This is a response to my own piece that I wrote last week about how it’s good for Apple to kill old technology and move on to something better. After some further consideration, I am wondering how good a move it really is, since they wouldn’t be replacing the audio port with a new standard, but instead using their own proprietary port (Lighting) that will never be used by non-Apple devices.
Younger Apple fans my not realize that being an Apple supporter in in the 1990s and early 2000s was a lot different than it is today. Before the age of Intel processors, web apps, and USB, owning Apple computers meant that you had to typically use Apple-only hardware and software for everything. And it was hell.
When you walked into a computer store like Circuit City1, there was a specific section for Apple products. If my memory serves, it tended to be about 8 feet of shelf space with a sad spread of software and a few peripherals. And you couldn’t really venture into the rest of the store to see what PC things you could buy because none of them would work on your Mac at home. Likewise, if you bought a nice piece of hardware for your Mac, you probably wouldn’t be able to use that in the future if you decide to switch to a PC.
Essentially, we were buying into a platform that had no regards for the rest of the world, and it sucked. Owning a Mac meant you could do most things the rest of the world did on their computers, but you had to find a different way to do it2.
But the early to midd 2000s were a revelation to Mac owners in embracing the best things about the Mac while enabling us to co-exist with the rest of the world at the same time. 2004’s launch of Gmail and the rise of web apps made using software much more doable on Macs since all you needed was a browser. The 2006 release of the first Intel Macs meant that our computers got faster and enabled more software (especially games) to run on our hardware3.
It’s no small wonder that Apple started to skyrocket as a company right in line with when they started to make their platforms play a little nicer with the rest of the world. It was not longer so isolating to be a Mac owner, and it was fantastic.
Which brings us to today where there are very few things that my PC-toting friends can do on their Windows computers that I can’t on my Mac. There are a few pieces of software (mostly niche apps or hardcore games) that don’t work on OS X, but I can walk into a Best Buy or shop on Amazon and know that most peripherals I buy will work just fine whether I plug them into a Mac or PC. This is great for everyone, and makes owning Apple products much nicer now than it’s ever been.
If Apple decides to remove the 3.5mm audio port from the next iPhone, I worry it is going to be a big step in the opposite direction. We already have accessories that only work with iPhones and we’re generally okay with that. In fact, it’s largely considered one of the benefits of owning an iPhone. But moving into a world where we have Apple headphones and then everyone else’s headphones is a little crazy and makes me thing of the bad old days of walking into that small “Apple only” section of the store where I could buy things. Apple’s market is larger than ever, and that section would certainly be bigger, but I still don’t like it.
I don’t like the idea of “us” and “them” when it comes to technology. Apple needs to do things to get people to buy their products over their competitors. They also need to do things to try to make their customers less inclined to switch to another platform for their next purchase. Going down the hole of ensuring that even people’s headphones are locked to a certain platform is insane and does not look good for Apple. it makes them look like they are looking out for themselves only, and absolutely don’t have the best intentions for their customers.
The only way this is not an issue is if Bluetooth headphones become the normal way for people to listen to audio from their phones. Since Bluetooth is still universal, you can take your Bluetooth earbuds and use them on iPhones, Androids, PC, and Macs with no issue. As I said in my earlier piece, Bluetooth headphone are getting better and cheaper, but they’re definitely not at a place where everyone is going to use them. If Bluetooth does take off because of this, that’s a good thing, but that’s a big IF.
Tim Cook has had a fantastic run in his time as CEO, and we’ve seen Apple make some great products under his watch. I have supported basically all of their moves over the past 5 years, but if they do go through with this I think they might be drinking a little too much of the Cupertino Kool Aid. Thankfully we have about 8 months to think about this before Apple says a word on the issue, and I’m sure many of our opinions of this will shift over that time. As I said just a few days ago, this may end up being another example of Apple
dragging leading the industry forward into a 3.5mm-free world that’s better for everyone, the whole situation makes me flash back to those bad Apple years and worry we’re going down the same road.