September 9, 2016

I was waiting on a street corner in Seattle last weekend when a man with a box over his shoulder walked up to me. “Hah!” he said with a motion towards a nearby tent selling game counters and figurines. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Grown men playing with little toys.” Disdain dripped from the words.

“For my whole life, I’ve been an artist, architect, and baker,” he continued. “I’m running these supplies down to the bakery. Afterwards, I’m going to go teach piano lessons. I’m an expert musician you see, and have been for thirty years.”

“Remarkable,” I noted.

Although every word from his mouth might have been truth, the possibility was remote. Anyone who had developed mastery in such a wide variety of subjects is also likely to have developed a sense of humility to go with it. Humility that would tend to restrict shameless self-aggrandizement, or the unabashed belittlement of peers.

Two days ago Phil Schiller got up on a stage and talked about the removal of the 3.5 mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7. “The reason to move on: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us,” he said with grandiose embellishment infamously characteristic of Apple.

The removal of the 3.5 mm jack is a mistake. Apple’s suggested replacements are lightning-compatible and wireless earphones. Lightning is a strange proprietary standard that’s unlikely to gain wide adoption, and even if it does, doesn’t hold a peripheral nearly as securely as a 3.5 mm jack, which makes it unsuitable for movement or exercise. Bluetooth is a “95% technology”. It works 95% of the time, but the remaining 5%, characterized by mysterious inabilities to connect, playback interruptions, and audio desyncing, is enough to make it maddening to use and borderline untenable. Add in that you’ve now got a new battery to charge daily, and it’s hard to argue that Apple hasn’t just knocked us down two rungs on the ladder of progress.

Apologists point towards Apple’s great historical track record in making forward thinking choices; for example, the exclusion of floppy disk drives, serial, or PS/2 ports. This is selective memory. Apple’s most recent deprecation play was the 12” MacBook which was stripped of MagSafe, USB, and Thunderbolt so that they could show the world that a single USB-C port is enough for anyone. A year and a half after its release the computer is still awkward to use with few useful peripherals, and with none from Apple itself.

Courage was published on September 9, 2016.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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