Sometimes Design Gives and Sometimes it Taketh Away

Months before Apple officially unveiled the highly anticipated iPhone 7, the latest of its insanely popular smartphones, there was a lot of chatter on social media—most of which was not positive—about the rumored phone’s lack of a headphone jack. What? I myself just plopped down a sizable chuck of change on a pair of Bose headphones that I absolutely love, so I’ll count myself among those grumbling over Apple’s decision to go all-Bluetooth with audio choices on the iPhone 7.

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Speculation ahead of the company’s splashy media debut of the new iPhone that took place in early September was widely varied: some believed Apple would only remove the headphone jack if it had a superior alternative, while others thought that Apple was merely paving the way to a wireless world for all. None of that speculation proved true.

During the event, Apple executive Phil Schiller said that Apple’s decision came down to one word: “courage.” Say what? “The courage to move on and do something better for all of us.” Let’s not forget that this is the same company that took away other beloved technologies, such as the FireWire and the optical disc drive. It gives and it taketh away. And, in some cases, there are some benefits to users. When the company previously took technology away, such as the CD drive and the Ethernet port on laptops, there were downstream benefits to users: namely thinner, lighter laptops.

Why is technology taken away?

People don’t like the idea of product developers taking away functionality. Certainly, engineers and product designers must carefully weigh the implications of removing features and only do so after they understand the implications of any changes to the product and the customer. It does happen however, and sometimes for the better. Let’s look back at some of the things that were taken away from us—in terms of design—and how in the long run, we are better off.

Loser: Phone buttons. Remember those things? No? Well, mobile phones before 2007, the year Apple first released its first iPhone, had them. If you ever owned a flip-phone, you remember.

Winner: Multi-touch technology, though not developed originally by Apple, was first implemented on the iPhone and the rest is history. Today, all smartphones feature multi-touch technology.

Loser: VCRs, DVD Players. These machines became a fixture in most households across the world as a way of watching movies with terrible resolution, viewing recorded grainy memories in forced family sit-downs and recording your favorite TV programs. It was pretty revolutionary at the time, and I for one was pretty devastated when it became clear that their demise was on the horizon.

Winner: DVRs and streaming service providers. Netflix and Chill > Be Kind Rewind.

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Loser: Fax machines. Perhaps made most famous by being bashed to smithereens by baseball bats in the cult classic Office Space, these machines were first popularized in Japan back in the mid-to-late 1980s. Today, if you find one, it’s most likely gathering dust in the office store room.

Winner: Today, we have built-in scanners in our printers that have put these electronic dinosaurs on the brink of extinction.

Loser: Vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs. Confession: I still have a box of treasured mixed tapes from my high school years, though I now have no way of listening to them now. I still burn CDs, though I get a lot of eye rolls when I mention it. Are we better off now that music is 100 percent digital? I think the jury is still out on this, and perhaps the recent resurgence in vinyl popularity is indicative that I’m not alone. After all, one can argue that the vinyl does have better sound quality.

Winner: Digital music providers and streaming services.

Loser: USB flash drives. Are you amazed at how cheap these high-capacity flash drives have become? Well, it’s not because manufacturers are becoming more charitable. The reality is that the USB market is quickly drying up as these USB flash drives are quickly becoming obsolete.

Winner: Cloud storage companies (Google, Apple, and Dropbox) that are offering more storage for less money.

Now let’s circle back to Apple’s decision to take away the headphone jack. While it’s true that the headphone jack is century-old technology, will end users benefit from this decision? Perhaps the jury is still out on that one as well. Got a favorite obsolete technology you still love? We’d love to hear your opinion in the comment section below. In the meantime, I’ll still be rocking out with my Bose headphones and my now-ancient iPhone 5S.

Author information

Barbara Schmitz
Barbara Schmitz
Senior Brand Introduction Manager at SolidWorks
Loyal dog owner, travel bum, cool mom, and lover of hoppy IPAs, alternative music and cool tech.

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