Much ink has been spilled over Apple’s controversial decision to exorcise the 3.5 mm jack port from its iPhone 7. The ubiquitous port has been present in virtually every smartphone since they first developed music-playing capabilities back in the mid-2000s, and the port’s removal has stirred up a backlash over fears such as practicality and cost.
Wired headphones are harder to lose. They are reliable, inexpensive, and don’t require a power source. And an aux cable allows smartphones to connect to a huge range of existing audio devices that will be rendered obsolete by the wireless world, such as car stereos and sound systems. These are all great reasons to retain the 3.5 mm jack port.
But Apple has scrapped it. And Apple will win.
Apple is still the prestige consumer electronics brand. Its products signify affluence and taste. Its new headphones, AirPods, retail at $159 and have to be bought separately. (The iPhone 7 is boxed with an unappealing and awkward adapter that flies against Apple’s design principles; one assumes the adapter is designed to temporarily placate customers until they can afford AirPods rather than actually be used as a matter of course.)
The move to wireless also makes a whole host of gadgetry obsolete in one stroke: For an iPhone 7 to be a viable option, a consumer would have to be up-to-date for a whole range of products, including connected cars and home sound systems as well as headphones. All this adds to the cost of owning an iPhone 7, amplifying the device’s position as a signifier of wealth. And our wealth-obsessed culture ensures that where the rich lead, everyone else will — in time — follow.
Apple’s purchase of headphones brand Beats — still the only headphone brand that has significant cachet as a fashion statement — back in 2014 is now looking like something of a masterstroke. The company was at the forefront of wireless headphones at least a year before Apple announced its decision to go wireless, and it is well-positioned to ride the coming boom in wireless headphones.
In fact, that boom may already be here. In July NPD reported that revenue from wireless headphones surpassed wired headphone sales for the first time in July this year, claiming 54% of sales revenue, with the biggest player in the wireless market being — no surprise here — Beats. Further, in the UK, retail giant John Lewis reported a 60% surge in wireless sales in the week that preceded the announcement of the iPhone 7.
The picture is clear: Apple has both kick-started the shift to wireless and positioned itself to be the best to profit from it.
Malcolm Gledhill is Dun & Bradstreet’s expert on the European marketplace. Malcolm joined Dun & Bradstreet’s Macro Market Insight team in 2014 before moving to the Company team in 2016, and has a BA from the University of Southampton.
Photo courtesy of Apple.