iPhone Unplugged

It’s widely expected that the next iPhone will be announced tomorrow during the scheduled Apple Event. For months now, the rumour mill has been telling us that the most controversial change Apply is making to its flagship product is the removal of the headphone jack.

At this point, it seems like a certainty. The headphone jack in its current form has existed for decades, but Apple is notorious for advancing physical I/O past its status quo: witness the current MacBook with its single USB-C port, and recall the Lightning and 30-pin connectors on iOS devices, the adoption of Thunderbolt on current Macs, the even introduction of USB on the original iMac.

Every time Apple introduces a new port standard, or drops an old one, the ecosystem adapts. Because iPhones didn’t use micro-USB connections, pundits complained that it’d be nigh-impossible to charge and sync your phone if the included cable got lost or damaged. Fast forward only a few years after the introduction of the iPhone, and 30-pin cables can be found nearly anywhere that has even the most modest of electronics departments.

But the headphone port has always been around. There’s some expectation of Lightning-connected earbuds, which poses a charge-while-listening dilemma, and there will almost certainly be Lightning-to-3.5mm adapters—if not from Apple, then definitely from third parties. But adapters add bulk and are easily lost. Which leads to the next option: Bluetooth.

Wireless options have been available for a long time, but they’ve never really been particularly well-received: they’re expensive, the sound quality isn’t great, &cet. The real problem, as I see it, is that a wireless device is an active device by necessity. It has to power its own wireless radios, and in this case also power the audio drivers. That means batteries. That means battery life (hours of use per charge), and battery lifespan (number of charges per battery).

What all this means for iPhone 7 users is not forgetting to charge things, but also not charging things too often. It means not losing adapters. It means having to plan ahead to ensure you don’t need to charge your phone while listening to music. It means that there’s now an additional bit of cognitive load on you, which is never good.

This is my main problem with some of these changes. I want new technologies to relieve me of stuff to think about, not add more busywork and more administrative B.S. to keep on top of.

I know this is a barely a blip in the grand scheme of things—heck, it’s only a headphone port—but it nicely captures The Problem With Technology As I See It. Moving the state of the art forward should always be in the service of freeing us to do more important things. And I don’t think changes like this necessarily do so.