Apple May Test iPhone Users' Loyalty If It Dumps The Headphone Jack | KUOW News and Information

Apple May Test iPhone Users' Loyalty If It Dumps The Headphone Jack

Sep 6, 2016
Originally published on September 8, 2016 12:19 pm

If you're like me, somewhere in your house you imagine there must be a pile of lost white iPhone earbuds. The pile is probably right next to the stack of single socks. It's one of several reasons I never liked wireless Bluetooth headphones. They're smaller and even easier to lose.

But, if the rumors are true — and most likely they are — Apple is about to get rid of the headphone jack on its latest smartphone, the iPhone 7, and tip the scales toward wireless Bluetooth headphones. The company has scheduled a press event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

"Getting rid of the headphone jack is panic worthy," says usability expert Joshua Porter of the design firm Rocket Insights. "It's going to be a hard argument to make."

Porter says like a lot of iPhone users, he personally has several headsets that will immediately become obsolete unless there is a way to connect them to the new iPhone.

Apple is likely to make an adapter that lets users plug their earbuds into the Lightning jack. But Apple users with headphones aren't going to like it if they have to drop extra cash on buying a special adapter.

Porter thinks Apple could entice them into buying the iPhone 7 with some nice extras in the box like a free adapter. "That would be a really amazing gesture ... and would do a lot in terms of goodwill."

Porter isn't the only usability expert scratching his head over Apple getting rid of the headphone jack. Kara Pernice, a senior vice president at the user experience research firm Nielsen Norman Group, thinks this change could really sit badly even with loyal Apple users.

"When it looks to the customer like this change is not benefiting me and only benefiting Apple, that's when people snap," she says.

Pernice thinks Apple may be getting rid of the headphone jack to make important internal changes to the phone — like longer battery life. "But, most end users don't think that way," she says. "Most people don't understand why the change is happening."

Pernice predicts that a lot of people won't upgrade if it means spending extra money on adapters and Bluetooth headsets.

But Apple does have a track record of phasing out what seem like popular technologies at the time. The company was among the first to get rid of CD drives and Ethernet cables. It nixed its 30-pin connector for the Lightning connector. And none of that seems to have hurt the company's sales.

"Apple has a very strong history of doing whatever it wants," says Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester Research. "And they typically still do OK. They typically do a pretty good job of telling consumers what they need and what they don't need and leading the way into the future."

Bluetooth headphones are making headway. In June, sales of Bluetooth headsets brought in more revenue than non-Bluetooth for the first time, according to NPD.

Apple has sold over a billion iPhones worldwide. Still, since the death of founder Steve Jobs in 2011, many critics say Apple has lost its edge. A decade ago, Nokia and BlackBerry were the leaders in smartphone technology. Usability expert Pernice says getting rid of the headphone jack "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

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And Apple is about to release an update of its popular iPhone. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, one expected change to the phone has a lot of Apple users on edge.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: If you're like me, somewhere in your house you imagine there must be a pile of lost white iPhone earbuds. The pile is probably right next to the stack of single socks. It's one of several reasons I never liked wireless Bluetooth headphones. They're smaller and even easier to lose. But if the rumors are true - and most likely they are - Apple is about to get rid of the headphone jack on its latest iPhone 7 and tip the scales toward Bluetooth headphones.

JOSHUA PORTER: Getting rid of the iPhone jack is panic-worthy.

SYDELL: Joshua Porter is a usability expert with the software design firm Rocket Insights.

PORTER: Many people I know, including myself, have a lot of headphones and all rely on the old headphone connector. So those will immediately become obsolete, unless there's some way to connect them.

SYDELL: Chances are there will be. When Apple nixed its old connector for charging the phone for the smaller lightning connector, the company made an adapter, but it cost extra. Having to pay for the adapter could discourage new users from upgrading to an iPhone 7, unless...

PORTER: What I wonder is might Apple include that with the new iPhone as well because there's probably billions of head phones out there. That would be a really amazing gesture, I think, and would do a lot in terms of goodwill.

SYDELL: Still, when Apple has phased out popular technology in the past, it's turned out to be visionary. Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research, notes Apple was among the first to get rid of the CD drive, Ethernet connections and floppy disks.

JULIE ASK: What we've seen in the past is consumers grumble a little bit, and they grumble about having spent another $40 to get the new, you know, adapter to the phone. And then, you know, three to six months later, they've forgotten all about it and they forgot what life was like before.

SYDELL: And once again, Apple could be visionary. According to the NPD Group, in June, Bluetooth headset sales topped non-Bluetooth for the first time. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.