The latest Apple keynote: RIP corded headphones?

MacBook, coffee mug, and cactus

Last updated on December 10th, 2021

On Wednesday, Apple gave its latest press conference, announcing various new products and developments. I’ll sum up most of the major points below, before getting to my thoughts on the biggest news.

Social media mishandling

Apple’s new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were leaked early online, before they were actually introduced in the keynote. Amazon leaked things first, but it got worse from there: Apple apparently scheduled and sent out tweets on the iPhone 7 a tad too early. Apple’s “fix” for this? It deleted its entire Twitter stream:

Apple's empty Twitter feed
Apple’s Twitter feed. (Screenshot by author)

For a company that prides itself on a strong marketing approach, this comes off as extremely clumsy. (Note it’s had the Twitter account for five years as of this month.)

Mario’s coming to mobile

Popular Nintendo video game character Mario is finally coming to mobile devices. Introduced at the keynote by Mario’s creator, the game “Super Mario Run” is what’s dubbed an “endless runner” game (i.e., the character’s always moving). It’s designed to keep some of the classic Super Mario game play aspects (collecting coins, etc.). “Run” is also is designed to be playable with one hand—useful for those of us that’re on overcrowded city buses stuck in traffic jams.

The game debuts on iOS sometime before the holidays, and is also planned to have an Android release at some point.

Pokemon Go’s coming to the Apple Watch

This year’s most popular video game, “Pokemon Go,” is coming to Apple Watch. The Watch will now support various WatchOS-themed stuff (notifications, some gameplay aspects, etc.) for the game. Other upgrades to the Watch (mostly incremental) were also announced.

32GB is the new Apple device minimum storage space

Apple’s finally ditched 16GB as the entry level capacity for its devices, save on the very low-end iPhone SE. 32GB is now the new minimum.

iPhone 7: RIP headphone jack?

The iPhone 7 was formally unveiled, spoilers aside. Among the new features include an improved home button, stereo speakers, and the aforementioned increased capacity.

But the biggest news of all is that Apple’s ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack. In its place, Apple will include a pair of corded headphones using the Lightning port. Apple’s also offering for sale a pair of its new “AirPods,” wireless earbuds using new proprietary tech meant to improve on the current wireless headphone experience. The wireless AirPods will go for a whopping $160.

Apple dropping the headphone jack has been the most discussed thing even in the months of rumors leading up to Wednesday’s keynote. Apple’s reason for ditching the headphone jack is supposedly in part to squeeze in its other flashy new tech, such as the improved home button.

The other reason, as given by speaker Phil Schiller? “Courage.” Yes, he actually used this word to describe dropping a 50-year-old, analog open port standard. (The 3.5mm port was first introduced in the mid-60s, and the Walkman cemented its presence in the late 70s.) This statement became roundly criticized online.

As for how I feel? On the positive sides:

  • I assumed we’d eventually see wireless headphones become a dominant standard.
  • Bluetooth is still being kept in the iPhone, so those headphones will still work.
  • Apple’s dropped popular existing standards before to promote newer ones. See the original iMac dropping the floppy drive… even if Apple didn’t include CD burners by default, or account for dial-up Internet speeds/limited online storage space in the late 90s.
  • Apple’s including a Lightning-based corded headphone adapter.

On more neutral or negative sides:

  • Seriously, “courage?” Courage was Apple standing up to the FBI earlier this year over phone encryption. As TechCrunch and others noted, this comes off more as being motivated by profit.
  • Moving from an open, common standard to a proprietary one doesn’t exactly feel like the above-mentioned iMac floppy switch.
  • Others have dropped the 3.5mm headphone jack on their products, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge demand for digital-only headphones… at least until now.
  • Cory Doctorow and others have raised concerns about digital rights management (DRM) being opened up by this move. The RIAA, Apple, and others now have an easy route to enforce some kind of DRM scheme for music services.
  • There’s an already existing wireless standard embedded in everything: Bluetooth. While it has its problems (though improvements to the standard continue to be made), Bluetooth is already included in all smartphones, computers, and other devices. Perusing Best Buy and Amazon listings, earbud and over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones start as low as $20-$30. Still more expensive than the $10 I spent on my corded JVC earbuds, but way more affordable than what Apple’s AirPods go for.
  • There’s now no way to listen to a corded headphone and charge the iPhone at the same time.
  • Headphones are now yet another thing to remember to charge, plus the hope your headphones last through an entire work day or cross-country plane flight. (Apple advertises a five-hour charge for the AirPods.)
  • While Apple’s new tech is supposed to make pairing their AirPods easier than Bluetooth headphones, it’s still more work compared to “plug in a corded headphone and…that’s it.”
  • Some audiophiles have claimed that Bluetooth/wireless headphones aren’t as good as corded headphones in sound quality, though I’m not sure the average person already using earbuds will be as picky.

Ultimately, I expect a big boom in future sales of Bluetooth headphones, as well as ramped-up production/sales of such. (Much less so Apple’s proprietary wireless headphone tech.) Whether Android phones will all follow suit and drop headphone jacks remains to be seen.

What do you think of the new Apple news?

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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