There are two thoughts that likely sprang to mind, in rapid succession, the first time you heard Apple might be ditching the headphone jack in the new iPhone: “Apple would never do that.” This was followed by, “Wait … of course Apple would do that.” It’s totally believable that the company that killed off floppy disks, DVD drives, and the iPod/OG iPhone connector would seek to destroy another beloved port (nostalgia comes at you fast). And yet … the audacity. Though we’ve suspected this was coming since last year, the internet still let out a collective groan when Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller announced that the 3.5mm audio port was no more. Instead, headphones and other audio devices will connect via the Lightning port on the bottom of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Our long national nightmare is just beginning (or rather, yours — I use an Android phone, suckers).
I could list a dozen reasons why the elimination of the headphone jack sucks: Old headphones are rendered incompatible with the iPhone 7 without a dongle; you’ve just been forced to think about the word “dongle”; Bluetooth headphones are not as reliable as wired ones; “when I get the Lightning-to-mini-phono-audio-adapter” sounds way cornier than “when I get the aux cord”; charging the iPhone while using a wired headset or audio system is now impossible out of the box; your buddy you mocked for buying overpriced wireless Beats headphones actually made a sound investment in the future.
Apple, of course, doesn’t care how much this change might frustrate you. In the unveiling video for the iPhone 7, as the camera panned Skinemax-style around the device’s curves, Jony Ive threw out a grab bag of phrases meant to assuage any anxiety. “Our obsession remains to continuously simplify and improve.” “Each refinement serves to bring absolute unity and efficiency to the design.” “Shut the fuck up and let me cook in the most minimalist way humanly possible.” (He didn’t actually say that last one, but he may as well have.) Either you’re an enlightened evangelist of beautiful design or you’re a Luddite. There’s no in-between.
Schiller trotted out some more practical reasons for eliminating the feature. The headphone jack, which has been in use in some form since at least 1878, is an oddly anachronistic piece of hardware inside the most futuristic of devices. “Smartphones are packed with technologies, and we all want more,” Schiller said at the unveiling. Fancier cameras, improved batteries, and high-def displays are “all fighting for space within that same enclosure.” Dumping the 3.5-mm port provides more space for other features (speculation that the loss of the headphone jack would make the iPhone even slimmer were wrong; the 7 is the same size as the 6s, though it is slightly lighter). The phone unveiling was the sound of Apple wincingly ripping off a technological Band-Aid that it thought had been allowed to stick around for far too long.
Apple is softening the blow of the jack removal by including a small adapter with each new iPhone that will connect traditional audio equipment to the Lightning port. Usually, Apple takes these radical changes as bonus opportunities to gouge customers on expensive accessories. But with iPhone sales in decline for the first time this year, the company can’t assume customers will bend to its will quite so easily.
Though the iPhone 7 comes packed with wired Lightning-port headphones, Apple’s ultimate goal is to get us accustomed to using wireless ones. In an apparent bid to make us excited about the wireless future, the company unveiled AirPods, a set of tiny wireless headphones that Apple promises will be easier to pair with a device than regular Bluetooth headphones. AirPods come packed with impressive-sounding features, such as the ability to automatically start playing sound when placed in a user’s ears. But they will also require regular charging, work exclusively with Apple devices, and cost a whopping $160 — the price tag was literally the last thing Schiller revealed before he scurried offstage. Don’t expect them to become as ubiquitous as those white iPod cords anytime soon.
By including an adapter with the iPhone 7 — and bracing users with months of leaked warnings — Apple may avoid having the removal of the headphone jack earn a dreaded “-gate” suffix come launch day. In fact, there are already other smartphones on the market that have dumped the 3.5-mm port. But if the goal of the new iPhone, as Jony Ive cooed, is “to define one truly interrupted form,” forcing us to have a dangling dongle stuck to our super-slick devices half the time ultimately undermines that goal. At Apple, the future can never come soon enough. Apparently it’s up to us lowly consumers to play catch-up.