Four years after removing the headphone jack from its iPhones, Apple plans to go one step further and remove the headphones themselves.
That's according to the respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who says in his latest report that the company may release an iPhone this autumn with no free earphones in the box, for the first time ever - although it will sweeten the deal by heavily discounting the AirPods around the same time.
Needless to say, this would be a huge call. The removal of the headphone jack in 2016 caused extensive annoyance among the company's fanbase, many of whom owned high-quality 3.5mm headphones of their own which now had to be connected to the Lightning port via an easily lost dongle. At least the dongle was free… until that was removed from the box too in 2018.
Now, let's acknowledge right away that a lot of customers will not be affected by this, and perhaps Apple is depending on this.
If you've owned any handset from the iPhone 8 to the 11 Pro Max, you will - in theory, although these things don't last forever - still own the Lightning-compatible EarPods from that box. You may already own a dongle - which is only £9/$9 anyway - or a pair of Lightning headphones. And this is all ignoring those who own a pair or AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones, which will be able to work fine.
But what about the newbies and the migrators? How is this going to fly with Android ditherers who were considering a switch to iOS, but are now wondering how they're supposed to listen to music when all they have is a pair of 3.5mm earbuds?
I know, I know. Go wireless. It's the future: Apple itself is apparently planning an entirely portless iPhone in 2021. But right now, this seems like it would be an excessively petty decision. Surely you could start bundling the AirPods in the most expensive iPhones at least.
The only defence I can think of is an environmental one. Because they already own another, better set of headphones, or still use last year's set, a huge number of people get zero use out of the bundled EarPods that come with an iPhone. I shudder to think how many pairs end up in landfill, unused. But if that's the issue, make EarPods optional. Have a little dropdown menu on the Apple Store that gives you £29/$29 off the price if you tick a box labelled "No thanks, I already have headphones."
This all assumes the prediction is correct, of course, and it's far too early to know. For what it's worth, Kuo has correctly called numerous Apple decisions in the past, and is a voice you can rely on for an informed view of the company's general direction. His predictions, however, tend to cover broad strategic shifts in the mid-term rather than the more concrete 'my source has shown me an iPhone which will be released next month' type we get from, say, Jon Prosser.
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