Eliminating the headphone jack isn’t progress. It’s bad UX.
Fixing what ain’t broke just to beat your competitors hurts everybody.
Right now, anywhere in the world, you could walk into just about any store and buy a pair of headphones that work with your phone. Or iPod. Or Mac. Or PC. Or Android phone. Or your kid’s Nintendo 3DS.
Not only would it work — you have lots of choices. Different brands, styles and features at different price points. But if the rumors are true, that’s LL about to change.
In case you haven’t heard, Apple is widely expected to drop the world’s most ubiquitous port — the 3.5mm headphone jack — from its next iPhone. Of course, we don’t know the official reason yet. But plenty of journalists suggest the move will make the iPhone thinner and lighter — and “oh who cares, everything wireless now anyway!”
New Doesn’t Mean Better
The biggest problem with dropping such a commonplace — and widely accepted — port like the headphone jack is it immediately hurts the consumer:
- All the earbuds and headphones you currently have are now obsolete, unless they’re wireless or you want to use a dongle. Yuck.
- Manufacturers now have to divert resources to make Lightning-compatible headphones, at the expense of everybody else.
- Android phone manufacturers, feeling pressure to follow the Joneses, will create (and have created) create USB-C headphones and adapters to compete.
- Now every wired headset will, for a while, come in three varieties: old 3.5mm ($), USB-C ($$) and Lightning ($$$).
- Eventually, older-style headphones will become harder to find — thus breaking a longstanding standard.
Dropping the port also makes millions of perfectly-functional headphones suddenly obsolete, and they’ll end up in landfills. We already have a huge e-waste problem, and this will very likely add to it.
How This Impacts UX
It’s pretty clear from the get-go, people will be struggling to do what they already do easily: listen to music and podcasts. They’ll forget their dongles, or their wireless headphones will run out of juice, or they’ll be stuck someplace with only the old-style 3.5mm variety.
But that’s just the beginning.
Eventually consumers will be pushed to spend more money on something that didn’t really need fixing anyhow.
Good UX is about making the lives of your users easier, not harder. Nobody asked to remove the headphone jack. Apple is making that decision for them, without really understanding its users. And in the UX world, we all know how well that works out in the end.