The outrage at the possibility of Apple removing the iPhone's 3.5 mm headphone port started the moment the first rumors dropped back in 2014. As soon as the change was confirmed in Wednesday's keynote, the Internet was flooded with people decrying Apple's decision, calling it anti-consumer, user-hostile, and just plain stupid. But the decision is very in line with Apple's past decisions, and while it primarily benefits Apple in the short term, it has the potential to benefit users in the long term.
There is no denying the obvious benefit to Apple that comes with making Lightning the only physical connector for headphones (without an adapter). Apple is going to make money off every company who licenses Lightning, and it will have more control over the headphones produced for its mobile devices. Apple will also reap the benefits of already having an array of lightning-enabled headphones ready to go, from its own Earpods to its Beats products.
There is also no denying this part of Apple's decision only hurts users in the short term. Plenty of people have already bemoaned the forced choice between the easily misplaced Lightning-to-3.5 mm adapter and replacing existing earbuds and headsets with Lightning-enabled pairs, but even if a user makes the jump to Lightning, he or she now has a set of headphones exclusively compatible with iOS devices. Not even Macs have lightning ports, let alone Windows, Chrome OS, and Android devices. For the majority of consumers, purchasing Lightning-enabled headphones is neither convenient nor sensible. But Apple does not expect them to buy into Lightning; it expects its dedicated fans to tolerate the transition period long enough to make it to the future it has planned.
Apple has a long history of pushing product categories in its desired directions with surprising success—the iPhone and iPad being its most obvious examples. Apple also has a history of pushing more mobile and wireless options whenever possible—dropping optical (CD) drives in favor of downloads and USB drives, dropping the Ethernet port in favor of wi-fi, and so on. Apple has certainly had no shortage of missteps and oversights, but this is not one of them.
Apple is not wrong; just early.
Android users have been enjoying more and more wireless features as well. Android was the first major mobile OS to support wireless installation of apps from PCs, cloud music libraries, cloud documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and even wireless charging. Moreover, a huge number of users across all platforms are already using Bluetooth headphones—according to NPD, Bluetooth headphones sales have been increasing significantly year over year, and now account for 54 percent of headphone dollar sales. Consumers are clearly interested in wireless headphones, and are willing to pay the higher prices that come with them.
All Apple has done is give the world of wireless headphones its strongest push yet. It is simultaneously forcing its dedicated fans down a path where wireless headphones are the most viable option and releasing a pair of wireless earbuds that are more compact and more advanced than almost any others on the market. That is only going to benefit users in the long run as other manufacturers of wireless headphones are pushed to compete for thousands, if not millions, of new customers.
Am I more likely to buy an iPhone because of Apple's “Courage”? No. But do I look forward to buying a set of Bluetooth earbuds—from Apple or a competitor—made better by Apple pushing the market? Absolutely.And if you really want your headphone jack back, then you can vote with your wallet—buy a phone from another manufacturer, or even just an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus. Apple has tremendous influence over the market, and I am cautiously optimistic about the future of wireless audio, but at the end of the day, consumers decide which technologies succeed or fail.