Technology Column

Like past changes, Apple’s new audio system should be accepted

/ The Daily Orange

Apple unveiled its latest selection of iPhones and Apple Watches during a press event in San Francisco on Wednesday, with the biggest — and most controversial — reveal being the announcement of the provocative iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Among the changes announced to the model are a thinner design with a stereo speaker grille on the bottom of the phone. Water resistance is also a first for the iPhone, despite being featured for years on many Android devices. The two-camera setup is arguably the most notable hardware upgrade: the two cameras have wide-angle and telephoto lenses, respectively, along with a depth-of-field effect that can make professional-grade shots out of any scene.

With the increasing size of apps and photos on phones today, we’re lucky the cheapest model of the phone has been upgraded to 32 gigabytes up from 16 in previous iPhone models. In the past, your pockets would be $100 lighter for a reasonable amount of storage.

As anticipated, and much to music fans’ dismay, the decision to rid the iPhone of its current headphone jack was the biggest takeaway from this conference. Instead, audio will now be transmitted through the Lightning port on the bottom of the phone or wirelessly using accessories like Apple’s new AirPods for $159 or the wireless Beats Solo3 for $299.

Apple justified the change as one of “courage,” with marketing chief Phil Schiller saying it takes courage “to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”

You will still be able to listen with your old headphones or jam out with your car’s aux cord with the adapter that Apple is including with your new iPhone. Still, this accessory is hardly a consolation prize when you need worry about bringing an adapter whenever you go on a road trip or to a party.

But even though we’ll all be mad for now over this loss, we eventually all come around on Apple’s most ambitious changes and design choices. I’m hardly an Apple defender by any means, but we can learn from past incidents of massive user discontent. It always ends one of two ways: Apple either concedes to the customers’ demands or the customers get used to it. And the latter is much, much more common.

Such a drastic industry change isn’t without precedent — not even for Apple. When the company announced the first edition of its iMac all-in-one computer in 1998, it included a CD drive and USB ports in lieu of a floppy disk drive in a time when computers still regularly shipped with them.

At the time, this change caused an uproar in the tech industry. But the industry adjusted and saw the benefits of the CD-ROM and USB connectors over the archaic floppy disk.

Although, as similar as getting rid of the floppy disk drive and headphone plug might look on the surface, they are more different than they appear. In the late ’90s, CD’s and USB’s were well on their way to becoming the standard. The company’s decision to move on from the floppy disk only was an acceleration of those industry shifts.

Meanwhile, the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack is hardly obsolete — it’s more popular than ever. CD-ROM and USB began popping up on every computer in the ‘90s, but the lightning adapter is Apple-made and Apple-exclusive — meaning it will only ever be found on iPhones, iPads or iPods.

David Molta, a professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information studies and a mobile technology expert, is familiar with these kind of technology transitions, but said he was nonetheless surprised by Apple’s headphones update. He argued that while the standard headphone jack might be an old technology by now, no other technology — including wireless audio —  has emerged yet as a satisfactory replacement.

“Wireless connectivity is simply not as reliable as wired connections,” Molta said. “It’s getting better, but it’s not really there.”

Molta is accustomed to technology shifts like these, though, and trusts that user backlash will balance out over time and work out for all in the end.

“This is a classic legacy technology issue,” he said. “Perhaps there will be an inexpensive replacement that is better than the original. Time will tell.”

It’s important to remember that Apple didn’t become the most respected gadget-maker in the world for no reason. When it makes major changes to its devices, you can be sure it’s done its due diligence in making the right choice for its products.

Since industries are consumer-driven, we should be skeptical of what we see. So for now, there’s nothing wrong with staying wary of the new iPhone. But tread lightly because who knows — you may be rocking your own pair of lightning headphones not too long from now.

Brett Weiser-Schlesinger is junior newspaper and online journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bweisers@syr.edu.

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