October 3, 2016

Back in September 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 5. Along with the usual upgrades, the iPhone 5 introduced the new Lightning connector. It replaced the iPod 30-pin connector we were using for the previous nine years. People complained, and people groaned.

This move replaced one proprietary connector for another. At the time, many people saw it as unnecessary, but I think everyone today would understand and agree with its importance. Since it was 80% smaller, it allowed Apple’s phones to be thinner and more space-efficient on the inside.

Phil Schiller—while announcing the Lightning connector—also announced that partners like Bose, JBL, Bowers & Wilkins, and Bang & Olufsen would be incorporating the new Lightning connector in their speaker products by that holiday season. (And of course, a 30-pin adapter.)

Fast-forward to September 2016

Phil took the stage and once again announced the features of the new iPhone. During his presentation, he pointed out the removal of the headphone jack and mentioned that Apple is moving its EarPods to connect over Lightning.

Well, why over Lightning? Well first—you may not remember, I certainly do, but—from the start, we designed Lightning to be a great digital audio connector. Among all the other things it does, it provides a digital audio stream, it provides power to your headphones or speakers, it provides content music control right within its digital connection. And this may surprise you, but there are now—in the world—over 900 million Lightning-enabled devices. It is perhaps the largest digital audio connection in the world. And there are speakers and headphones designed to take advantage of that.

After this, Phil directs the audience to an image of some Lightning headphones from JBL. (And of course, an analog adapter.)

Naturally, the real reason—not “courage”—they removed the headphone jack is just the same as before: physical interior space. And that’s fine. I’ll buy into that!

But let’s go back to those JBL Lightning headphones. What a great example! At this moment, Phil pointed out to everyone that Lightning headphones were already on the market. How stupid we are! Of course!

But while Apple has introduced its own Lightning-enabled devices over the last four years—iPhone, iPad, iPod, Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, Magic Keyboard, Apple Pencil, docks, cables, and adapters—it has failed to sell even one pair of Apple-branded Lightning headphones.

For four years, for seven iPhone models, they never produced, sold, or included Lightning headphones.

Phil was so quick to point out in his headphone-jack-removal pitch that the Lightning connector was designed to do a variety of things including digital audio. But Apple themselves never took full advantage of that until now.

Had Apple—at the same time as iPhone 5—released Lightning-enabled headphones (and kept the headphone jack for the next four years), wouldn’t today’s removal of the headphone jack seem a million times more reasonable?

So why didn’t they do that?