Several years ago I went on a rant about what a horrible idea it was to switch to digital music. I had a whole slew of reasons why keeping my music library on disc was a better idea. I liked my portable music player and headphones. I could carry a bunch of albums with me, and I could be sure that those discs would play in either my computer, or in the stereo or most stereo music players that most people had. I didn’t have to worry that they would get erased, or that a new player I had would have compatible software.
So it was ridiculous that people where carrying around iPods! Or any other digital music player, for that matter! What if the digital format in question was abandoned or obsoleted? How would you play your music on another player when this one wore out? Did owning music even mean anything when it was just a file on your computer?
Now, to be fair, I had converted a small number of my music discs to digital to play on my computer1, so I didn’t have to walk across the room while I was in the middle of writing something to change music. That was all right, but it was an alternative. It would never replace my real music library.
Then my husband bought me a pretty pink iPod Nano for my birthday.
And I became quickly addicted as I realized I could convert dozens of big heavy discs to files on the tiny iPod…
I didn’t have to stop, pull out the physical disc, grab the case full of a couple dozen discs in my packback, put away this disc and dig out another one if I wanted to listen to something else. I could just tap a button and run my thumb around in circles on the control surface to select another album. I didn’t have to burn a physical disc of songs from unrelated albums to create a playlist!
The music labels eventually realized the DRM was hurting their sales, more than helping, and soon files I bought from various music stores online were all easily inter-playable with other companies’ devices. I could back up my entire music library to as many places as I wanted, which made the digital music actually safer than having to own a single physical disc for each album.
Every object I had to the iPod and digital music either didn’t really exist, or was more than made up for by advantages which I simply couldn’t appreciate until I actually tried them.
Before I got my first iPod, I owned a Discman, which was a portable CD player. I had owned a few, as they would wear out or get damaged. And before I owned my first Discman I had owned several Walkmans or Walkman-knock offs that were portable cassette players. Each of them had had some advantages and features that I was used to. And whenever I had to replace one, the new one always had at least some minor differences that took getting used to. One thing that they all had in common was headphones.
I went through so many pairs of headphones. Since I used these portable music players as I walked, or rode my bike, or rode the bus going about my life, I tended to go for lightweight head phones that didn’t completely cover my ears and impair my hearing of surrounding traffic and so forth too much, and that could be stowed away in a jacket pocket easily. Which meant that they usually had fairly lightweight2 wires leading to the headphone jack on the device. I can’t tell you how many of those headphones got ruined because the cable snagged on something while I was walking or riding or just trying to get off the bus.
It’s a wire hanging over your body while you’re moving around, of course it’s going to get caught every now and then.
Because of that, I always had some spare headphones around. I would stash a pair at work for instance, in case my headphone was damaged on the way in. I had several spares at home. There was usually a spare pair stashed in my backpack and also in my gaming bag. I also always owned a couple of pairs of higher end, more heavy duty headphones to listen to music at times when I wanted to shut out the world and/or not disturb neighbors or housemates who weren’t on my strange schedule.
Not long after getting my first iPod, I discovered an important difference between my lightweight little music player and the old Discman: the disc player was huge and heavy, compared to an iPod Nano. When the headphone cable on the Discman was hung up on a protruding pit of a bus seat while I was trying to maneuver through a dense crowd of people on the packed bus, the cable would either pop out of the jack or it would get damaged. When the iPod’s cable hung up on something, the iPod was so light and tiny, it would get yanked out of my pocket!
It only happened a few times, and I never lost of damaged the iPod Nano. But later, after I had upgraded to a iPod Touch, the first time that expensive and shiny iPod was yanked out of my pocket and clattered onto the floor was the last day that I used wired headphones during my commute.
I switched to wireless bluetooth headphones. And that’s what I’ve used with three generations of iPod Touches3, and with each of the three iPhones I have owned.
I still have a habit of keeping spares around. And I own a rather frightening number of nicer, heavier wired headphones that I keep at various places for various uses. I have joked on many occasions about my headphone addiction. So I’m very fond of both wired and wireless headphones. And I’m quite aware of the limitations of both.
But there’s something I’ve noticed on my bus commute over the last few years. I hardly ever see the iconic white iPhone earbuds anymore. I see lots, and lots of iPhones, iPods, iPods, and even Macbook Pros being used by people on the bus, and most of them have headphones on. But more than 90% of them are wireless headphones. I also still see wired headphones on the bus quite often. But the people using those almost always have them plugged into Android phones, not iPhones.
So it shouldn’t have surprised me when people started posting angry commentary based on the rumors months ago that Apple was going to ditch the analog headphone jack, and that when I commented to anyone making such comments, one of the first things most said to me was that they didn’t own an iPhone and never would4. And why I saw a lot less8 dismayed posted from other Apple users like myself. Anecdotally, it seems a lot more of us have switched to wireless already?
