In defense of Apple.

Shuya Gong
Sep 12, 2016 · 4 min read

There’s no shortage of commentary on Apple’s new iPhone 7. The peanut gallery chimes in, eager to jump on this new bandwagon of criticizing Apple’s design choices — which is well deserved. From their strange decision not to put in a 90 degree bend to charge the iPencil (which to be fair just sounds like an idealistic designer’s laziness in not trying to figure out a beautiful way to incorporate a not quite straight line) to the weird look of the new AirBuds, it does seem that Apple is failing to live up the the high standards of Steve Jobs.

This just looks dumb. Come on, Apple. This was your low point.

I’ve never actually been a fan of Apple, never jumping on the bandwagon of owning iStuff but have always respectfully admired their work from afar…until recently. But it was in an Uber the day the iPhone 7 was officially announced that I realized that Apple perhaps not totally diving into a dark hole of suckiness forever.

The design decision to take away the audio jack is something that is being laughed at by consumers and tech critics but in all honesty…it’s brilliant. Apple has been well known in the industry to be a thought leader, to subscribe the masses to wait in line and buy something that they think they so desperately want, even if there is a superior option that is available. Some call it a cult, I would classify it simply as making tech accessible. And so this is what I propose Apple is doing.

It’s untethering the phone.

Completely. It sounds silly and trivial, but think about it. Cell phones became a thing because we were untethered to the landlines, we were free to do anything, we were free to take information and the world in our pocket and communicate to anyone because the phone had become untethered. But now Apple has proposed removing the physical link from our phone to anything else. Headphone cords? Done. Trivial, and it seems silly to make a big deal about not having to untangle your headphone cords, but it’s the MVP. The fact is, audio is the most tangible part of the phone to us. It’s something we can experience, something we can trust. It’s not represented by a symbol, like the battery charge indicator (lies, by the way) or by a buffering circle, indicating data transfer, or by a little pulsing symbol, indicating a download or sharing. It’s tangible in the form of sound, and by cutting the wire between our phones and where we receive the sounds in our ears, Apple is changing our mental model of what it means to be connected.

The paradigm shift that happens when we decide to go cordless is actually pretty shocking. It’s a complete trust in technology and that our electronics magically through the air, will do the stuff we want it to, and only what we want it to. How long did it take for people to trust the cloud? Too long. And so Apple is smart to start with something tangible — audio.

But what’s next? It’s power, hopefully. No more phone chargers, no more wall plugs. We can move to inductive charging, which has been around from Samsung for a long time, but hasn’t widely taken off. Appleheads, commence. And then there’s Airplay. It’s been around for a while but it’s not readily used as much as it should be…because we lack the trust in the technology to do what it needs to do. Audio? Great place to start, and not the worst thing if it fails.

So now you’ve taken away the audio jack and hopefully soon, the power port as well and you have a phone that doesn’t need any holes. I’ll skip over the inspiration this brings in new forms of manufacturing and fabrication and just look at the thought leadership of what this means. Is it even a phone at this point, or is it an everything object that can stay with you? Or really is the physically phone as big as it is even necessary? Because if we adapt to a wireless existence, to audio (Siri) controls, to natural human interfacing with our technology, then we’ve moved away from the object of the phone. It is simply a screen to show us information we need — and perhaps this is where AR/VR comes in.

So perhaps Apple is not well equipped to advance us to the next stage of technology, but it’s done a damn good job with the iPhone 7 to provoke the questions of whether or not we as humans can trust our technologies and machines to be reliable, without the reassurance of a physical connection. And it is here that we may finally see the mass adoption of the IoT movement, and go towards a seamless human-machine interfacing existence. So perhaps the critics are right about Apple going in a downturn, perhaps they aren’t future proofed and ready for what will happen less. But if their flame is going out, they’re going out doing a lot of good for the mental model of connectivity.

Shuya Gong

Written by

Designer @ IDEO CoLab. Harvard 2017. Percussionist, mechanical engineering, design. @ohmygong

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