idea. Just a piece of technology dangling from your ear that automatically connects to the device you want to be using it on. It’s effortless, well thought out and insanely cool.
How many times have you had to untangle a long headphone cord, or gotten it caught on something and had the earbuds ripped from your ears. There’s a better way…and Apple is making that happen one small step at a time.
It will begin with us kicking and screaming into the future, but we will get there sooner than any of us realize. One day soon, an Android fanboy is going to wake up, put in his wireless headphones of choice, and walk out the door while reading an article called, “7 Reasons Apple didn’t really invent wireless earbuds.” He will smile smugly, as he makes his way to his job at a GameStop.