Let's not muddle the water with “progress moves forward” dribble and simply ask, “Is the UX ready?”


DF: Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives

DF = Daring Fireball. This post is my response to John Gruber’s reply to Nilay Patel of the Verge regarding rumors that Apple is ditching the 3.5mm audio jack. Maybe this is the first time I agree with Nilay.

Nilay Patel, “Taking the Headphone Jack Off Phones Is User-Hostile and Stupid”:

But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!

DF: And let’s compare them to arguments against removing floppy drives from the iMac in 1998.

1. Digital audio means DRM audio

Restricting audio output to a purely digital connection means that music publishers and streaming companies can start to insist on digital copyright enforcement mechanisms. We moved our video systems to HDMI and got HDCP, remember? Copyright enforcement technology never stops piracy and always hurts the people who most rely on legal fair use, but you can bet the music industry is going to start cracking down on “unauthorized” playback and recording devices anyway.

DF: I’m not familiar with how people are taking advantage of the “analog loophole” to do things with audio out of the iPhone headphone port that would be forbidden using the digital Lighting port, but now seems like a good time to raise the big question: Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why. But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. Also, historically, Apple has proven to be very good at timing the removal of established legacy ports.

now seems like it might be the right time

What makes it seem like it might be a good time? Is there any data to support this feeling?


2. Wireless headphones and speakers are fine, not great

DF: Totally agree. But the rumor is that the new iPhone will ship with wired Lightning earbuds.

Ummm Lightening earbuds?

The same cable that will require users to choose between using earbuds or charging the phone (unless of course one can split that with another dongle that will be sold separately). The end of day experience, maybe a day at the beach, isn't going to be pretty.


3. Dongles are stupid, especially when they require other dongles

DF: External floppy drives sucked too.

Come on, external drives are not audio jacks.

Again, we're talking about a connector change that forces users to choose loud music over speaker or a poor phone conversations while charging their phone at the same time. Do we need to discuss the current wireless limitations to work around this?


4. Ditching a deeply established standard will disproportionately impact accessibility

The traditional headphone jack is a standard for a reason — it works. It works so well that an entire ecosystem of other kinds of devices has built up around it, and millions of people have access to compatible devices at every conceivable price point. The headphone jack might be less good on some metrics than Lightning or USB-C audio, but it is spectacularly better than anything else in the world at being accessible, enabling, open, and democratizing.

DF: Apple is the company that brought us the 30-pin and Lightning ports, and whose iPhones, iPods, and iPads have never had USB ports. “Enabling, open, and democratizing” have never been high on Apple’s list of priorities for external ports. They’re on the list, to be sure. Just not high on the list.

Apple brought us Live photos too.

Apple is capable of misreading needs too.


5. Making Android and iPhone headphones incompatible is so incredibly arrogant and stupid there’s not even explanatory text under this one

DF: Why would Apple care about headphone compatibility with Android? In 1998 people used floppy drives extensively for sneaker-netting files between Macs and PCs. That didn’t stop Apple from dropping it.

DF: The incompatibility that matters is with Apple’s own devices, particularly MacBooks. Presumably Apple’s Lightning earbuds will work on iPads, too. But it’s going to suck having to use different headphones (or a dongle) for the Mac than you use with your iOS devices.1 But again, this is no different than the transition from 30-pin to Lightning. You have to start somewhere. (Unless you believe Apple should stick with the analog headphone jack as we know it forever — but I told you people to stop reading way back at the top.)

Strawman

Forget Android, as DF accurately points out, compatibility issues will exist between iOS headphones and Macs. Who doesn't call this a UX faux pas? Headphones, after all, are a fundamental accessory for mobile and desktop users. Now Apple wants people to have two different headphones for both iOS and MacOS products or odd dongle contraptions? Why not start when the UX is ready? It clearly is not right now.


6. No one is asking for this

Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles.

I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.

DF: “No one” asked for the iMac to remove the floppy drive or switch from ADB ports to USB (at a time when PCs weren’t shipping with USB either, which meant few — I mean really few — existing USB peripherals on the market). There was a huge outcry when the iPhone 5 dumped the proprietary-but-ubiquitous 30-pin port for the proprietary-and-all-new Lightning port. MacBook Air fans are still complaining about the new MacBook’s solitary USB-C port.

This is how it goes.

Why? UX is measured with a higher bar than such a response implies. Complaints are what professional UX folks call user feedback. Good branding takes it into consideration.

DF: And as for battery life, surely removing the deep headphone socket can only leave more room for a larger battery.

It will need it since the other Verge article listing the pros of Lightning headphones says:

It also isn't free in terms of power consumption, and its impact on the iPhone's battery life isn't insignificant.

Surely, who knows if Apple is including a larger battery. I haven't seen tech specs yet.


Let's not muddle the water with “progress moves forward” dribble and simply ask, “Is the UX ready?”

NO!

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