Apple ditches headphone jacks! Is that progress?

Yesterday, Apple revealed that its newest iPhone (model 7) will not include a headphone jack.  Executives gave a number of reasons for the move.  Phil Schiller, senior vice president for marketing at Apple, said that the jack took up a lot of space in a device that Apple is determined to shrink.

It may well also be the case that using digital earphones through the remaining Lightning port in place of the established jack will provide greater fidelity when listening to music.

Kaveh Waddell at The Atlantic clearly identifies some of the non-technical reasons given.  Schiller took pains to describe the now-missing headphone jack as an analog technology, one that had its roots in telephone switchboards of over a century ago.  The time has come, apparently, to do away with such ancient technology—this is the digital era, after all!

In an interview, Schiller described the move as "inevitable".

Moreover, he described this change as "courageous" on Apple's part.  

Well, the reason to move on … really comes down to one word: courage. Courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.

As Waddell notes, this characterization seems pretty sappy (or even fatuous).  However, it is true that there has been a fairly negative reaction to the anticipated change.  So, the phone's developers have had to proceed in the face of some sharp criticism.

Several interesting themes emerge with this news.  One theme concerns obsolescence. Are analog headphone jacks simply out-of-date, relics of the analog age of telephony?  Is the new iPhone better than previous models, in some essential way, because the jacks are gone?

Apple has a decent track record when getting rid of stuff.  They eliminated floppy drives and then DVD drives from their Macs.  Also, they ditched their own 30-pin dock connector on the iPod/iPhone, apparently to good effect.

Or, is this change in design more of a business or marketing move?  Perhaps Apple wants to stimulate the market for its wireless, digital earbuds, especially as iPhone sales are not as hectic as they once were.  

Then again, Apple may just want to paint its gear as the gear of the future and that claim is best made obvious by jettisoning elements that it can characterize as belonging to the past.  On this view, the analog headphone jack is not so much technically obsolete as it is out of fashion.  As Scott has pointed out, technology vendors may characterize things as obsolete not because they have seen the future but because they are trying to constrain it.

So, is the elimination of headphone jacks from the iPhone simply a sign of technical progress?  Or, does it have more to do with Apple's noted marketing mojo?

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