I just finished reading John Gruber’s Courage piece article where he makes the argument for Phil Schiller’s use of the word Courage during this week’s iPhone 7 reveal.
I couldn’t disagree more with my aforementioned friends. You can argue that Jobs said it better. I think he did, too — particularly because Jobs emphasized the fact that they knew people were going to disagree, vociferously. (Jobs was one of the best communicators the world has ever seen, so that’s no ding against Schiller.) But Jobs and Schiller meant “courage” in the same way: having the courage to make a sure-to-be controversial decision when there is a non-controversial option, simply because they believe it to be the right thing to do in the long run.
Every time Apple makes a change for the future, it hurts my pocket book. I didn’t complain when they yanked DVD/CD drives from the MacBook and iMac because I knew we were making a switch to streaming video and we had already transitioned to digital music. But I still had to shell out for an external DVD drive so that my wife could watch her exercise videos.
I didn’t complain when they ditched the 30-pin cable because the lightning cable was faster and smaller. But I had a mix of 30-pin and Lightning devices in the home for a few years as we replaced our old iPads and iPhones. During the transition, I spent good money on 30-pin to Lightning adapters so that family members could use their devices on the portable docking speakers we had. And when that solution couldn’t work I used the headphone jack. There was a standard.
We eventually replaced those speaker docks with Bluetooth speakers but we lost the ability to charge and listen at the same time. And there were issues with connectivity. Sometimes the audio would just cut out. The iPhone would lose the connection to the Bluetooth speakers. We put up with it for a while but eventually we all just got wired headphones .
I grew up in the home of a Hi-Fi (remember that term) audio enthusiast. My Dad fretted over making sure his cables and connectors were just right, installing a voltage/power stabilizer to ensure that his tube amplifiers had a filtered and steady supply of electricity. He cleaned his head unit and vinyl before and after each listening session. We once had three different sets of speakers systems on loan for a few weeks from the local audio shop because he wanted to be sure he got the best sound. Yeah, my Dad loved his Hi-Fi. I learned what the right equipment can do for a carefully crafted audio recording.
So I bought a set of wired headphones (within my limited budget). My Grado SR60’s sound awesome even on the limited quality digital files we have become accustomed to. The CD was inconvenient but the sound was superior to the overly compressed MP3 and AAC files on our mobile devices. Spotify and iTunes Music and Google Play are only marginally better than FM radio.
The 3.5-millimeter audio jack, however, is neither inadequate nor in obvious need of replacement. Sure, it is certainly dusty. But it is widely used and unencumbered by patents. You don’t have to pay anyone to use it. The signal it transmits doesn’t need to be decoded. And because it is an analog and not a digital standard, it cannot be locked down with digital rights management (DRM). Like the AC power socket adorning the walls of our homes, the headphone jack is a dumb interface. In Apple parlance, “it just works.” Buy a pair of headphones — from an audiophile store or an airport vending machine — and plug them into a headphone jack and you’ll likely hear whatever it is you were planning on listening to. So why send it off for a dirt nap?John Paczkowski
But, our smartphones have replaced dedicated music players and portable CD players. AAC and MP3 are the best we can hope for. And it seems the future was compressed music transmitted over a compressed channel.
After living through the pain of the 30-pin to Lightning transition I knew that wireless was the future so I did my research and bought a highly rated (and expensive) set of Bluetooth headphones with aptX. aptX is a proprietary Bluetooth coded from Qualcomm that allows digital audio to be transmitted over Bluetooth without loss of quality. I could see that support was building for aptX and held out hope that Apple would soon support it. My headphones support it. Samsung and LG and Panasonic et al. support it. Hundreds of products support it. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 do not. No Apple products support aptX. Ironically, my Bluetooth headphones are able to use the headphones even when the battery dies. Apple’s AirPods can’t even do that.
I can only use the Bluetooth headphones for a few hours because the Bluetooth radio significantly impacts battery life. The sound quality is OK but not good enough. So … I continue to use my Grado SR60’s wired headphones in the 3.5 mm jack of my iPhone 6. It also works well with the 3.5 mm jack at the back of the iMac, and the MacBook Air. It has a very long cord so I can also use it in the back of my TV so I don’t disturb the family watching my early morning Formula 1 races.
I complained a little when they replaced the three FireWire ports on the iMacs and MacBook with two Thunderbolt ports but didn’t give us USB-3. I bought Apple $120 in adapters because that was cheaper than replacing the drives. That hurt. But at least Thunderbolt is an international standard (although one with very little device support).
Now … they’ve removed the international 3.5 standards audio connector and left me with subpar Bluetooth. Apple’s marketing guy, Phil Schiller, talks about Apple having the “courage” to do what’s best for the future. He’s not wrong about the future. But then he’s not the one sacrificing. He’s not the one looking down at a drawer full of 30-pin connectors, useless FireWire cables, an external DVD player, and a set of wired headphones, that are now rendered obsolete — at least according to Apple. If it truly believed that wireless is the future then what’s the point of including Lightning EarPods that can’t be used on ANY other product line? Neither my 2015 MacBook Air nor my 2013 iMac have a Lightning port. Nor does the current version of the MacBook. They all have an 3.5 mm headphone jack.
Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon. Maybe Apple will include aptX support in iOS 10. Maybe headphone manufacturers will provide solutions that allow the consumer to change connectors; USB-C at the headphone end that allows the consumer to connect either a 3.5 mm cable or a Lightning or USB-C connector. Maybe iOS 10 will magically support aptX.
To me, real courage would have been sacrificing some profit and including a FREE set of wireless AirPods in every box and support for aptX.
Instead of solving an existing problem, Apple has created a problem to then solve it their way and feed us the narrative of the courageous pioneer. All the examples of past transitions Schiller makes are valid because all those were technologies that were made obsolete by the appearance of newer, more advanced, better solutions. Deciding to just kill the headphone jack off because “it’s old” and because “sooner or later it’s going away anyway” sounds arbitrary and a little too arrogant to me. Where is the better solution here? Where is the incredibly advanced solution that replaces the headphone port and jack in all their current uses and truly represents a compelling progress? Not Bluetooth technology and certainly not those AirPods.Riccardo Mori