"Courage" Is Just Part of Why Apple’s Ditching the Old Headphone Jack

Apple’s removal of the iPhones 3.4 mm headphone jack is causing an uproar as part of technology’s inexorable march forward.

Tech fans are in an uproar over Apple’s decision to forgo a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack on their just-announced iPhone 7. Really, it’s all much ado about nothing in practical terms. The Phone 7 will still ship with earbuds — using Apple’s Lightning connector — as well as an adapter into which you can plug your current 3.5 mm pair. (Should you lose the adapter, it’s just $9 to get a new one.) The iPhone 7’s audio system is also Bluetooth-compatible, so you can use any Bluetooth earbuds or headphones you like. You don’t have to buy Apple’s new $159 wireless Airpods. Apple isn’t even the first company to get rid of the jack: That honor goes to Android-phone manufacturers Lenovo (the Moto Z and Moto Z Force), and LeEco.

Moto Z and Moto Z Force (LENOVO)

The switch to the Lightning connector has a downside: It’s proprietary. This narrows the selection of earbuds available for consumers for plug directly into their iPhones without an adapter, and it seems unlikely that manufacturers of audio products will move to Apple’s proprietary standard. For one thing, the Android phones mentioned above send audio out through a completely different type of jack, USB Type-C.

But it also has an upside  for audio lovers. It marks a move from the analog domain for earbuds to the digital, where there’s no loss of sound quality before audio gets to the digital-to-analog converters in your ears. This should theoretically mean better sound, and given that it’s all digital, there are interesting signal-processing possibilities for audio manufacturers who do want to make the move.

Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller justified the removal of the jack during the phone’s announcement: "The reason to move on: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.” Lots of people find this pretty funny.

Courage. (FORBES)

The fact is Apple’s been down this road before, often divining what customers wanted before they did. When the first iMacs came out without floppy drives, it was a big deal. Do you even remember floppy drives? Likewise, Apple forced USB connectors down our throats, but prior to USB, we had to shut down our computers just to plug and unplug things. Apple was right.

What Schiller is hinting at is one of Apple’s core beliefs. It’s that the company’s dreamers and engineers have the time/resources/imaginations to look around the corner and see the future in a way that consumers can’t. And it’s that vision, rather than a list of current wants and desires that points the way toward breakthrough products that people will love.


Many people credit Steve Jobs with having been the sole source of the company’s vision, but, brilliant as he clearly was, that was never really so. The basic idea for Macintosh came from Jef Raskin, the iMac came from designer Jonathan Ive’s design group, and Kane Kramer made the first iPod-like music player. Apple’s always been packed with very smart people. Jobs’ genius seems to have been his impatience with complexity, since it continually drove Apple’s team to distill products to their simplest, easiest-to-use form just to satisfy him. Apple’s secret sauce has always been that it wants its products to “just work” without requiring effort on the customer’s part. They don’t always succeed in this, of course, but it’s the reason behind their product ecosystem that others deride as a “walled garden.” Apple sees it as a way to build products that work together seamlessly.

Of course, it requires tremendous internal discipline — Jobs always said one of his best skills was saying “no” — to stay focused on everyone’s needs, and not just come up with something you and your colleagues want. Apple Cube, for example, was more about a fun engineering challenge than something anyone really needed, and it sold poorly. (It wasn’t wasted R&D, though, since that form factor lives on in Apple TV and other products.)

Cube, not toaster. (APPLE)

Apple succeeds most when it solves a genuine problem. The genius is in seeing the problem before everyone else does. The iPhone was a smash because people universally hated their previous phones, and here, finally, was a device to enjoy. There were other music players before the iPod, but nothing fun, and getting music was difficult — with the iPod and iTunes, those problems were solved. iMacs were computers that fit in a home. iPads were perfect for couch potatoes, salespeople, and doctors alike.

On the other hand, this is probably the reason that Apple Watch isn’t doing so well. Do people really hate their current watches? Don’t think so. Apple Watch doesn’t solve a problem most people actually have. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

The real reason Apple ditched the jack on the iPhone is real estate. SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio explained, ”We've got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it's just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space. It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life.” Apple also says the jack’s removal aids in the iPhone’s water resistance. Riccio added, “And frankly, when there's a better, modern solution available, it's crazy to keep it around."

Companies that follow their customers’ wishes will always be doing just that: following. Leading the way to the future and “putting a dent in reality,” as Jobs put it, requires vision and — don’t laugh — courage.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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