With several changes to their new line of iPhones, Apple has once again taken the lead in changing something fundamental about the way phones are sold, in form and function. With the exclusion of the all-important “100 year old” headphone jack, is this a step too far in the name of innovation?
In some ways the new iPhone 7 continues to follow the trend that Steve Jobs so successfully inculcated within the DNA of the company; the willingness to understand a consumer’s needs before the product had been made, and in some cases, disrupt the market to force this change. Apple has a history of cutting off features they deem have better replacements. They removed the floppy drive from their iMac in 1998, and in Pied Piper-esque fashion, the industry followed. They did the same with optical drives, the physical keyboard on phones, and the USB 2.0 port… Apple’s hit list in abolished features is long, as is their list of newly added ones.
Let’s take a look at what exactly the iPhone 7 brings to the table.
- iPhone 7 will come in 32GB, 128GB and 256GB starting off at $640, with the iPhone 7 Plus in 32GB, 128GB 256GB from $769. Pre-orders open today (Sep 9th) and they ship on Sep 16th.
- An IP67 water and dust resistance rating, which means it can survive a depth of 1 metre of water and a dusty, Sub-Saharan sandstorm. Still a notch below the Samsung Galaxy S7’s IP68 rating.
- iPhone 7 has a 4.7” retina screen and the iPhone 7 Plus a 5.5” retina HD screen, with a ‘25% brighter display’. There’s no resolution increase from the last gen though.
- iPhone 7 boasts a boatload of software features for its new 12MP camera, including machine learning to recognize people who frequently appear in your photos. Features include automatic depth of field, smart image stabilization, a faster shutter speed, improved lens and raw image capture. The iPhone 7 Plus has a second telephoto camera on the back along with the main wide-angle lens.
- The iPhone 7 isn’t thinner, but I guess they’ve been listening to our feedback because it’s got improved battery life.
- The raison d’être of this post, the removal of the headphone jack in favour of a single Lightning port for both charging and music.
- Also announced are Apple’s wireless white earpods. The AirPods will ship in late October for $159.
So what does this mean for Apple?
None of the features are really earth-shattering innovations that change the paradigm in which mobile phones are used, and that’s not really what people expected from this release of the iPhone. Yes, they’re trying to innovate by getting rid of the trusty headphone jack, but things like water resistance and real time document editing have been around a while. None of these features are striking, but it’s possibly telling of a new direction that Apple wants to move forward in. Some could say they’re abandoning their core philosophies of clean design and ease-of-use with the removal of the headphone jack.
When you remove the headphone jack and add just a single Lightning port it becomes impossible to both charge your phone and use your headphones at the same time. Yes, you will find a Lightning to 3.5mm jack inside the box when you buy your iPhone 7, but for people without wireless bluetooth headphones or AirPods, that just adds an additional layer of clutter for the user.
The thing is, Apple has a ton of data available to them that people like us won’t even get near. It’s probably kept in a secret laboratory somewhere in Cupertino, or more likely knowing how large companies function, in some intern’s laptop as a spreadsheet. Either way that usage data is very valuable to them, and very indicative of some of the decisions Apple has made. What percentage of people use headphones daily or more? What’s the average usage time when listening to music? That sort of data is available to them, so if Apple decided it’s time to kill the headphone jack and migrate people over to their AirPods, it’s because they realised they can.
“We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.”
Apple has an interesting perspective to innovation. Often, they’ll be the driving force behind it, being the trendsetter in getting rid of familiar features or products. The rest of the industry follows the tune of the Apple hype machine or because the risk of being the first to pull the trigger has been mitigated. We don’t know if Samsung or Sony or Xiaomi were thinking of getting rid of the headphone jack, but it’ll be interesting to see if they follow. Historically, Apple does it first, and the rest follow.
This time however, it’s a little different. Apple has provided a way for consumers to use their all familiar headphone jack, but as an extra piece of kit, it’s just another unnecessary thing cluttering your bag. Using headphones for your new Macbook and your new iPhone will require two separate adapters. Then there’s the additional problem of Lightning ports over what the industry has been trending towards, USB-C. To us it’s clear that the removal of the headphone jack was a trade-off between selling more AirPods and further cluttering users’ daily gadgetry.
Would he approve?
If there’s anything Steve Jobs would be alarmed by about the direction that Apple is heading in, it’s the trade-offs they’re making today. That they would sacrifice elegance and ease of use in a forceful way to benefit their bottom line, or giving them the benefit of doubt, they’re still ‘innovating for the sake of innovating’. They pushed for the future of wireless, but didn’t include wireless charging. They pushed for a single port, but included their own proprietary Lightning port and not USB-C. At the end of the day there’s no new technology here that’s adding value to the end user or pushing the envelope when it comes to things you couldn’t do before with your smartphone. For that reason, we’re slightly disappointed, even if Apple has taken the sound business decisions they were wont to make and will probably sell more iPhones than ever.