Apple has done it again: The company launched a key product sans a feature literally no one wanted to see removed. The amount of attention the iPhone 7’s missing headphone jack has received in the last 24 hours is crazy, but also fully warranted: Everyone wants to know why the company that makes such great products insists on making life harder for its users without a clear reason.
We’ve written at length about the lack of the 3.5mm analog audio connector on the iPhone 7, and I will not go into details now. I will, however, remind you that this is not the first time Apple has done something like this and try to figure out whether there’s a master plan behind the company’s fear of wires.
Remember the MacBook? The new, extremely thin one? It launched in 2015 with a single, USB Type-C port. It was, and still is, extremely inconvenient: What are you going to do if someone hands you a USB stick? Yes, it’s a thin device, and yes, it would be tough to include more ports in there, but hardly impossible. Surely Apple would reconsider this line of thinking.
Then next year, Apple launched an updated version and it still had only one port. The dongle hell continued.
Dongle hell or a wireless future?
In fact, Apple tried this even earlier, when it launched the first MacBook Air in 2008. That computer had only one USB port even more of a nuisance in that era. Users weren’t too happy about it, and Apple relented two years later when it launched an updated Air with two USB ports.
Apple’s short-term answer for the lack of more ports on the MacBook was that you could use a dongle, but the company also made it clear that going wireless is the future. But why? I, too, like to imagine all the gadgets in my house working in wonderful harmony without a single wire, but the reality is that, now, we still need wires, and we won’t fully get rid of them for quite some time.
All those wireless headphones? They still need to be charged, and guess what you need to connect them to something. The wires in the AirPods’ little case might be invisible, but they’re there you will have to place the buds in there every now and then or else they’ll die within hours (unlike the old, regular, wired buds, which go on forever).
If we could charge all our gadgets wirelessly and I mean truly wirelessly, not by placing them on a charging mat that would be another matter (and some folks are hard at work to make that a reality). I’d gladly welcome the wireless future. But right now, Apple’s iPhone 7 doesn’t even support Powermat-style wireless charging. So when Apple removes the headphone jack, that means you can’t charge the phone and listen to music through the headphones at the same time (sans a dongle). When I’m in my car, that’s a much-needed feature.
Apple is shoving a wireless future down our throat, and it’s not showing signs of being ready for it.
Apple is shoving a wireless future down our throat, and it’s not showing signs of being ready for it itself. But there must be a reason, right?
Now, I can imagine several reasons for that. Christina Warren argued that the next year’s iPhone might be such a radical redesign that the headphone jack will truly be a problem, so this year’s iPhone lost the headphone jack to soften the blow. This is one of the best arguments I’ve seen for the removal of the 3.5mm audio connector, but it doesn’t explain the MacBook’s single port.
So let’s go back to the word Apple’s senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller used to describe the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7: Courage. This was met with ridicule, but let’s imagine for a second that Apple actually has a plan.
So what’s Apple’s master plan?
Ever watched a movie that obviously has some good qualities, but one that you don’t quite understand? Your first reaction is likely mild annoyance, followed by anger at the filmmaker for screwing such a promising movie up. But then you stop and think: What if the director really knows what he’s doing? What if all the seemingly wrong choices are secretly weaving a pattern that will reveal itself at the end, forming a masterpiece?
It rarely happens. But perhaps Apple’s decision to force wireless upon its users truly is courage. What could the company be secretly working behind the scenes to warrant these seemingly bad decisions?
One conspiracy theory I’m seeing a lot is that Apple simply aims to earn money on dongles and wireless thingies, like the AirPods. There is some truth to it (Apple is a business, and selling you things is crucial to its continued existence), but I highly doubt that this is Apple’s endgame. If true, it’d mean that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel we might live in a fully wireless world one day, but it might be a long time coming; until then, we’ll just have to spend extra dollars on dongles and adapters.
So let’s go on to my favorite theory (which, I admit, is wild speculation), a much more optimistic one: Apple knows there soon will be (and might be working on) a breakthrough in wireless charging tech, battery tech, or both.
My favorite theory: Apple might be working on a breakthrough in wireless charging tech, battery tech, or both.
Maybe, the company has already secretly laid down plans for truly wireless versions of the MacBook, the iPhone, and all its other portable gadgets. Just leave them anywhere in the room, and they get charged all by themselves.
Alternatively, the battery tech advances so much that charging is much less of a chore. This is actually harder to imagine: Every electronics manufacturer has been working on improving battery technology in the last couple of decades, and we’re only seeing tiny advances, not huge breakthroughs.
In either case, there would indeed by much less need for wires and ports on your phones, tablets and laptops. If they get charged through the air, a single port will most often be enough for all your other needs, like plugging some sort of data storage device or, yeah, a pair of headphones.
What are the odds?
Are there any real-life indications that any of what I’ve prophesied above could be true? Yes.
Apple was granted several patents for wireless charging technology, in 2012 and 2013. That’s more than enough time for a technology to mature. And there have been numerous reports about Apple’s secret manufacturing plants; in this chip lab in San Jose, California, the company might be working on wireless technology. Finally, this Bloomberg report from January claimed that Apple is working on a wirelessly charged iPhone and we’re talking wireless charging over a distance to be launched “as soon as 2017.” Let’s be real, though: Apple files a lot of patents and does a lot of things; you could probably find rumors of the company building a rocket if you dug deep enough.
To prepare for such a change, Apple would need to slowly ease its customers into a new way of thinking: Do everything wirelessly. Need to transfer some files? Do it via AirDrop. Want to listen to music? Plug in those wireless AirPods. See the pattern there? Do everything through the air. Forget about the wires.
This type of thinking, if true, wouldn’t be too far off from how tech giants are reasoning today. Google has been working on self-driving cars for a long time now, and the future in which our cars drive themselves is still at least a few years away. Tesla, by Elon Musk’s own admission, built an expensive, luxury electric car first just to fund a cheaper car, which in turn funds an even cheaper car, with the ultimate goal being a car that drives itself and “makes money for you when you aren’t using it.”
Apple, of course, is far more secretive than that. You won’t see Tim Cook posting a “master plan” on his blog in the middle of the night. But the company’s strategy of slightly pissing off its customers must have an end game, and I certainly hope there’s some sort of technological breakthrough involved. Otherwise, it’s all just business.