Shipping Lightning Headphones with the iPhone Would Confirm Apple Skeptics’ Worst Assumptions

We are just 3 days away from seeing the iPhone 7, and the smart thinking is that this new iPhone will indeed remove the headphone jack. There’s a lot os smoke at this point, and I’d be shocked if we do see that round port on the new iPhone. I’m totally on board with this move. I think that wired headphones are something that need to die sooner or later, and having personally switched to Bluetooth earbuds last year, I can’t see going back.

That said, I am very concerned with how Apple is actually going to handle the transition away from the headphone jack, and the rumors are seem to indicate they’re setting themselves up for failure. It’s not a guaranteed failure, but they’re sure setting themselves up behind the 8 ball.

The issue I take with Apple’s apparent approach is that they are probably going to ship Lightning headphones in the box with the new iPhone 7. While I will fully stand by my position that the headphone jack needs to go, I think it only makes sense to remove it if the next step in headphones is wireless. Wireless is always better, and there has not been a single technology that we’ve taken wireless and then gone back and said, “you know, I think we prefer wires.”

But while Apple may be thinking that Bluetooth (or wireless of some other sort) is the future of headphones, shipping Lightning headphones in the box with the phone all but nullifies that position. Defaults matter, as many Apple fans will tell you, and what Apple ships in the box is what 90% of iPhone users will use as their headphones. They can say “wireless is the future” on stage all they want, but if they don’t ship wireless earbuds in the box, only a small number of users will actually use them that way.

People like me will try to explain to people that it’s not financially feasible to include high quality Bluetooth earbuds in the box, and Apple wants you to get Bluetooth headphones, but that’s the message we’ll impart as fans of Apple who understand what they’e trying to do.

There is a whole other part of the population, and it’s a big part, that thinks Apple is always out to get us. They think that Apple uses software updates to make your devices slower and forces you to upgrade to a new model. They think Apple gouges us on upgrades and accessories. And most of all, they think that Apple wants us to use things that only work with Apple’s hardware and software. As fans of Apple’s stuff, we have defenses for all of this, but if Apple ships Lightning headphones with the new iPhones, I don’t have a great retort.

Lightning headphones would be the most brazen example of Apple purposely taking something that used to be universal and turning it into something that is completely proprietary. You can’t use these Lightning headphones with another brand phone because it’s a proprietary connection. You also can’t bring your current headphones to the iPhone because they took away the headphone jack. The only option you will have is to go Bluetooth if you want headphones that work with everything.

And before you come back at me with:

Then do that, get Bluetooth headphones and be done with it. You said that’s the future anyway, so what are you complaining about?

This has nothing to do with what Apple’s intentions are for the next stage of headphone technology, it has everything to do with the story that Apple is telling. No matter what they say on stage, by shipping Lightning headphones in the box, they are saying the default Apple-approved way to listen to music on your iPhone is with these proprietary headphones that don’t work with anything else. They can weave whatever story they want on stage, and us bloggers can try to explain the intricacies of their strategy, but by making Lightning headphones the default, they will be making wireless headphones an enthusiast’s alternative.

Obviously this is still speculation as Apple has not said a word on the issue, but if things are going the way the rumors indicate, I think Apple is setting themselves up for some hard press in the coming weeks. They need to tell a great story and convince people that removing the headphone jack is a feature, and not a form of lock in. I’m sure that’s what they’ll say on stage, but they could make this so much easier on themselves if they went all in on wireless out of the box. As always, I’ll be watching Wednesday’s event with immense curiosity.