Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

14.12.2018 Fairfax Tech Column 125


Do you remember the major discussion point in September 2015? It was all anyone could talk about. Apple announced their new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – sans headphone jack. It was the death of the iPhone. It was the beginning of the end for Apple’s share price. It may even possibly be the end of civilisation. Maybe some pundits were a little extreme in their predictions but there was no doubt that it caused some heartache amongst consumers across the world and even led to customers who were forever Apple faithful questioning their faith. Competitors jumped on the bandwagon and ads started popping up for other manufacturers pointing out one of their features was a headphone jack. That is not something that figured highly in a typical feature list.

Fast forward to today and there have been multiple Apple releases without the jack. The two models mentioned above in addition to the 8; 8 Plus; X; Xs; Xs Max and XR. A total of eight models. The world hasn’t ended. Customers are coping.

Now here is the clincher.

Competitors are now copying.

This week Samsung announced its new Galaxy A8s smartphone. This isn’t their flagship but a budget model. Some may say they are testing the water with a lower-priced model to see if clients can accept it. Dipping the toe in without severe consequences if it doesn’t work out.

The significant part is that they are doing it at all. Despite the criticism from competitors, you know you have a winner when competitors either copy or complain. My logic in business is that if a competitor is always copying you, they can never be in front – because you can’t copy if you are in front. You have to be behind to copy.

I wasn’t convinced about the reasons Apple put forward for ditching the headphone jack. Many years ago Apple was the first to remove the 3.5” floppy disk drive (FDD) from their computers. Their argument was that the modern computer world had no space for the miserable 1.44MB available on a floppy disk when a CD offered over 600MB of storage. I well remember installations of large programs involving the insertion and removal of over twenty floppy disks – only for a problem to be found on disk 19! But still, removing the FDD altogether? It sounded like a good idea but Apple showed strength to remove it and, of course, several years later it was nigh impossible to buy a PC with a FDD.

When Apple made their initial announcement they used a marketing term to describe their reason for removing the jack. Courage. The real reason they removed it (no – not to sell more Airpods – that is just a side benefit) was to recover some much-needed space. When the Sony Walkman prototype was first given to a Sony executive, he said he wanted it smaller. When the technician said it was as small as possible, the executive walked over to a vase, removed the flowers and dropped the one of a kind prototype into the vase. When bubbles rose to the surface, he told the technician that if there was air in there then there was more space to remove. I have not heard of a similar story from Apple but a few millimetres of a headphone jack can make a difference to the overall size in a competitive market. The fact that Apple’s largest competitor has now removed their jack says that their courageous decision may have been the correct one.

It is probably a little easier when you are number one in market share – you can shape the market – but it was a bold move nonetheless.

I look forward to seeing if some of Apple’s competitors start to lead instead of follow.

Mathew Dickerson