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Why Apple shouldn't put a headphone adapter in the iPhone 7 box

Michael Simon | Sept. 7, 2016
Cupertino's made its decision, and we'll find out on Wednesday. But we think including a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter dongle is a mistake.

Cord cutting

There are numerous reasons why Apple would want to eliminate the 3.5mm port from the iPhone, most of which have already been discussed. But if I had to guess at the primary motivation, it’s not about audio quality or repair frequency. The most logical reason for Apple to take away the headphone jack is most likely to continue the push toward wireless everything.

Where Apple once proudly embraced its dangling white earbud wires, these days coolness is measured by what isn’t attached to your phone. With the launch of the Apple Watch and the expansion of CarPlay, there is a clear push for freedom, not just from wires but from inconvenience. Aside from argumets about sound quality (which, to be fair, is a big deal when we’re talking about headphones), Bluetooth headphones offer a superior user experience, and the elimination of the 3.5mm jack presumably paves the way for mass adoption of Bluetooth, opening the door to more ubiquitous voice control and tighter integration with Apple Watch.

The inclusion of Lightning EarPods in the box doesn’t change this. While a free pair of pricey Bluetooth earbuds was a nice dream, few people really believed Apple was actually going to do that. The bundled earbuds were always going to be Lightning, but I’m willing to bet a wireless version will be heavily promoted, perhaps even as a BTO option.

Stuck in the past

But an adapter sends a different message entirely. Of course, Apple can’t expect every iPhone 7 buyer to plunk down an extra couple hundred bucks on a high-end pair of Bluetooth headphones, so a $29 adapter was always going to be part of the transition.

Including an adapter in the box is an admission that most people probably need one. In a nutshell, it says the iPhone 7 isn’t good enough.

But while selling an adapter says, “If you need this you can buy it, but we think you can get along without one,” including one in the box is an admission that most people probably need one. In a nutshell, it says the iPhone 7 isn’t good enough. Not only is it needlessly unsightly, it gives people a reason not to embrace Apple’s vision and creates fragmentation within the same model of iPhone. Removing the headphone jack should be about the future, about Siri and about bringing the Apple experience to another level, but a bundled adapter gives one foot in the past.

Eventually we’ll get there. Before long the removal of the 3.5mm jack will be something we barely talk about, as other manufacturers follow Apple’s lead and headphone manufacturers ramp up their Bluetooth offerings. We saw it with SCSI and USB, and it’ll be the same with 3.5mm headphones. It just might take a little longer this time around.

 

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