Much Ado About Jacks
The famous words of what is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous comedy (even if A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more popular) have seldom fit as well, I believe, as now, at least, uhm, within the tech community. Much ado about nothing, indeed, with nothing in this instance being Apple’s decision, leaked months ago, to remove the apparently beloved headphone jack.
Many maintain the purported leak was, in fact, a brilliant rhetorical move on Apple’s part, a way to let journalists—and my use of that particular term is itself purposeful, but we’ll come to that shortly—get used to the idea so that, by the time of the iPhone 7’s release in September, said removal wouldn’t dominate reviews and commentaries, wouldn’t be The Story of the new iPhone, as it were. I tend to agree, and, to echo Marco Arment’s comments from a recent ATP (“Jony Ive Has a Lot of White Pants”), give Apple full credit for having orchestrated a brilliant rhetorical move. John Siracusa disagreed, or to at least sought to temper Arment’s almost enthusiastic praise, but, then, this is John Siracusa.
Maybe because my job involves the study of rhetoric, but I see rhetoric everywhere, a ubiquity stemming in large part from its considerable use outside conscious awareness. That shirt you think you simply “threw on”? Think again. During a month-long trip to the U.K. (that’s the, so not the University of Kentucky¹) and France, I got pretty good at spotting Americans—Germans, too, actually—from a fair distance away just by their clothing. Right now, a European reading this is likely thinking, My friend, that takes no great skill.
Touché. But can be all too easy to remain blind to the obvious, to fail to see one’s own part in the tale. Isn’t there a parable or pithy saying about fish being oblivious to water unless they find themselves out of it? We experience space-time separately as space and time because, at human scales, that’s how it seems, though one one could argue the limits of those scales are changing. Are satellites on a scale we can understand? If yes, then relativity must invariably slip into our conscious, understanding, as we do, that massive objects, such as the Earth, more noticeably warp the space-time around them than do less massive objects, such as, say, a human body. Really massive objects can even bend light, Though thin as a rail, Darla possessed this ability; photo and photographer at once, projecting and reflecting simultaneously. The briefest of flashes, but brilliant.
As was Apple’s leaking of the information well in advance of the iPhone 7. Predictably, tech journalists seized upon it as the story of the year. I’m not even being hyperbolic. Maybe it only seemed so because the discussion grew so tiresome, but I’d still take Vegas odds that more words were used in conjunction with the headphone jack fiasco than with any other Apple-related topic. I only limited my purview to Apple-related because that’s where my interests lie; would not surprise me if the impending <coughs> headphone jack gate was simply the tech story of the year.
Many tech journalists and commentators have expressed shock or bewilderment; they have made their opinions of Apple’s decision well known—a resounding disapproval, their phrases on the wind: too soon; arrogance; hubris; out-of-touch; head up its own ass; better get its act together; huge gamble; stupid; alienation of customer base. Jim Dalrymple has been a notable exception, par usual. No opinion of mine is notable, but, similar to Dalrymple, I find myself increasingly annoyed by those annoyed with Apple over the damn headphone jack. Here’s why.
That there would be an adapter of some kind was never in doubt. Booyah, off the bat, the jack’s removal becomes essentially a non-issue. Oh, but Apply typically doesn’t include adapters or the like, so it’ll be an additional cost on top of an already expensive phone, one struggling to distinguish itself from the previous generation of iPhones. It’s true Apple doesn’t typically include more than the bare essentials in the box, even when doing so would greatly improve user experience.
But we had plenty of reasons to believe a headphone-to-lightning port adapter would be included, chief among them common sense. Nearly everyone owns at least one pair of wired headphones. Hell, they even come in the box with every new iPhone, or have, anyway. I own expensive wireless headphones (Jaybirds and Beats) but I still have a pair of cheap, durable wired headphones that are much appreciated and apparently indestructible. Would Apple really make us all purchase an additional dongle? Okay, maybe. But we would have, and not grumbled about it too loudly or for too long. Remember 30-pin to lightning?
So perhaps Phil Schiller misspoke when he invoked the word courage—but the Internet wants it both ways: people are said to be “outraged” by news of the jack’s removal (NBC News, among most others), but then Schiller’s comments are lambasted on Reddit (imagine that) and have produced the requisite memes. Can’t be both.
Or, can it? Gifted rhetors, indeed, Apple knows it has multiple audiences. In this case, one is journalists, the other, everyone else. By now, Apple knows the Ways of the Journalist, ways often shamefully overblown and click-baity. Sensationalism, in other words.
In a recent episode of Tiny Shutter, a podcast about iPhone photography, the co-hosts voiced annoyance with a recent TWIT episode concerning Steve Jobs’s induction into the Photography Hall of Fame. I can relate. To the annoyance, not the induction. Why is Andy Ihnatko still a part of Mac Break Weekly, by the way? One need not have an Apple-fanboy bias to recognize sensational bias in others. Ihnatko’s role within the ensemble brings to mind that of a sports radio host, with both often reflecting an unsophisticated view of argument, and by extension audience, as dependent upon black-and-white lines of disagreement.
So it’s not that the journalists are really furious with Apple over the headphone jack removal; they’re just hoping audiences (readers, listeners, viewers) will be. Anger is far more motivating than love, as anyone who’s been in a relationship and taken for granted can attest. As both a student and a professor, I have witnessed the principle at work in student course evaluations. For how many wonderful professors did I write little or nothing just because I was eager to get somewhere or do something? (These were the days when we still completed them in class, you understand.) A number of Samsung phones have already removed the headphone jack with nary a collective murmur from the press. Why? Because they knew no one would care. Since it’s Apple, they were hoping to make us care. They didn’t and we don’t.
I, for one, was never worried. I’m surprised, but I shouldn’t be, that in all these months since the initially leak, no one to my knowledge has brought up the Apple Watch in the same conversation as the headphone jack controversy. But everyone now seems to be mentioning the soon-to-be-released Airpods, with the new W1 chip. Did none of these writers, among their many complaints about the Watch, note that one of its unquestionable positives is that the thing pairs with the iPhone like nobody’s business? Like Romeo and Juliet, those two, or hydrogen and oxygen.
Bring on the change! How else will Bluetooth technologies improve (or be supplanted)?
¹ The fact that my statement about the and its use to signify the United Kingdom requires the definite article itself to denote the University of Kentucky highlights for us again the quirkiness that is American English. Put another way, Americans would say “I went to U.K.” if they’d gone to the university, and “I went to the U.K.” if to the United Kingdom. But Americans never say, “I went to university,” even when no proper noun has been introduced or identified. Non-specificity is left to the term college. I won’t even touch upon the madness that is the American usage of hospital!