Engadget posted a piece this week that has been bothering me. Titled The iPhone 7 is the walled-off computer Apple has always wanted, this article makes several assumptions to support its premise that removing the headphone jack has moved the iPhone 7 closer to being a fully locked down, controlled experience. In reality, outside of most wired headphones needing an adapter, little has changed.
The first assumption is that physical IO (Input / Output) is even all that important on iOS these days. It has been years since any kind of physical connection to a computer was required for iPhones to function. I would guess that a majority of iPhone sold today go through life without ever connecting to a computer, with the exception of charging them. Users who are still syncing with iTunes on a regular basis are likely in the single digits percentage-wise. Everything has moved into software, and into cloud services. We completed this transition years ago, and the experience is better for it. I was selling iOS devices at Tekserve back when they were still tethered to physical IO. Customers hated it. iOS 5 was a game changer by eliminating this.
The second assumption is that because the headphone jack didn’t require a license to use, it allowed accessories to access the phone without Apple’s approval. Yes it is true that they could connect, but that is only half the battle. You needed software on the other end to make the accessory useful, and that software had to pass through app review.
Let’s take Square as an example since Engadget themselves use it. Square switched to a wireless accessory because of the shift to chip cards and mobile payments. So they either anticipated this problem or independently decided that wireless was the future for them as well. But even on devices with a headphone jack and their “classic” reader that uses it, they still had to submit an app to the store and have Apple approve it for sale. If Apple wanted to stop Square for whatever reason, they could have denied the app. The headphone jack would not have saved them.
Incidentally, it turns out having devices that physically connect to a computer be able to arbitrarily execute code is a really bad idea.
The idea that removing the headphone jack will cause innovation around the iPhone to slow is laughable. Yes, it is going to be an inconvenience for some users for a while. But I suspect the number of iPhone owners who either just use what is included or switch to Bluetooth will be fairly high, and the remainder will likely come to terms with the adapter.
But I am not even trying to defend the decision when related to headphones here. I think there is still at least a reasonable argument to be made there. But I can’t agree in any way with the idea that this is about further locking down the platform when the casualties are so minor that almost no users will even notice them (and those product casualties have multiple ways of working in this new era, most not involving the lightening port at all). iOS has always been a locked down platform, and that is part of why it is so popular with the masses. We who are tech savvy often forget that most people have only a very basic understanding of how computers work. Even the Mac, as simple as it tries to be, can be utterly confounding to a large percentage of people. There is a sense of security that people feel on their iPhones that they do not feel with their computers. This is due to Apple’s control, whether or not the user even realizes it. The new IO situation on the iPhone 7 does not change this status quo in any meaningful way.