Removing the iPhone's dedicated headphone jack
Removing the headphone jack is not an inherently damning move. In fact, if you consider that the dedicated audio jack has been around for decades, it's practically an ancient artifact in the world of consumer technology. We expect to see more smartphone manufacturers follow suit over the new few years, but we take issue with the way the removal was handled.
For one, Apple failed to elucidate the benefits of removing the jack. Eliminating the jack makes more space, but how is that space being used? Water resistance? Battery size? At the iPhone 7 launch event, Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller explained the move in one word: "courage." Even considering the inflated language common in launch events, this explanation seemed smugly self-aggrandizing. If Apple better illustrated the tradeoff, it would have left consumers with a much more positive impression.
Apple AirPods were announced as an alternative to traditional cabled headphones at the iPhone 7 event. They were promised in October, but didn't hit shelves until December. They're also underwhelming, with their questionable fit, looks and lack of physical volume and playback controls.
In Apple's defense, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are bundled with Lightning-port headphones and a Lightning-to-headphone jack adapter, which lets you plug those Lightning headphones into your other Apple products. Still, it's impossible to listen to cabled headphones and charge the iPhone at the same time, and that little dongle is easy to lose.
A truly magnanimous move would have been bundling wireless earphones with the new iPhones, even if they weren't as powerful as AirPods. (Siri capability? Do we really need that in headphones anyway?) But we've been following Apple releases long enough not to expect any generous moves like that.
The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is at top of mind for recent Apple disappointments. The company has never had a reputation for being inexpensive, but historically, it has been possible to defend the value of its products in the long run. This is not the case with the expensive Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro. The touch-sensitive shortcut bar is the biggest MacBook innovation in years, but it has largely resonated as a low-value gimmick.
The MacBook Pro also shares an unfortunate quality with other laptops in the lineup: a troublesome lack of ports. Despite its "Pro" moniker, it is missing expansion options that professionals need. We understand the need to evolve to new hardware standards, but some kind of transition period is necessary to save users from an expensive, disorganized hell of dongles and adapters.
The MacBook Pro has four USB-C ports, but no legacy USB 3.0, SD card slot or HDMI (the standalone MagSafe charging port is also gone, instead requiring one of the USB ports for juicing up). A better mix of built-in options would serve heavy-duty users better than ever-thinner builds or a not-necessarily intuitive touch interface. Even worse, the 12-inch MacBook has only one USB-C port.
It troubles us that owners of the two newest Mac laptops have nowhere on their laptops to plug in their iPhone charging cords directly. That type of incompatibility does little to please long-term users, and could be a sign of worse incongruities to come.
Storage in the Apple ecosystem is an issue, plain and simple. With historically low built-in storage levels and decreasing opportunities for expansion, Apple products are set up to push iCloud usage. However, iCloud offers only 5 GB of free storage, after which you run up against constant notifications urging a paid iCloud subscription.
Why is Apple trying to make its long-term users pay a premium for a reliance on its products? Compare the iCloud model to Google Drive's free 15 GB (and generous options, such as unlimited storage for "high quality" images, and unlimited storage for Pixel phone owners ) and it's pretty disappointing.
Ever-improving offerings from competitors
Sexiness has long been part of the Apple brand, even if it costs a premium. But its products are growing less attractive and less user-friendly. Increasingly alluring alternatives could seal the deal for many longtime Apple fans considering other options.
For instance, with the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google is on the verge of out-Apple-ing Apple. The search giant has created a hardware/software symbioses hitherto found only in iPhones, and to borrow a Cupertino phrase, "It just works."
Similarly, the Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are embodying a workhorse type of versatility that consumers asked for from Apple, but that MacBooks and iPads are failing to deliver.
I am a case in point of a long-time Apple user ready to jump the shark: I adore the Pixel phone, and am teetering on the edge of making the leap to Google's phone. Perhaps one more marked Android convenience I discover will do the trick.
For more Mac musings, here are the steps we think Apple should take to get back on top in the coming year. You may also appreciate the following how-to guides: