Apple’s announcement yesterday of the latest raft of iPhone models also marked the death of the headphone jack on the company’s range of phones. The iPhone SE, Apple’s most affordable phone, was axed yesterday and is no longer on sale. The iPhone SE was the last iPhone to feature a conventional 3.5mm headphone jack. From now on, iPhone users will either have to buy a pair of earphones terminated in Apple’s Lightning connector or else they’ll need to switch to a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Apple’s reasoning for dropping the headphone jack revolves around making its phones waterproof. A conventional headphone jack is a weak point when it comes to the ingress of water, although other manufacturers have found ways around the problem. Could the decision to drop the headphone jack have more to do with Apple’s ownership of headphone brand Beats and the licensing of Apple’s MFi chip, which all headphones using a Lightning connector need to include, complete with a chunky royalty payable to Cupertino?
For those of us who enjoy our music and see our iPhones as much as a music player as a phone, the loss of the headphone jack is a real issue. While Apple stubbornly refuses to support the apt-X HD Bluetooth codec, it lags behind other brands when it comes to playing Hi-Res music wirelessly. The exclusion of a conventional headphone jack means that anyone who has invested in a really good pair of earphones, or In-Ear Monitors, can no longer use their earphones on any of the iPhone models that Apple now sells. Apple slightly grudgingly includes a small Lightning to 3.5mm jack adapter, but with a retail price of $10 or so, the quality of the adapter’s DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and amplifier can’t be called audiophile grade. Using a decent pair of earphones with a cheap adapter is like smearing Vaseline on the front of a really good camera lens.
While other phone manufacturers are beginning to offer audiophile phones with high-end DACs, amplifiers and Hi-Res Bluetooth codecs, Apple continues with its closed ecosystem while ramping up prices with each new round of product releases. And it’s not just phones that Apple is doing this with; the cost of Apple’s Mac line up has risen while the specification of data storage and RAM capacity is beginning to look inadequate when compared with other laptops on the market. Apple seems to be looking for more ways to squeeze more money from its customers while refusing to give them what they want. That’s fine for as long as there’s no other choice but the elasticity of the loyalty of Apple’s customers is not unlimited.
I began my technology-writing career with MacFormat magazine, way back in 1999. At the time, Apple was a dying company because it had ignored its customers and grown arrogant. It believed in giving its customers what it believed was good for them. The company came close to disappearing until Steve Jobs returned and saved the company with the launch of the iMac, followed by a whole slew of ground-breaking products like the iPod, iPad, MacBook, and the iPhone. The company averted bankruptcy and ended up becoming the largest corporation on the planet. Few people can deny that the changes in Apple’s fortune were down to Jobs knowing what the customer would like and would want.
Apple still makes superb products with a great ecosystem of software that’s so easy to use. However, there is a real danger that Apple is going to damage its business with its stratospheric pricing and stubborn insistence on artificially restricting or gouging customers when it comes to things like storage and a lack of inclusion of industry standards like apt-X. Those of us who are invested in Apple love the products but there comes a time when the prices and lack of flexibility mean we will look elsewhere for what we need. The old adage ‘the customer is always right’ still has relevance and Apple would do well to remember that.