October 11 2016 Saurabh Chauhan ANALYSIS
The new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, which were launched on Wednesday, tick off all the typical iPhone upgrade check boxes – they’re faster, have a sleeker design, a much improved camera, somewhat better battery life, and so on. One of the big changes – which everyone knew about well before the actual launch took place – was Apple’s decision to do away with the 3.5mm headphone jack, replacing it with bundled Lightning headphones, and a free bundled adaptor that allows you to connect your existing headphones via the Lightning port.
At first glance, the decision to remove the 3.5mm port from both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus does seem high-handed, and deaf to the fact that a huge segment of the audience has repeatedly made clear the fact that this is completely unwarranted.
Apple’s Air Pods (which will no doubt have their share of defenders) make the decision look somewhat worse than it is though – Apple’s Ear Pods slipped out of the ear easily enough for us, so why should the Air Pods be any different? And even if that’s not the case, the $159 (or Rs. 15,400 in India) price tag makes them hard to justify.
So far it doesn’t really sound like Apple is offering us something good when it says the decision to drop the 3.5mm jack took a lot of “courage”. That kind of language just makes it sound even more ridiculous. Except that it really does matter, and removing the 3.5mm jack really does help improve the iPhone.According to Apple executives, dropping the jack freed up space in the body and enabled many of the marquee features of the new iPhones.
Two lenses – widescreen and telephoto – for greater depth and zoom in photography? Made possible by removing the 3.5mm jack. Adding the Taptic engine for the pressure sensitive home button, which will allow you to “press” a non-moving button? Again, the 3.5mm jack was in the way. Water resistance? Same. And a 14 percent bigger battery that means up to 2 hours of extra usage between charges? Why didn’t they get rid of the 3.5mm jack sooner!
Removing the 3.5mm jack from the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus confers some huge benefits, and that – more than the “courage” to move beyond a “100 year old standard” – makes sense. But what about people who have wired headsets, you ask?
Well, first up, let’s divide users into a couple of different buckets. There’s people who already regularly use a Bluetooth headset of some kind. Bluetooth headsets come in a range of budgets, but today, you can get a decent one for around Rs. 1,000. With improvements in battery life and audio quality, these headsets are getting more and more commonplace too. About a year ago, the audio industry was betting on Bluetooth going mainstream. Apple’s latest move is making that happen now. For people in this first bucket, there’s really no change at all.
So let’s get to the second bucket. People who have one or two sets of low-end headphones, probably the ones that came with their older phones, and nothing more. These users are not necessarily audio enthusiasts peruse, but they do probably use their phones for audio – everybody does these days. For people in this second bucket – who are likely the majority of users – Apple’s decision will mean that they have to use the bundled Lightning headset or use the free bundled adaptor in order to use their current headphones. If you only have one set of headphones you use regularly, then this decision won’t really be a problem – you’ll just keep the adaptor plugged into your headphones at all times, and you’re set.
Finally, there’s the third bucket of users – people who have multiple headsets, and like using their headsets in different scenarios. For example, let’s say you have one set of open backed headphones you use at home, and some in-ears you take for your commute, regardless of the device you’re using. Maybe you also have a bass-led set for some kind of content, or a noise cancelling pair you use in some scenarios. You’re going to have to keep swapping out the adaptor all the time, and it’s a small thing that you could easily lose.
For this set of users, it’s going to be an unhappy change, one that will be awkward to use with your collection of devices. But let’s be honest for a second. If you own multiple headsets and use them in all these different scenarios, then your phone is probably not your primary playback device. You’ll probably use it from time to time, and that’s great, but it’s almost certain that you’re also using a specialised playback device of some sort, and that means that you will be able to use your headphones without any problems.
Apple’s not the first phone company to drop the 3.5mm jack – launched in 2008, the Nokia 5610 Xpress Music didn’t have a 3.5mm jack, and plenty of recent devices are also headed in that direction. Bluetooth had a lot of problems, but things are changing, and we seem to have reached a point in time when the move away from the 3.5mm jack actually finally makes sense.
Removing the jack isn’t a question of courage. It’s one of weighing the pros and cons, and deciding that the improvements that this change permits across the board are worth a small sacrifice in the short term.