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The Death of the Headphone Jack: Innovation or Unnecessary?

The Infamous Headphone Jack

AP/Richard Drew, https://mashable.com/2016/09/07/iphone-headphone-jack-courage/#p.0tWZkItSq9

The Infamous Headphone Jack

Chris Uustal, Staff Writer

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With the release of the iPhone 7 a few years ago now, Apple removed the ever-present, ever-popular 3.5mm headphone jack. To ease the transition, they still offered an adapter, known as a dongle, in the box to convert from the still included lightning port to the same old headphone jack. However, now with the release of their newest iPhone Xs line, they have even dropped the included adapter, forcing users to either use the included lightning earbuds or buy a pair of wireless Airpods. Over the last few years, as a result of Apple’s drastic change, nearly all other leading smartphone manufacturers have followed suit, barring Samsung, on their own smartphones, resulting in the headphone jack being a rarity rather than a commonality in the smartphone space. With this apparent culmination of the transition period in Apple’s eyes, I feel it an adequate time to discuss if this move towards killing off the headphone jack, and a diversity of ports in general, is an innovative move for the tech industry or if it was both excessive and unnecessary at the cost of the end user, only being accepted begrudgingly.

When Apple initially removed the headphone jack, they cited two main reasons for its removal: better use of the space inside the device for other functions and better waterproofing capabilities. Naturally, a whole host of people have gone through since then, seeing that this claim was valid to some degree, but definitely not a necessity with the engineering capabilities Apple possesses. Apple could certainly have still fit the headphone jack inside their phone if a few components were moved, and, as Samsung’s flagship phones like the Galaxy S9 have IP68 ratings on par with Apple while still maintaining the headphone jack, the removal of the jack for waterproofing purposes alone doesn’t seem to hold much water (ha ha, it’s a pun… I’ll let myself out). So, though their initial claims were not too outlandish, the real reason behind it may be much more respectable, or much more devious as well. Apple, as one of the leading smartphone brands in the world only falling second to Samsung in unit sales, has the power to push the entire industry in one direction or the other with their actions. Just like I said earlier, as soon as Apple dropped the headphone jack from their phone, nearly all other major phone manufacturers followed suit except for Samsung (and OnePlus, but their rumored upcoming OnePlus 6T has apparently ditched the headphone jack, so I won’t count them). Seeing as they managed to have a similar effect with the release of the iPhone X last year, introducing a wave of notched smartphones, Apple clearly knows they have the power to push the industry towards what they view as the ideal smartphone future. If you look towards their Macbook line of devices, you can begin to see the trend coming together: unify everything down to one type of port with the eventual goal of removing all ports entirely. In this theoretical future, all devices would simply interact with each other wirelessly in one seamless experience, and this is a dream that I can’t fault Apple for, as I too believe that is the inevitable goal one day of what smartphones will become at their pinnacle.

However, though I may praise Apple for their use as a powerful player in the smartphone space to push the industry in an effective way towards the more idealized future of smartphones, I don’t agree with how they’re going about it in nearly any way. Admittedly, it had to be done at some point; the headphone jack was either there or it wasn’t, so they decided now was as good as ever to change over. However, they now have a whole host of inconsistencies across their platforms, simply requiring the end user to pay more money to achieve the same capabilities they had using older hardware. For example, if someone wants to charge their shiny new iPhone while using headphones at the same time, they either have to go buy a wireless charging pad ($40+) and use the included lightning headphones, go buy a wireless charging pad and a lightning to 3.5mm jack dongle ($10) to use their 3.5mm jack headphones, go buy a lightning doc ($50) and plug everything into that, or buy their wireless Airpods ($160) and connect through bluetooth. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a fairly normal course of action for someone to take with their smartphone, but now it’s going to cost a minimum of $40 to do the same thing I could have done for free with one of their very same phones a few generations earlier. Mind you, this is also using their proprietary lightning port which is only used on Apple devices. If you then compare this to their laptops, things get even more nonsensical, as their laptops still have the headphone jack, but no lightning ports, instead using the standardized USB-C port. Had Apple switched their phones over to the standardized USB-C port, then phased the headphone jack out, that would be different; at least there would be consistency with the rest of the market and within their own ecosystem. However, despite spending multiple years transitioning at this point, it has still been a messy, nonsensical, and confusing process to say the least.

While I would love to have faith that Apple had no ill intentions in this process, only doing things solely for the betterment of the general public, Apple also didn’t become the first trillion dollar US company by being generous out of the goodness of their hearts; in reality, they are a business, and their main goal is to make money and be successful, not to be particularly morally sound. While they might attempt to avoid negative media coverage and maintain a positive public image by saying that these changes, these sacrifices, are to push the industry forward, I also see dollar signs popping up all throughout their ecosystem now. Even outside of the headphone jack, Apple still sells their top-of-the-line, $1500, iPhone Xs Max with the slowest speed charger in the box, forcing the user to go out of their way and buy a quick charger for an extra $50 if they want to charge their already ridiculously expensive phone at the same speeds all Android flagships already charge at for no extra cost. This isn’t me trying to say that Apple is a no-good company and everyone should switch over to Android phones, as many Android phones to have removed the headphone jack for literally no other reason than because Apple did it, but rather I think that consumers should be aware of what the company they love so much, the company that powers much of their technologically-based lives, is doing right under their noses. So many people either don’t even know just how much Apple is taking advantage of them or they know and have simply accepted that they are subject to Apple’s whim, but I say I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other equally good, but admittedly different, options out there, and you, as a consumer, have the right to know what’s really going on with the technology you buy and that you have more than one option.

Now that I’ve basically lambasted Apple for the last two paragraphs, you’re probably assuming that I’m going to finish my conclusion with something along the lines of “so Apple is a terrible company that made a stupid choice and you should hate them,” but in reality the answer is a lot more complicated than that. Removing the headphone jack was a bold and dangerous move for Apple, but they pulled it off and genuinely managed to push the industry towards the idealized smartphone future as a result of it. Samsung is far too large and conservative of a company to do anything so brash, so the responsibility fell to Apple in this situation, just as it likely will again in some number of years in the future when they remove the final port from their phones altogether. However, this can’t be said without also exploring the darker, economic greed behind some of their decisions as well; they are essentially taking away features from their devices, calling them innovations so they can charge more for the device itself, then charging even more to give the user those same features back. Apple made a bold step towards the future of smartphones, and for that I commend them, but that can’t go without calling the morality of their choices in conjunction with that innovation into question, eventually bringing the final question to you, the consumer: one voice might not make any difference at all, but do you want to support a company that tries to take advantage of its essentially trapped consumer base in the name of innovation? Or will you consider breaking the mold, trying something new, or speaking out against something you don’t have to just accept?

Image courtesy of mashable.com

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Chris Uustal, Staff Writer

As someone who passionately follows technology and wants to pursue computer engineering and computer science in college and as a future career, I enjoy...

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