Do you think the lack of a 3.5mm Jack is going to prevent iPhone users from upgrading to the iPhone 7?
— Rohan Naravane (@r0han) September 5, 2016
Although not the most reliable data point (it’s a Twitter poll after all), the results above tell the general sentiment people have towards Apple and its users. The company time and again has chosen form over function in many of their products, to a point where people have accepted that removing the universally-standard 3.5mm headphone jack won’t majorly deter future iPhone buyers.
Apple prefers simplicity and more importantly symmetry in their design. Let’s start from the base of the first iPhone all the way to the iPhone 4s; you’ll see symmetrically placed grilles placed on either side of the 30-pin connector, with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. You, like many others, may have mistakenly thought of them as two speaker grilles. But by now everybody (hopefully) knows that the one on the left houses a microphone, not a speaker. You don’t really need those many openings at the bottom of the case, but it was designed like so to maintain symmetry. Then something changed with the iPhone 5, where these nicely aligned grilles at the bottom were left misaligned, thanks to the headphone jack moving to the bottom. Apple course-corrected this “awkward” design first with the iPhone 5c (and later with the iPhone 6/6s) where the faux openings were removed, with just one hole left that served as an opening to the mic.
The dated 3.5mm headphone jack, a useful port to connect any head-or-ear-phones of your choice, is sticking out like a sore thumb in this otherwise beautiful design language. This year, they’ve apparently fixed this, as is shown in the leaked images of the iPhone 7, that have perfectly symmetrical grilles on both sides of the Lightning port. Here’s hoping that the secondary grille is put to good use this time, with an actual stereo speaker setup.
The advantages & disadvantages of removing the 3.5mm jack have been laid out aplenty. There are theories over how its removal will create more space for a bigger battery (although phones with bigger batteries and similar dimensions already exist). It is also said to make the phone more water resistant (although there are water-resistant phones with exposed 3.5mm jacks these days). Personally, this decision strikes to me more as a design-first decision, with some subliminal benefits towards customer-lock in. Meaning, if you’re not using the Lightning Earpods that allegedly come in the box, your wired earphone or headphone will need to have a Lightning port — a port that in the smartphone world, exclusively sits on an iPhone. Then there’s also the opportunity to sell wireless earphones (supposedly called AirPods) which, if they’re anything like the Bragi Dash or the Samsung Gear Icon X, it could kickstart yet another successful accessory lineup like the Apple Watch.
But forget the business angle — the primary motive of symmetry is a good enough motive for the company to axe the 3.5mm jack. This is after all the same company that puts all the ports at the back of its desktop computers (the iMac & the Mac mini), so that they don’t ruin the front face of the device. It also made the same desktops thinner and in that process made upgrading the RAM
impossible difficult (correction: h/t @preshit). They are desktops for crying out loud, it’s not like making them thinner was going to make them easier to carry. This is also the same company that had two USB ports on the Macbook Pro so close to each other, that sometimes you couldn’t use two peripherals together.
It’s much easier to find the G spot than finding a USB port at the back of an iMac.
— Jugal (@joogasama) September 6, 2016
In TV and movies, smartphones often have been envisioned to look like a sheet of characterless, transparent glass. And Apple for one, is on that path to make it happen — apparently the iPhone of 2018 will drop the home button as well. Looking at the way things are going, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to think that Apple has its eyes on removing the Lightning port in the future too. If the iPhones of tomorrow could be charged inductively (like the Apple Watch), that’s one less reason to have that opening at the bottom.
It is this thing — their DNA and the position they’re in, that lets them challenge things like the almighty 3.5mm headphone jack, that may seem cringeworthy to the rest of the world. And unfortunately, they have a great track record when it comes to these decisions right. They were known for their bold removal of the floppy drive or the DVD drive in previous Macs. They’ve been on a port-chopping spree — axing the RJ-45 Ethernet, Firewire to even your average USB 3.0 ports in the new MacBook. They’re not just known for removing things; their rendition of features also have almost always been widely adopted soon after — from Apple Pay to Touch ID to Siri to Retina Display, all the way to capacitive displays and multi-touch interfaces. This track record puts Apple in a pole position; leading the way for everybody else to follow.
Now it’s up to the world to figure out where the line is drawn between simplicity and pure absurdity. But if the opinion poll above is any indicator, the 3.5mm jack removal isn’t the last irrational move we’ll see from Apple. See you on the 7th.