Apple’s iPhone launch event yesterday was so full of good news that the company apparently couldn’t find the time to disclose a couple of less happy developments in its product range. First, the three-year-old iPhone 6S and two-year-old iPhone SE models are being discontinued, which is significant because they were the last remaining iPhones with headphone jacks that Apple was selling. Second, the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter that Apple used to ship in the box with its iPhones is now gone.
If you’re buying an iPhone XS, XR, 8, or 7, from today onward, you will no longer have a direct way to connect your wired headphones to your shiny new device. The dongle that previously came free in the box is now only available as an additional $9 purchase. That means you can spend as much as $1,449 (on an iPhone XS Max with 512GB of storage) and thenstillneed to hand Apple more money to keep compatibility with your existing headphones. And this is just one of an increasing number of upsells that risk upsetting the goodwill of the company’s most loyal customers.
Apple is betting on the majority of new iPhone buyers shrugging off the dongle’s omission and either using the provided Lightning-connected EarPods or some wireless alternative. If this situation nudges you into buying a pair of AirPods, the company will no doubt be happy to oblige. In the two years since Apple removed the headphone jack from its flagship iPhones, most of its users have adapted in some fashion and carried on with their lives. Now, Apple is making that adaptation harder by literally depriving us of the adapter.
Apple’s spec sheet:
– Fast charging (if you buy an extra accessory)
– Wireless charging (if you buy an extra accessory)
– Headphone compatibility (if you buy an extra accessory)
— Vlad Savov (@vladsavov) September 13, 2018
But the environmentally conscious reasoning only stretches so far. Apple’s so gung-ho about the convenience of wireless audio that it conveniently overlooks the drastic difference in lifespan between wired analog headphones and wireless digital ones. There used to be a time when you could buy a good pair of Sennheiser cans and go a full decade before wearing them out and needing to replace them. The wireless alternatives today — most of them fit with batteries the user can’t service — will hit their age of replacement much sooner. Built-in obsolescence is an old accusation to level at the tech industry, but it’s hard to see how Apple and today’s wireless headphone makers can avoid the charge.
More than anything, I find it ugly and distasteful that Apple, the company that the stock market values at over a trillion dollars, is being so greedy in the treatment of its customers. Rival companies selling Android phones will provide users with fast chargers and, in occasional promotions, they’ll even throw in wireless chargers. If their phones lack a headphone jack, their box will have the decency to include an adapter. Google throws in free photo and video storage with every Pixel, whereas Apple’s free iCloud allowance of 5GB feels miserly by modern standards.
Apple has always thrived on its ability to surprise and delight its customers. Its products have never been cheap, but they’ve usually delivered value for the money. But in 2018, as the company endeavors to squeeze every last bit of revenue from every user, the headphone dongle’s absence is more than a mere annoyance. It’s a signal of Apple’s willingness to put profit first, at the cost of the customer experience.