Historically, Apple products have led the way in retiring widely adopted, yet increasingly obsolescent, technology. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, the computer did not come equipped with a 3.5” floppy disk drive. At the time, Apple argued (correctly) that the utility of the floppy disk had effectively been replaced by CD-ROM due to expanding file sizes. The move was met with skepticism, as written by Walt Mossberg for the Wall Street Journal (click here for the full article).
THAT ONE GLARING design mistake in the iMac is that Apple decided to build it without a floppy-disk drive — indeed without any removable storage medium at all. That makes it very hard to transfer files between the iMac and any other computer.
Apple argues that the floppy disk is a dying product, too small at 1.44 megabytes to hold many of today’s bulky data files. The company says it expects most iMac buyers to add higher-capacity drives, such as Iomega’s 100MB Zip drive, or to transfer files via e-mail. But I strongly disagree. Many families today still rely on plain old floppies to back up or share small word-processing and graphics files with co-workers or schoolmates.
As we now know Apple was correct, and consumers let go of a legacy technology which they were using less and less. That gentle nudge to let go of legacy technologies has become part of Apple’s ethos, evidenced through the elimination of the CD-ROM drive, the wired ethernet port, and even their own 30 pin connector.
In the lead up to the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus launch, one of the most controversial design rumors was the removal of the 3.5MM headphone port.
While Apple has traditionally led the way in ushering users from legacy technology, this felt different. While I love the wireless Bluetooth headphones I use from Plantronics, I still regularly used 3.5MM headphones when the headset battery runs low, when I exercise*, Ito listen to music in my wife’s car, and for a whole host of other reasons. When reading the comments section on most blog posts, it seems I was hardly alone in his
During the product unveiling, Phil Schiller described Apple’s decision to eliminate the headphone port from the iPhone 7.
“Now, some people have asked why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone, the reason to move on really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”
After making this questionable statement, Apple then announced wireless headphones for sale. For those who still prefer wired headphones, a pair of Apple branded “EarPods” with a lightning plug are included with every iPhone. To aid users in this transition, Apple also generously includes a Lightning to 3.5MM headphone adapter with every iPhone. While a welcome addition to mitigate this impact, this does however mean users cannot plug in headphones while charging their iPhones.
Approximately one month after releasing the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled updates to the MacBook Pro. In addition to adding a new butterfly keyboard, giant touchpad and the all new Touchbar, Apple’s courageously removed all USB, MagSafe, HDMI, and SD card ports from the new MacBook. In their place are either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports. While there are tremendous benefits to these new ports, Apple’s decision means users must carry a bag full of dongles to connect to use external displays, USB-A devices such as a presentation remote, or even to charge devices such as your iPhone.
A Gentle Nudge or a Hard Shove?
In the past, Apple targeted legacy technology because it had reached the end usefulness. In the late 90s, the 3.5” floppy disk was becoming less and less useful. File sizes continued to grow, and CD-ROMs enabled users to more efficiently store and move these larger files. Apple’s decision to nudge users to give up this legacy technology reflected that reality, and paired it with benefits such as additional functionality in its place.
Apple’s latest decision to remove ports from their mobile and computer products resembles less of a nudge and more of a shove. While the iPhone and iPad continues to leverage Apple’s proprietary, and ubiquitous Lightning port for charging and data transfer, the MacBook uses an entirely different standard.
This means I cannot plug my iPhone into my MacBook to charge on the go. I can plug my Lightning “EarPods” into my iPhone, but they are not compatible with my new MacBook Pro**. The average usage of the USB-A port was not waning, and devices such as a presentation remote control do not gain benefits from this new standard.
The entire courageous migration feels forced and premature. The benefits gained with the forced conversion Thunderbolt 3 on my MacBook Pro is debatable. Audio delivered via the analog 3.5MM headphone port or the digital Lightning port on my iPhone is nearly identical***. The lack of cohesion between Apple’s mobile and computer products is haphazard and shows a lack of true strategy for the future of peripherals.
The industry will most likely follow Apple, but that doesn’t make this right. As a longtime Apple user, I respected the company for refusing to be burdened by the legacy of technology—however these changes took popular and well used standards and seemingly replaced them for little to no benefit to anyone other than Apple’s bottom line.
Have a new MacBook, and a bag full of dongles to go with it? Share your experience in the comment section below.
*Watch for my MacBook Pro review to be posted on the Utility Belt shortly.
** I can, however, use my good ‘ol 3.5MM headphones with my MacBook Pro since the port is still included with the laptop. #Courage
***At best, the audio is no different between the ports, however the Boy Genius Report blog has reported that in some testing, the lightning port under-performed it’s analog counterpart. (Click Here for the story)