Even before the iPhone 7 came into being, its reputation had been tarnished by a whirlwind of community backlash that anticipated an unchanged form factor and lack of WOW. From the veteran tech critic to the casual Snapchat user, a unified message had been ringing since the release of the 6S model:
INNOVATION! WHERE IS THE INNOVATION!?
Apple answered by removing a nearly 140-year piece of technology from the iPhone 7: the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The outcry was massive.
Suddenly, radical innovation didn’t seem as important as familiarity and the respect of a port that virtually every living generation can understand. The resulting mixed message was a common one of consumer demands in the tech market, where innovation must be tempered with the comfort of habit. Stray too far from the familiar too quickly and the market will eat you alive for abandoning the convenience of nostalgia; move too slowly and you risk market predictions of bankruptcy for a lack of innovation.
It’s a delicate balance that few tech companies have mastered. But one of Apple’s greatest strengths has always been its ability to guide customers in understanding HOW they will use technology in their daily lives. For Apple, being one of the most valuable companies in the world is achieved by delivering what consumers actually need, and not what they THINK they want.
I say this because, much of consumer cries for innovation from Apple projects a perception of smartphone usage and power that most consumers will never need, or never use. There, too, becomes this fantasy of ultimate convenience via features that really aren’t all that convenient to begin with, but there’s comfort in just having them to have them. For example: wireless charging is much slower and still requires a wired connection via a charging pad; VR headsets are weighty, costly, power greedy, and don’t fit in with the daily usage of average users; Pokemon GO’s sharp rise and fall casts doubt on the true practically of augmented reality’s long-term usage. And so, when it comes to the iPhone 7, outcries about the loss of a headphone jack and other wanting features, the backlash doesn’t make much sense at all.
No Jack. No Problem.
When it finally came to be that Apple released the iPhone 7 without a 3.5mm headphone jack, the backlash was swift and harsh. You’d have thought they’d released a new flip-phone in some “F*ck You Wall Street” attempt to regain their former image as a rebel. But it wasn’t a flip-phone. Instead, Apple opted to double-down on the wireless age in the same way it did with cloud storage and the abandonment of the floppy disk and CD-ROM (News Flash: we survived the loss of both). Innovation isn’t simply the implementation of new technology for the sake of shiny new stuff—its the upset of cultural behaviors altogether. It’s not all about raw processing power and thinner form factors; changing the way people USE technology IS innovation.
Still, people were downright outraged. Yet, most of the flak came from the audiophile community in the form of a pity campaign over their collection of priceless high-end headphones. By their account, Apple’s decision to remove the jack on the iPhone 7 would hit their precious investment hard—this was the chosen message for recruiting the support of average users who could barely afford the phone itself. Not so convincing.
Controversy—or a lack thereof—over the switch to a lightening connection from the 3.5mm jack can be summed up in one short conversation:
NO HEADPHONE JACK!? THIS IS BULLSH*T.
Yeah, but you can still listen to music. They give you headphones for free.
BUT I WANT TO USE MY HEADPHONES.
Yeah, you can do that too. They give you a free adapter as well.
I DON’T LIKE THE SHAPE OF THIS NEW HOLE. I WANT THE OLD HOLE BACK. THIS IS BULLSH*T.
From this course of thinking, one outcry did manage to gain some traction: users could no longer listen to music while simultaneously charging their iPhones. This, the Internet cried, was unacceptable. I call bullsh*t.
Both complaints suffer from the same problem in that they represent a strikingly small minority of users and user behavior—mainly power users and audiophiles. But for the average person, merit for this complaint is unfounded, as the protest is a loss of convenience that most never really used in the first place. The insult of the compliant is also twofold in its implied suggestion that Apple had not done its homework by researching the habits of iPhone consumers. When observing the habits of users listening to music on a smartphone, common sense easily dissolves the issue into a petty game of splitting hairs.
Think of the amount of times you were forced to listen to music on your iPhone while it was charging. You’ve likely had more regrettable one-night stands in your life than times you’ve been stuck headbanging to a smartphone plugged into the wall.
That’s because—as the name suggests—a mobile phone and its innate value is almost exclusively derived from its being wireless. Suggesting that the majority of users are listening to iPhones attached to charging outlets is not only disingenuous, it’s downright silly. Apple’s forceful removal of the headphone jack highlights the fact that the majority of users are listening to music on their mobile phones away from outlets, and that those users are charging their phones overnight. If one insists on listening to an audio source that’s plugged into an outlet, there are plenty of other, better, wired alternatives to a device specifically designed to be wireless. People put music on their phones BECAUSE they wish to take it with them. And, because of this proclivity, they engage in behavior that ensures their phone is charged BEFORE attempting to listen to music.
The other puzzling piece of all this is that despite the ubiquity of wireless headphone solutions, consumers still clung to the moral high ground of a phantom convenience that doesn’t really exist. You can still use wired headphones. You can still use your high-end headphone collection. You can even use wireless headphones. You rarely, if ever, listen to music while charging your iPhone. So what’s the problem?
Much of the reason for such unfounded backlash has to do with something I mentioned in the beginning of this article: people don’t understand very well what they need, or how they actually use technology. And the convenience of accomplishing any task is only as relevant as the tasks themselves. Simply put: a feature ceases to be all that convenient if you hardly ever use it.
But consumers have a way of desiring convenience and novelty that neither adds value to their experience, nor makes any sense with how they really use technology. We don’t need the processing power of a workstation to check Facebook updates and create Snapchat stories. The average person isn’t walking around editing 4k video projects on their smartphone. Perhaps more telling are the more practical limitations of such overzealous demands: most people participate in an eight-hour work day. Even if massive amounts of technology and RAM were suddenly crammed into their handsets, the amount of people that would never come close to using such power is extremely small. No one person is spending enough time on their phones to warrant that kind of “innovation”.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our minds are places of infinite possibilities. But reality is much more simple. Disappointment in the iPhone 7’s WOW POWER is an egregious overreach of entitlement and boredom. Knocking a phone for not having every convenience possible—regardless of whether or not it applies to your user experience is ridiculous; That’s like being outraged that your new car is also not a boat. In fact, cars and smartphones are similar in that innovations are limited to their overall purpose of use. Despite some luxury interior designs, cars operate in much the same way they always have because their designated purpose is to get us from point A to point B; similarly, smartphone innovation is limited by the practical ways in which we use them. While we may crave wow-factors that keep us interested in our smartphones, most people are happy with just being able to check Instagram, send text messages, and update their Facebook status. Being upset that one of the most advanced smartphones in the world is not more than you need is not a legitimate criticism—its a reflection of entitlement and ignorance.