Poor Phil Schiller. Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing clearly drew the short straw leading up to the iPhone 7 announcement Wednesday. After all, it was he, of the exclusive Apple executive boys club, that was slapped with the responsibility of telling Apple’s loyal user base that the company planned to remove the headphone jack — one of history’s most influential Jacks — from its latest iPhone.
Leading up to the announcement, the longtime rumor-turned-reality elicited lots of strong feelings. That’s because iPhone 7 users who wants to use the expensive audio accessories they have accrued over the years must now fumble with an adapter that comes with the phone. It’s a complaint of privilege, but nevertheless, an unwelcome inconvenience for those who would prefer tech companies stop turning old(er) products into new problems. Perhaps because the company’s stealthy public relations team sensed the impending anger of their customer base (which, lol, includes Alan Cumming), Schiller offered an explanation to as to why the company chose to take the dive into über-minimalism.
“Now, some people have asked why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone,” Schiller began. “It really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.”
Schiller said that there was still an option to use a lightning adapter for older headphones, that space within the iPhone’s body was “at a premium,” and, besides, Apple created some $160 wireless AirPods to save the day. But it was too late. The world was awash in the audacity of his initial statement. Apple — a $495 billion company that is notorious for allowing its Chinese iPhone manufacturer to mistreat and underpay its workers, a company that’s attempting to dodge $14.5 billion in taxes abroad — used a word often reserved for war heroes to talk about removing a hole from its product. The company framed its decision as one to improve the world — as if getting billions of dollars richer was just a side effect.
Apple’s utter lack of self-awareness in this scenario was astounding, but unsurprising. Even the writers of Silicon Valley — the HBO series that sharply critiques the tech industry’s pompous nature — have admitted their research brings them to witness moments so outlandish, that to write them into a scene would be too unbelievable. Angling a product announcement as an act of courage gets to the very core of Silicon Valley’s toxic, self-congratulatory nature. Even Steve Jobs, Apple’s consummate and perhaps most self-congratulatory salesman, sold the MacBook Air’s elimination of the CD drive without a faux narrative about a grander purpose.
Schiller’s “courage” bit speaks to the modern day mindset of wealthy tech leaders who describe company acquisitions as “journeys,” say personal vendettas against websites are matters of “privacy,” and get so swept up in their vision to be game changers that the product required to get there becomes secondary. In an era where technology is supposed to save us from ourselves, there must always be a higher moral explanation for even the most annoying product announcement. And even if Schiller was just a guy stuck with the job nobody wanted on Wednesday, his speech is proof that publicly traded companies loathe to admit their motivations are selfish.