That switch was met with a collective groan by consumers who had to replace all their old chargers and accessories—but, eventually, it was forgotten. The prevailing narrative is that Apple’s changes, while painful, are for the best. This 2012 article from Gizmodo, for example, uses the demise of the dock connector—then still a rumor—to justify Apple’s habit of canning old technologies, like the floppy drive and the CD drive:
As much as it seems like some greedy ploy by Apple to screw you over and force you into buying another set of expensive new toys, the truth is that any innovative, forward-looking company has to make these difficult breaks with the status quo.
This is technology.
That’s certainly how Apple would like you to conceive of its moves, too. Nearly an hour and a half into Apple’s product announcement on Wednesday, Schiller finally addressed the 3.5 millimeter-sized elephant in the room: the missing headphone jack. As peace offerings, he promised that every new iPhone would ship with a pair of headphones that can plug into the Lightning port, and an adapter so that your “analog, old” devices can still plug into the seven-hundred dollar piece of hardware you bought. (Schiller used the word “analog” as much as possible to describe a technology that, until that very moment, was pretty much the only game in town for audio connections.)
Then, it got real:
Some people have asked why would we remove the analog headphone jack in the iPhone. I mean, it’s been with us a really long time. I’m sure you know that the source of this mini-phono jack is over a hundred years old, used to help quickly exchange in switchboards. Well, the reason to move on … really comes down to one word: courage. Courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.
Apple’s keynotes are always a little over-the-top, but Schiller’s spiel was particularly sappy.To be fair, it does take a measure of confidence to drop yet another universal standard—a decision that The Verge’s Nilay Patel called “user-hostile and stupid” in a widely-shared piece earlier this year. And, in Apple’s defense, the hostility in the lead-up to the headphone announcement mirrored the public outrage that erupted when earlier Macs shipped without floppy disk or CD drives.
But it won’t be clear for another several years whether Apple’s bold move is the kick the electronics industry needed to dump an “old, analog” standard—or whether it’ll drag headphones into the all-consuming iOS-Android war, or open them up to the horrors of overzealous digital-rights management.
Humans like threading narratives through history to try to understand it. Companies like doing it, too, when it makes them look good. Apple probably doesn’t mind a story that paints it as a leader in its field, the one that decides which technologies can stay and which must go. Parts of that story—or even all of it—could be true. But it’s hard to imagine what would’ve happened if Apple didn’t make the product choices it did, when it did.