Hi! No one cares about your headphone jack

September 21, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

You do not have any problems. You do not have a thing to worry about in your life, not really, especially not if you spent more than eight seconds this past month sighing out some snarky, pinched-mouth, head-shaking disapproval of Apple’s long rumored and world-shattering (except not really) decision to eliminate the antiquated, horrible-sounding mini headphone jack from the new iPhone 7, and replace it with, well, nothing at all.

Yes, the mini jack is gone. In its place, just Bluetooth. Or an adapter that lets you use your old headphones via the Lightning port. OMG what a hassle! What is Apple thinking? What greedy, profiteering monsters they must be! Except not really.

Did you know this is what Apple (and every other self-respecting modern company in the world who wants to survive more than a year) has done for decades? Obsoleted various technologies at their own option and daring, because it was time, their designers and engineers saw a better way, the old tech was too slow or too ungainly or too unnecessary and you gotta change or die?

The CD-ROM drive, the floppy drive, the beige PC, the 64-pin connector, flip-phones, Walkmans the size of your head, Microsoft, and many, many more – all made blessedly obsolete by Apple and, despite wails of resistance and how-dare-theys and the vacant threats of boycotts or people running back to old versions, no one misses any of them in the slightest. Not to mention the million or so functions Apple has eliminated/replaced over the years in the Mac OS itself, functions which everyone swore they could never live without but then suddenly did, because who cares.

Here’s a fun mind game: Do you know what the iPhone would look like today if average consumers like you or me had our say about what to change and what not to change, as the product evolved?

Change. Exceedingly minor. Don't freak out, K?

Change. Exceedingly minor. Don’t freak out, K?

That’s right: Nada. Empty space. The thing wouldn’t exist at all, because consumers are generally dumb and would never have imagined such a device in the first place, because everyone thought creaky flip-phones and miniscule gray LED screens and lumpish Blackberries were infallible hunks of genius when in fact they were clunky gallstones of prehistory.

Here’s another, even more terrifying mind game: Try to imagine a modern consumer world without Apple in it, one largely “designed” by Microsoft and HP, GE and Nokia and, I don’t know, Ford. Then smack yourself in the head with a brick, in unfettered gratitude for what Jobs hath wrought. Apple singlehandedly improved and beautified the functionality and design of the modern world, from staplers to sex toys, TVs to cars, home design to product packaging.

Do not misunderstand. Apple is far from perfect. Their famously easy-to-understand operating systems and quick-setup user interfaces are nearly long gone. iTunes, for one, is a nightmare hell-beast of inelegant, poorly designed bloat. The products are still uniformly gorgeous, but running them smoothly and linking them all together is increasingly insane.

But it’s not really Apple’s fault. Complexity of function and capability have increased exponentially, to ridiculous degrees. We are, after all, a whiny and demanding bunch. We expect our phones to circle the goddamn moon just to tell us what to have for dinner. And lo, they do. Things are a little confusing in the OS now? Oh, hush.

Steve Jobs famously hated focus groups. He believed, rightly, that you can’t really innovate by listening to clumps of unimaginative yokels tell you what they think they want. They will only want the same thing they already have, only faster and cheaper and hey, can you make one in blue?

To truly innovate, you hire genius designers and visionaries and trust raw instinct, throw out the old ways and take a major risk or ten, and see what happens. Doesn’t always work. In Apple’s case, it usually does.

So sure, there will be a blip of adjustment while people who like corded headphones lose their goddamn minds. There will be more jokes about Apple’s new AirBuds – two separate, rechargeable Bluetooth earphones packed with some rather amazing tech – about how easy they can get lost and how annoying it is to charge them and how much some people miss the simple elegance of jamming a tiny metal pin into a little hole, never mind how the tech is ancient and the cords always got tangled and the plugs shorted out all the time and the sound quality was terrible and everyone always claimed to hate excessive cords sticking out of everything.

Do not listen to these people. Do not be one of these people. You have to take 37 seconds to figure out how to use new Bluetooth headphones in your new iPhone? You have to keep track of yet another adapter? You must ponder potential brain damage from all the electromagnetics hammering your cortex all the time every single day forever? Whatever. Repeat: You have no real problems.

I remember the banshee-like screams of protest when Apple eliminated the CD/DVD (optical) drive from their Mac lineup sometime back in 1937 (or whatever it was). “Now how am I going to watch scratchy DVDs or burn in all my old Dave Matthews CDs?” millions of humans did not shriek, before being slapped by fate, smacked by capitalism, and gently mocked by time. “Oh right. This is not a real problem. Also, I have terrible taste in music. What’s on iTunes?”

Somewhere, Steve Jobs is smiling.

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Mark Morford

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