What You Don’t Know About the Headphone Jack

“We’re just at the beginning of a truly wireless future we’ve been working towards for many years, where technology enables the seamless and automatic connection between you and your devices.” — Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Design, Apple

We’ve arrived at a pivotal moment in the history of technology. By removing the headphone jack and releasing AirPods, Apple is building a future beyond smartphones.

The recently announced “geeky” headphones have inspired countless memes and viral videos that make light of Apple’s latest bet on the future of technology.

Many people perceive wired headphones as “good enough.” As Will Oremus rightly observes, “AirPods aren’t just headphones, any more than the first iPhone was just a phone.” The soon-to-be magical advancements of the AirPods are far beyond what any layman can realistically imagine. Audio communication is the future of computing. In turn, AirPods are more than wireless headphones; they’ll enable us to seamlessly accomplish a multitude of simple tasks without touching our smartphones.

I applaud Apple’s courage to pursue perfection in the face of loud criticism. In accordance with Steve Jobs’ ambitious visions of the future, Apple has always compromised short-term customer satisfaction in favor of delightful experiences where technology is more intuitive and even easier to use.

While Facebook and especially Google are overwhelmingly data driven, Apple management has a deep empathy for their customers. They genuinely strive to make the best and most personal products to enrich their user’s lives. Apple products feel different in your hand — they’re elegant, harmoniously designed, simple, and extraordinary.

In turn, Apple pushes the limits when others are too afraid to. In spite of mass criticism, they removed floppy discs on the 1998 iMac, the optical drive on the MacBook Air in 2008 and now the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 in 2016. If Apple had not paved the way, we’d still be dependent on archaic technologies that hinder human progress.

The AirPod launch shouldn’t be analyzed on a one-year time horizon. I understand the frustration of buying new headphones because of the removal of a ubiquitous headphone jack, but before your outrage ignites, step away and assess the change from a 5-year time scale.

Let’s jump forward half a decade to 2021. By then, we’ll live in a wireless future where numerous countries have replaced human drivers with self-driving cars. We’ll be watching hours of video content every day on our virtual reality headsets and drop our cable subscriptions in favor of Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, HBO and other companies that haven’t gone mainstream yet.

We’re moving to a world where the distinctions between the digital world and the analog world disappear. In fact, the infant trend is already underway — look at how the digital world permeates our real lives with Uber and Airbnb.

With the removal of the headphone jack, Apple is pushing industry standards forward. While the immediate advantages are clear — the iPhone 7 will be waterproof with better battery life and louder speakers — the long term implications are more profound.

Apple is building a world where we use our voices more, and phones less. To use technological verbiage, they’re laying the essential groundwork for Iron-Man style augmented reality, a technology that imposes computer images on a person’s perspective of the real view.

As James Downey wisely observes, Apple is spreading the changes out over a couple of releases towards the end goal of a wireless future. By spreading them out, the changes aren’t as shocking to the average consumer.

Someday, we’ll laugh at headphones that used to tether us to our phones. We’ll say, “Can you believe how dumb they were? They could only mute a song, control the volume and pause the music.”

Soon, you’ll be able to instantly search all the world’s information by effortlessly tapping on your headphones while Siri morphs into a powerful, always-on virtual assistant. We’ll interact with the world around us more naturally with our voices instead of depending on smartphones that absorb our gaze.

Changes to the iPhone are on the horizon for to upcoming iPhones too. Rumors indicate that the next iPhone will be all glass. Apple will remove the home button in favor of a larger screen, improved design, and a better user experience, all of which wouldn’t be possible with the 100-year old headphone jack.

Removing the headphone jack reflects both short term and long term product strategies that none of us will understand until we can analyze it in retrospect.

Wireless headphones and the complimentary AirPods represent the logical next steps towards a more convenient and intuitive future. Someday, we’ll judge this moment as both a catalyst and a meaningful step on the lengthy road to a post-smartphone world.

Let’s chat! I tweet (obsessively) at @david_perell 😎