Vicki Boykis Data, tech, and sometimes Nutella



How the headphone jack-less iPhone came to be

drawing

It so happened that one morning the devil was stuck in an Uber Pool down 101 from the city to Menlo Park (he was late for a meeting with the Facebook content moderation team,) when the driver suddenly took a huge detour and stopped at a leafy driveway in Atherton.

Phil Schiller emerged, wearing a slightly rumpled shirt and holding two iPhones in each hand. Another stuck out haphazardly from his back pocket.

“Oh, excuse me,” Phil said, opening the door. “I thought I’d ordered an Uber Black?” He referenced first one phone, then another, frowning. He put both in his pocket then took them out again nervously. “Guess my secretary didn’t book the right one.”

The devil frowned, looking at his watch. He would be late, and they would start the discussion on elections content filtering without him. But, it was Phil. Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone this way.

“No worries, I always press the wrong button all the time, too. Damn UI changes. So hard to keep up with. Hop in, “ the devil smiled broadly and patted the heated leather next to him.

Schiller clambered into the Tesla, and sat down, wiping his forehead. “I’m Phil,” he said and frantically put three phones in his jacket pocket as he reached over to shake the devil’s hand.

“Jim,” said the devil, shaking firmly.

“What line of business are you in, “ said Phil, looking at the devil’s pressed chinos and Allbirds. “VC,” said the devil, and handed Phil a business card. “Join the club,” Phil said, smiling, and pocketing the card without a second look. “One of those boys up somewhere on Sand Hill?”

“You could say I’m more of an angel investor,” Jim said.

Phil nodded, and the car merged back into the early morning traffic. Cars were slowly grinding their way on to Mountain View. In every car was a frazzled commuter typing frantically into an email client on a phone, or applying makeup on the go, or trying to get their Spotify to stop buffering. One woman’s eyes were half-closed as she drank greedily from a cup of coffee, as if trying to summon the life force through the plastic sealable lid.

The devil basked in the warmth of the collective cloud of human misery around him. Life wasn’t as bad as it was during the Middle Ages, but, things were trending positively again in that direction. Several of his demons had made great breakthroughs with ideas like banner ads and 24-hour news channels, but people were still really not as on edge as they should be. Not on edge enough to start a world war, in any case. Which was a shame because the last one had such stellar returns.

The devil took a sip of his Blue Bottle cold brew. He had Phil right here. Was there a way he could bring a large swathe of people rich enough to afford iPhones to the breaking point? It wouldn’t hurt to plant the seed.

“Say,” the devil said, “You’re the infamous Phil Schiller from the Apple demos, aren’t you.”

Phil flashed a smile full of teeth. “That’s right, just don’t ask me for an invite to the next one, or to say ‘innovation, my ass’ “ he laughed.

“Don’t worry, I’m Android only,” the devil smiled and opened his blazer pocket to show his Pixel 3. “But I wanted to run something by you for a minute.”

“Well, sure,” Phil said, frantically typing on two of his phones and sliding a notification closed on the third with his elbow. “Phil, do you ever feel like your users have it too easy?”

Phil stopped and looked at the devil as if he had grown horns. “What do you mean? Apple’s whole goal is to make phone usage easy for everyone.”

“But Phil, do you ever feel like your customers have gotten used to having it easy? click, and there’s your email. Swipe, all your notifications. Easy upgrades. The ecosystem’s all in the Apple store. They’re so used to having everything handed to them that they don’t have to work for anything anymore. They’ve gotten lazy and entitled, and are demanding more and more from you.”

Phil frowned and thought. “Well, I’d say our big value proposition is to chew everything up and spit it out so our customers don’t have to. But now that you mention it, they have been angry over the past several years.”

“Right. The blog posts. The accusations. The phone leaks. Phil, it seems to me that you have to give your users something to work on. Only if they struggle will they appreciate how easy it was back in the old days.”

“Well, Jim, I’d say you’re right. We already have plans for a new laptop that makes it harder in the works.”

“Sure, sure, that’s great, Phil, but not everyone owns a MacBook. A lot more people own $1000 phones than a $1200 laptop.”

“Well, that’s true, too.”

“So, think, Phil, what’s something you could make the user really work hard for?”

“We could make the icons smaller? Stop the hard drive updates? Introduce tracking of your health that’s on by default?”

“Oh Phil, all those are small potatoes and you know it.”

“Well, what would you suggest, Jim?”

“Think bigger, Phil. What’s something that the user could never modify with software no matter how hard they try?”

“The…hardware? But we already have that locked down. If you don’t go to an Apple Store, you’re screwed.”

“Sure, but …”

Then it hit Phil. “Let’s kill the headphone jack.”

The devil’s eyes lit up.

“The headphone jack is the only thing that’s been reliable on every phone since the beginning of smartphones. It’s the one feature that’s there for the user regardless what headphones they have. They can plug it into the car, or into an audio for a quick jam session. They don’t need Bluetooth or any accessories. Let’s kill it. Let’s make dongles.”

“Hundreds of dongles. Thousands of dongles. So you need one for each car. One for each set of headphones. One for the aux cord. One for your house. Jim, they’ll be swimming in dongles. And they’ll lose those dongles. They’ll lose them at the very minute they need them, to take a conference call, or to play a song for a crying child in a car. That will make them think bad about Apple twice. We’ll get people good and angry, appreciative of the old days.”

Phil finished with a red flush on his cheeks.

“Damnit Phil, you brilliant son of a gun,” the devil said, leaning back and taking another sip of his cold brew. “You’ve done it.”

“But,” said Phil, pausing. “What if they try to find ways to get around it?”

“How do you mean,” said the devil.

“Well, I mean they could try to use Bluetooth or Air Pods -“

“And we know how well Bluetooth anything works, don’t we?” the devil smiled.

Phil nodded, pleased. “Yeah, it’s a pretty lousy proposition for the user, isn’t it? Even if it does work, who’s going to want to keep buying headphones they will ultimately lose for $150? Or countless dongles?”

Phil paused again. “But what if that’s not enough? What if they still like it?”

The devil picked an imaginary piece of lint from his chinos. “Pull the ripcord, Phil.”

“You mean, make Lightning incompatible with USB-C and everything else in the Apple universe?”

The devil nodded, almost imperceptibly. That did it. Phil reached for one of his phones. “Jony,” he said, “we need you down in HQ today immediately. I’ve got a banger of an idea.”

By this point, the traffic had cleared, and the devil got out at One Hacker Way. “Great sharing a car with you, Phil,” he said, shaking hands. “Great meeting you too,” Phil took out the business card, looking it over. “thanks for the brainstorm, Jim - “

The card didn’t have a last name.

“Memphis,” said the devil, and took out his Pixel to let an executive assistant know he’d arrived.