In defense of ditching the headphone jack

But really in defense of innovation

Apple is ditching the headphone jack. You knew that.

It’s another event in Apple’s legacy of shaking up technology-related industries by dropping peripherals from its devices possibly or at least seemingly ahead of their time.

Removing the floppy drives was their first in recent(ish) memory, the 1998 G3s released with only the CD-ROM drive. When the initial shock wore off, it was visibly the gentle push the market needed to let go. One CD to install something versus 12 disks? Sure, of course.

When Apple began removing the CD-ROM drive with the launch of the MacBook Air in 2008, that was a shove. We were actively using those. However, as USB sticks increased in storage capacity while decreasing in price and with Cloud computing quickly entering the lexicon, the grumbling quickly subsided.

This one is different, however. This move is an intervention and interventions hurt. They hurt because a kick in the ass just hurts. Mostly, though, they hurt because no one wants to be told an intervention might be what’s necessary. The music industry, the average consumer with a pair of headphones that “work just fine right now” who is, well, everyone, don’t want to be told “this new way is better.” We might need to be.

Look, I get it. I don’t mean to or certainly don’t want to defend Apple for “courageously rewarding their loyal user base with the privilege to buy another shitty dongle. I pre-ordered the iPhone 7 today and no doubt when I end up in the Apple store in two months giving them even more money so I can charge it and listen to music at the same time, I will mutter some very choice words under my breath.

Yet the fact remains we’re still using an analog piece of technology and the primary component of telephone switchboards dating back to the late 1800s and one that obviously doesn’t have a role in a wireless, digital future. It’s going to go — it has to go, one way or another. The difference is if it goes now or continues to go gradually. I say continues as it’s been going that way since Bluetooth and other protocols entered the market. That entrance for Bluetooth, by the way, in 1994. So if this departure feels premature that is understandable, but sudden it is not. Do we really want to wait another 20 years for it (or naturally by then its successors) to take the lead?

Apple pissed off a lot of people, including and especially its existing customer base. What else? They also just shaved five or so years off of end-to-end digital connections, wireless connectivity, and wireless charging as industry standards. Oh, I’ll complain, but I also believe that I’ll enjoy those things and more in far fewer tomorrows and, yes, that is worth an additional $40 today.

And another $160 if you want those wireless headphones but you gonna lose that shit in, like, fifteen minutes.

We don’t always all of us get to be on the 100% benefits end of innovation. The audio jack had its time and, in technology years, an epoch. That this century-old connection is a mainstay in devices that weren’t even in the realm of science-fiction at its patenting truly deserves the utmost respect. That’s incredible. Hell, the term “sci-fi” wouldn’t even be coined until 1954. But there’s no historical preservation society in new technology, no committee to ensure it stays in new and future devices because of legacy or respect or if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it because that is not how we got here in the first place.

Perhaps it’s a stretch in comparison but the 2016 Summer Olympic Games just ended and longstanding, world records were broken. So should we close up shop on the games now? Of course not; we have new records to break and like athletic records, the greatest way to show that respect is to recognize the best while aiming higher, doing better, and achieving more. Ask any Olympian: getting there hurts and making big sacrifices is a requirement.

Time to rip off the band-aid. Time to break records.

(…I promise that last part was not a music pun.)

Interested in the intersection of Natural Language Processing and the humanities.

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