Apple created quite the narrative around why it ditched the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. The reason offered up by SVP of Global Marketing Phil Schiller? "Courage." As in, forcing customers to abandon a ubiquitous staple of technology was an act of courage. Predictably, the internet responded with no shortage of skepticism and memes mocking Apple's dubious new $159 AirPods. The internet's other specialty besides memes, as we all know, is the artful conspiracy theory.
Apple claims the change was purely functional -- a way to free up space for mostly cool new features. But... what if this was actually all part of a grand plan to exercise complete control, not only over how we listen to our music, but what we're allowed to listen to and on which devices? According to multiple tech bloggers, it may not be as absurd as it sounds.
It gives Apple (and record companies) complete control over what we can listen to
Proponents of removing the headphone jack argue that it's good news for audiophiles, since a digital connection like Lightning can make a significant improvement to audio quality. However, whereas an old-school analog output (like the headphone jack) lets you plug and play whatever you want, a digital-only corded output means Apple is ultimately in full control over what can and cannot be played through it.
The theory goes that Apple's ulterior motive could be to control the media you consume via digital rights management schemes, intentionally restricting the use of copyrighted music and material to proprietary hardware. As Nilay Patel of The Verge points out, Apple Music is a streaming service already rife with DRM restrictions. It would be fairly easy to extend those restrictions in such a way that users would only be allowed to stream music via Apple-approved speakers, headphones, and devices.
Rights-obsessed record companies would also get their kicks in this dystopian scenario. Catering to the demands of record execs, Apple could prevent you from listening to any album or song, or watching any video, that you didn't legally obtain, or download from a preferred source. Of course, Apple calls this a "pure paranoid conspiracy theory," but that doesn't change the fact that it could do this if it wanted to.
The world's largest wireless headphone company happens to be owned by... Apple
Even if a long con to monopolize our media consumption sounds far-fetched, ditching the headphone jack sure as hell isn't about "courage" -- no matter how hard Apple tries to cultivate its image as bold and forward-thinking. Apple owns Beats, the world's No. 1 wireless headphone company, and it stands to make a crapload of money off a wireless future. Unsurprisingly, Apple's unveiling of the jackless iPhone 7 came alongside the announcement of three new pairs of wireless Beats headphones, the cheapest of which is still $150. Throw in the $159 that Apple's charging for its new super-easy-to-lose AirPods, and you've got one shrewd business move.
Apple also makes big money when third-party companies make Lightning-compatible accessories
Not only does introducing a proprietary charging technology like Lightning ensure that Apple makes a mint on selling its own converters and charging cables (a replacement for just the latter costs $38), but third-party accessory manufacturers must pay Apple an undisclosed fee for every single product they make that uses the Lightning connector. Even if you buy non-Apple, it still approves and profits from every pair of non-Beats Lightning-connecting headphones (and backup battery cases, docks, converters, etc.) that hits shelves.
Update 12/13/16: Apple Airpods are on sale now for $159, but shipping on pre-orders might take awhile.
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