Revisiting Apple's headphone jack removal and planned obsolescence


Implications of a rapid rise in technology is an uncompromising part of human progress. Many of us largely depend on technology to impart momentum to our daily schedule. Such a lifestyle have made upgrading our hardware and software a very cardinal step to get the ends to meet. This solely has helped technology companies dominate the modern human world. Quality technology is not anymore a luxury but a necessity for the common. However, many times some technologies will have to be turned around and terminated. Typical examples would be Floppy disk drives and CD drives. Such technologies have been terminated or are on the verge of doing so because of the rapid rise of alternative and better technologies that meets the growing human demands. The most recent such move is the removal of headphone jack two years ago by technology leader, Apple. However, what motive Apple had at hand when doing so remains ambiguous.

According to Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief,
"It really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on to do something new that betters all of us."
Courage is a very good characteristic for a technology company. Have some people never been courageous, they would never have existed today. Let's look a little deeper into this iceberg.

Three things have happened when Apple removed the headphone jack from their phones

  • Apple has managed to set a trend in the industry. Following Apple's footsteps, many phone models including the Google Pixel have removed the 3.5 mm jack. Even Samsung now rumored to remove them from the Galaxy s10 flagship launching in 2019.
  • Apple has managed to convince users and other industry leaders that wireless technology is the future even though it remains imperfect in its current shape.
  • Apple has managed to push the lightning port as the primary port in its devices.

After 2 years,

  • The trend has helped remove the 3.5 mm jack from almost all the major phone models at least in the flagship section.
  • Earphone making companies are now forced to choose between other ports among which Apple's lightning port is the only way to get their earphones connected to Apple's devices.
  • The move has resulted in skyrocketing sales for Bluetooth earphones in the market. Some reports have claimed 300% increase in sales for Apple's Beats, which is also the biggest wireless earphone company in existence.
  • Apple reportedly charges a fee per device if another company choose to manufacture their earphones using Apple's lightning port.
In a 2011 report, the NPD group have claimed that Beat headphones sale where over 64% of 100+ USD market and evaluated the company at 1 billion USD. When the company was acquired by Apple in August 2014, the company had tripled its net worth to greater than 3 billion USD. It was also the largest wireless earphone seller when Apple acquired it. Strangely enough, no growth story regarding Beats under Apple is in the public domain. Since the removal of the headphone jack, Bluetooth earphones sales skyrocketed by 300% just for Apple's beats. The number regarding the sale of Apple's AirPods are yet to be clear.

Prima facie, It all seems to be just profitable for Apple but there is something that Apple has to achieve that goes beyond just the profit, and that is Apple's never-ending love for control. Once you buy into Apple's ecosystem, you ought to remain there confined for maximum profit. Using third-party technologies, in this case, the 3.5mm jack has allowed iPhone users to go beyond Apple's sphere whenever they feel listening to the music. This doesn't go down well for a company whose business extremely depends on an ecosystem-based model. Besides Steve Jobs have popularly said:

"I've always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do."

This is because Steve Jobs knew what kind of model a technology company will be profitable at. Dominance and control are important and all of Apple's marketing was focused on the same. A loyal customer base is the Apple's strongest foundation. This is because Apple's advertisements were all targeted at creating a nationalistic alike sentiment towards the company. This not only helps Apple make it's users be inside the Apple's sphere, whether it is the iPhone, iMac or the iPad, this also helps Apple create an army of users that are willing to support the company at any instance. Even when the 3.5mm jack removal was publicly criticized, a lot of Apple fans came to defend the decision. They have developed nationalistic alike sentiments for the company.

Apple is a control freak, they don't allow external storage calling it a security risk. That would be believable if Apple doesn't have iCloud services. Since iCloud have been posted as an alternative of their device's limited internal storage, the security of iCloud is not so appreciatable, which is a little ironic because they don't allow external storage claiming it a security risk.

Removal of headphone jack syncs with the tunes of Apple's policies of control over its users. Maybe you can avoid Apple by buying a Bluetooth headset from a different company, but you are very unlikely to do that. Wired earphone still remains very preferable for wide users. Since the only way to plug an earphone in the iPhone 7 or above is through the lightning port and you are still under Apple's sphere. Because you will either buy a wired earphone from Apple or you will buy it from another company which is still giving Apple a share because companies have to pay per device if they wish to manufacture earphones with the lightning port connector. Now if you wish to buy a wireless device, you are likely to be forced to buy the AirPods or something from Beats because they dominate the market. Free will is limited by availability.

This is directly reflected in Apple's growth charts. Apple's business model has a repeating pattern. You first use someone's idea with a firm improvement. Then you make your users addictive to the specific service the technology offers. Then you develop a more refined alternative technology for the same service and kill the parent from your device. This forces users to switch to your technology and be depended on it. Less manufacturing cost, less licensing issues, more control, and more money.

Everything from the first touchscreen technology to the removal headphone jack has followed this pattern. However, to achieve this, people have to be frequently updated to their latest device, hence bringing in planned obsolescence.

If you have never heard the term planned obsolescence, do not worry. It is the process of designing something with an artificially limited life. Smartphone already has a driver to reduce their lifespan, which is their battery. The battery doesn't last forever. But way before your battery dies, most of us have a tendency to change phone because it gets slow. A smartphone slowing down might have a lot of reason but you can see Apple phones slowing down because Apple is deliberately doing it. It is a proven fact that Apple slows down older iPhones without giving the customer any clue about it. Once it got exposed, Apple claimed that it is to improve the battery life of older iPhones. Totally believable statement from Apple, why don't Apple just let their users decide and opt-in if they want such an update?

What makes the battery saving feature even fishier is the introduction of the feature right on the iPhone 6, 6S and SE. Right before they removed the headphone jack. It is easy to judge that the primary motive for the slowdown of older iPhones is to make users think that it's about time they update their device. If any opt-in dialogue was provided, this tactic would never have worked. Apple was quite successful in doing so as well. Apple does not want people to be using their older phones with a headphone jack, right? Planned obsolescence has helped many users upgrade their phones to latest devices, quite unwillingly and unknowingly.

This is Apple, in one go, control is their main source of income.