Apple’s Twisted Logic

Like most people, I listen to music while on the treadmill at the gym. What I don’t enjoy is untangling the knot of headphone cords that somehow forms during the five minute walk from my house to the YMCA.

It’s not a major aggravation, but I have considered wireless headphones to fix the problem. Maybe other people are considering them, because this week Apple announced its next iteration of the iPhone 7 is designed for wireless headphones, and won’t even include a headphone jack if you want to tune in the old fashioned way.

Apple says this is about convenience, but the cynic in me wonders if Apple wants to force its legion of loyal customers to spend $159 on their wireless AirPods headphones. I’m sure they are quite nice and would eliminate my untangling time, but unlike my current earbuds, you have to charge AirPods. Plus, their battery life is only five hours so you’ll spend a lot of time recharging them.

Even worse, AirPods will be easier to lose or accidentally send through the washing machine, leaving them clean, but worthless. At least those wires I hate to untangle keep one earbud from becoming separated from the other, and make earbuds easier to notice and so keep them out of the wash. I don’t mind replacing my $20 headphones when they break or disappear, but I wouldn’t want to shell out another $159 when one or both of my AirPods is lost or waterlogged.

Although I think highly of Apple and continue to recommend it in the Personal Finance Growth Portfolio, I think it just took a small step in the wrong direction by eliminating the headphone jack. Customer loyalty takes a long time to build but only a short time to destroy, and many iPhone users will feel cheated by this decision and consider converting to one of Google’s Android smartphones when it’s time to replace their old iPhone.

Purportedly the decision to drop the headphone jack was in response from booming demand in China and India. Those countries are both huge, growing markets for Apple, and consumers there have a taste for the trendier wireless headphones.

But that explanation rings hollow. Consumers in China and India have already been buying iPhones although they come encumbered by a headphone jack.

I do not see this development as being on a par with Coca-Cola’s disastrous “New Coke” detour. But it does call into question the Apple’s longstanding commitment to do what is right for the customer.  To partially address that concern the company will include a set of wired headphones with the iPhone 7 that can be inserted into its Lightning port, and a dongle that your old headphones can plug into via the same port, but that means you can’t be charging your phone while you are also listening to it since it uses the same port to connect to an adaptor.

That means the one thing this new “feature” is supposed to add – convenience – is in fact the one thing it subtracts from the existing product. That type of duplicity almost never goes over well with consumers. I suspect it is only a matter of time until Apple issues a mea culpa regarding the inadvisability of forcing customers to choose between paying an extra $159 to enjoy the privilege of enjoying its newest product, or start looking around for a less expensive option.