And I read an article in July pointing out that this year the number of bluetooth headsets sold, world wide, had exceeded the number of wired headset sold for the first time. So maybe it isn’t just us?
I have yet to read any article by anyone upset about Apple’s rumored move9 that puts forward an argument for why it is a bad idea which is not also analogous to arguments that people made in 1998 for why Apple was doomed because they removed floppy drives from their desktop computers12.
Change is always upsetting. Any of my friends will tell you that I am very fond of my routines, and I don’t like it when I am forced to do something a different way. But I’ve also been through this a lot over the years. I don’t own vinyl record albums, any more. I don’t own movies on VHS tape. I’ve moved on, more than once. And each new technology has had advantages; usually advantages that I didn’t appreciate until I had them.
And I own a lot of headphones, many of my favorite sets are wired. So if other companies do follow suit, I’m not looking forward to these becoming less useful over the next couple of years. But I wasn’t terribly happy that all those boxes of floppy discs I used to keep around became obsolete. And I was sad when I first started switching movie purchases to DVD, and later Blu-ray.
And if my suspicion is right: that Apple isn’t just dumping the headphone jack, but is actually introducing a new, superior wireless headphone protocol, I’m going to be a little sad that my existing wireless headphones can’t take advantage or the improvements in the new protocol13. But just as the loss of floppy drives didn’t prevent me from switching to CD burners, I don’t think I’m going to be wailing and gnashing my teeth a year from now when I upgrade my phone to whatever model Apple rolls out in 2017.
1. Which was big beige-colored box running Windows XP at the time.
2. In other words, fragile.
3. The very first iPod Touch went on sale to the public a few days before my birthday, and since they continued to release a new model in September for the the next few years, my husband kept buying me new ones for birthday presents until I switched to the iPhone.
4. Which makes me wonder why the heck do they care5?
5. I mean, maybe it’s schadenfreude. And I certainly know that one of my acquaintances who was ranted about it some months back is a person who I have never, in all the time I’ve known them, ever heard a single positive comment about anything at all in their life or anyone else’s. It’s kind of exhausting, to be honest. But it seems a bit of a stretch to imagine all of them are so bitter6.
6. I actually have a strong suspicion that the reason they care is because this is hardly the first time that Apple has jettison a piece of technology that everyone else uses. Floppy drives, for instance. And every time, within a couple of years the whole rest of the industry had done the same.7
7. Not because Apple had bullied them into it, but because the alternatives were better than the old standard. It’s just no one else was willing to obsolete it first.
8. Not zero, of course, but less. And Apple-using writers were much less angry and more skeptical that the time has really arrived.
9. Rumored as of when I’m finishing this post13, but we’ll know for certain by the time most people read this.10
10. That was another thing: lots of people some months back were insistent this wasn’t a rumor because it had been published by several so-called legitimate sites. Except all of those sites published the same rumor for the iPhone 5s just before it was released in 2013. The 5s still had an analog jack, just as the 6, 6s, and the SE have since11.
11. Since then the leaks of become more ubiquitous, and I’ve seen plausible evidence that Apple intentionally leaked the news last year to let people have months to be outrage about it, and for other people to make plans.
12. Seriously, yes, especially that one post about why the headphone jack shouldn’t go which got shared around a lot and even mentioned the floppy disc. That particular post had two big omissions in its discussion about the floppy drive: the writer ignored the fact that the iMac G3 which was the first Mac without a floppy drive was equipped with a CD drive, and he apparently didn’t understand that most of us who owned computers in the late 90s were all also pretty active on the internet—haunting Usenet and dial-up BBSs, so transferring files via the internet was not something that “most people couldn’t figure out.” We did it all the time.
13. Edited To Add: Now we know the rumors are true, and we know Apple didn’t invent a new protocol, but both the new AirPods and several models of Beats headphones will have the new W1 chip that is supposed to be better at hopping around the Bluetooth frequencies when you get into areas with a lot of interference. Which, if I’m understanding them right, means that the headphones will work better for any Bluetooth connection, not just to an Apple device. Actually, they said it words with MacBooks, which did not get updated (and haven’t for a while… Next month, or next month!), so that means that yes, they’ll bring improved Bluetooth connectivity to older Bluetooth devices14.
14. Anyway, I thought it was funny that on the news site where I read a live-blog of the announcement, several people chimed in when the Apple spokesperson talked the new wiresless standard, to mention that they already owned an Android phone that had no headphone jack, and this means Apple is slow. So, which is it, anti-Apple nerds? Is Apple insane for removing the jack, or are they also-rans for doing it a few months later than one other manufacturer?