Nobody wants to be first (revisiting “courage”)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Google made fun of Apple for removing the headphone jack just 12 short months ago, and now their latest phone, the Pixel 2, does not have a headphone jack either. They explained the change like so:

“The primary reason [for dropping the jack] is establishing a mechanical design path for the future,” Google product chief Mario Queiroz told TechCrunch after the event. “We want the display to go closer and closer to the edge. Our team said, ‘if we’re going to make the shift, let’s make it sooner, rather than later.’ Last year may have been too early. Now there are more phones on the market.”

Listen, we all gave Apple shit last fall for using the word “courage” in their debut of the iPhone 7. It was a poor choice of words, but I have to admit that it did take some courage to be the first major player to remove the headphone jack. It’s easy to be the 6th person to do something. Hell, it’s easy to even be the second! But to be the first…to be the first company to do something that 100% will get push back and will get you mocked by your competitors, yeah that takes some courage.

As I wrote a year ago, Apple does this sort of thing all the time. In even recent history, Apple has removed the CD/DVD drive, Ethernet, 30 Pin dock connector, and USB type A all before others said the world was ready. We can debate all day whether the headphone jack, or any of these removals, was necessary, but you can not deny that they pushed the market in a specific direction, and the world is better for it.

I had to buy an external DVD drive for a weird thing I had to do this week, and it was a little annoying to have to pay $30 for this, but when I set it next to my MacBook Pro, the drive alone was thicker than my entire computer. Yeah, it was a minor pain to have to plug in an external drive, but the idea of needing laptops to be thick enough to hold a disk drive forever seems insane now. Similarly, WiFi ubiquity has made Ethernet something only needed by a small niche of people, USB-C is taking off in a big way over the pat 12 months, and no one would suggest the giant 30 pin connector is better than the Lightning power we have today.

So when Google says they felt they could remove the headphone jack because “there are more phones on the market” that really means Apple took the hit so they could do it this year and basically no one will complain.