On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, two sleek, wonderfully-designed mobile devices — with one glaring flaw, according to the internet.
Gossip before the launch suggested that Apple would be doing away with the headphone jack in favor of Lightning earbuds, 3.5 mm adapters, and brand new, wireless AirPods. At the event, Apple leadership revealed that, indeed, Apple would be doing away with the headphone jack.
The internet, unsurprisingly, erupted. Bloggers pulled out their soapboxes, declaiming that the end, for Apple, is nigh. Anti-Apple tweets spread far and wide, like flies converging on a pile of dog shit with a pair of AirPods inside. The prevailing opinions were provocative and hypercritical kneejerk reactions to the change, as if, lacking headphone cords, the universe’s fabric would disintegrate.
How could Apple be so foolish? Across the internet, a few commentators broke the mold, daring to say that — maybe, just maybe — Apple was on to something. Apple’s history, these daring few posited, would suggest that Apple will turn out right, that, soon, the rest of the industry (and so too consumers) would be abandoning cords.
It’s not the first time that Apple has chosen to ignore popular opinion. It’s not the first time Apple has ditched what was seen as an essential technology. It’s not the first time that the public joined arms and gathered virtual pitchforks in an anti-Apple uproar. People love to hate on the frontrunners. It’s not difficult to critique innovation.
Let’s take a brief tour. First we’ll stop by 1998, when Apple ditched the floppy drive. Then we’ll explore 2001, when Apple introduced the iPod. (It didn’t do away with anything, but anti-Apple sentiment was — in hindsight — amusingly high.) Finally, we’ll look at the late 2000s and early 2010s, when Apple began to exclude optical drives and just about managed to kill off the CD and DVD.
August 15, 1998: The iMac
Steve Jobs, for his triumphant return to Apple, introduces the iMac, which itself is an affront to all other personal computers. Its stark design combines the monitor and computer tower into one, sleek, playful device, and in so doing furthers the nascent idea that technology can be art. Notably, however, the iMac has no floppy drive. Floppy disks were the standard way for people to transfer files. The internet was young, and uploading files was cumbersome at best.
No less, Jobs and his squad elect to forgo the floppy on the iMac. At the unveiling, Jobs doesn’t make a big deal of it. His only comment: “We are going to the new generation of I/O [input/ output]. …. We’re leaving the old Apple I/O behind.” The internet (or media, in this case), however, does make a big deal of it. Here’s a selection of online reactions at the time.
Some would-be buyers may balk at its lack of a floppy drive.
God damn, is the iMac ugly. Not only is it ugly, but it’s yucky to use, too. The fact that it doesn’t come with a floppy drive is ludicrous.
Apple’s explanation is that the floppy is a dying breed.… Personally, I think that shipping the iMac without a floppy is kind of a weird idea.
The coup de grace? As an added bonus, Apple gets substantial free press due in part to the ‘controversial’ fact that the iMac lacks a floppy.
— OS News
That one glaring design mistake in the iMac is that Apple decided to build it without a floppy-disk drive — indeed without any removable storage medium at all.
Apple argues that the floppy disk is a dying product… But I strongly disagree.
Others in the industry have doubts about the decision not to include a floppy drive.… ‘When Steve Jobs says the floppy is dead, I’d take that statement cautiously…’
A floppy drive may not be state of the art, but no matter what Apple says, almost everyone needs some sort of removable storage device.
You’ve heard the criticism time and time again, especially from non-Mac users: the iMac doesn’t have a floppy.… Many people predicted that the iMac would flop due to what some called a major design flaw.
I do still feel Apple could have improved the iMac proposition by including a floppy drive.
At the start of 1999, Apple will have sold over half a million iMacs, and the floppy disk — as Jobs had predicted — is well on its way to the grave.
October 23, 2001: The iPod
The iPod’s release doesn’t exclude any major technological feature, but it is nonetheless a risky move for Apple, which, until now, has only made computers. This foray into the new world of MP3 players is seen by many as illegitimate and rash. Many opinionated bloggers jump at the opportunity to predict Apple’s demise, and no one expects it to go anywhere fast. Those without official platforms truly let loose (as this six-page tirade-filled forum proves), and those with official platforms are also quick to criticize.
Industry analysts pointed to its relatively limited potential audience.
For all Jobs’ excitement, though, Apple users at Mac discussion sites seemed a bit crestfallen that the device wasn’t as revolutionary as the company had promised last week.
‘Apple has introduced a product that’s neither revolutionary nor breakthrough…’
The message then offered some ideas for what ‘iPod’ might stand for. These won’t make Jobs happy: ‘I Pretend it’s an Original Device,’ it suggested, or ‘Idiots Price Our Devices.’ Others offered ‘I’d Prefer Owning Discs!’ and ‘I Prefer Other Devices.’
I don’t see many sales in the future of iPod.
Apple sells 125,000 iPods in the first month following its release, and, one year later, will have sold over 600,000 in total. All other personal music players become laughable, and Apple secures its grip on the music industry. Later, with the introduction of the iTunes Store, Apple turns its grip into a vise.
January 15, 2008: The MacBook Air
With the original MacBook Air, Apple begins a gradual transition to do away with the optical drive — and, in so doing, kill the CD and DVD. In the keynote, Jobs explains the impending demise of the CD and DVD. Since the MacBook Air is a fringe product — not everyone needs something so portable and light — it doesn’t make enormous waves on many of the now innumerable blogs.
The most stunning omission is the optical drive.
Over the next four years, however, Apple begins to phase out optical drives in all its laptops and computers. Despite the fact that the move causes most people to recoil, and give Apple a quizzical look, the world keeps on spinning. And, unsurprisingly, Jobs turns out to be right once again.
September 7, 2016: The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
CEO Tim Cook, Chief Design Officer Jony Ive, and Senior Vice President Phil Schiller introduce the next iPhone generation. Both models do away with the headphone jack, and the internet, as mentioned, goes nuts. Their replacements — wireless AirPods — are not exactly welcomed with open arms.
If we can learn anything from past Apple innovations, all of which actually took “courage,” it’s that Apple knows what it’s doing. These critiques, from heavy-handed and reactionary bloggers, will in all likelihood suffer the same fate as their predecessors. Soon enough, all smartphones will abandon the headphone jack, wireless earbuds will be the norm, and Apple will have — once more — predicted technological obsolescence.