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Odds that Apple brings back the iPhone's headphone jack? History says pretty slim

Jared Newman | Sept. 9, 2016
Apple rarely backtracks once its mind is made up, and the exceptions don't always last.

If you’re deciding whether to upgrade to the iPhone 7, the possibility of Apple bringing back the headphone jack in future phones probably shouldn’t factor in.

History shows that once Apple makes up its mind on a product’s direction, the company rarely reverses course, even if there’s an outcry from customers. At best, Apple may extend the life of a popular feature through a portion of its product line, but these concessions tend to be temporary. Given Apple’s statements about courage in pursuit of a better experience, the headphone jack isn’t likely to be an exception.

As proof, let’s look at some examples of where Apple has changed its mind after making deliberate product decisions, and what the outcome eventually was:

The 4-inch iPhone

iPhone SE 
Apple’s iPhone SE has the processing power of the iPhone 6s.

Before last March, the 4-inch iPhone seemed to be nearing obsolescence. That’s when Apple announced the iPhone SE, its first sub-4.7-inch smartphone since 2013. Apple’s explanation for bringing back the smaller size? People wanted it.

Still, refreshing the 4-inch iPhone wasn’t much of a strategic shift, nor was it a response to some pronounced backlash. Apple was still offering the 4-inch iPhone 5s when it introduced the SE, and the new model used a fair amount of existing components. And given that the SE stands for “Special Edition,” and has no number attached to it, it’s unclear whether Apple is committed to smaller phones for the long haul.

The button-free iPod Shuffle


Back in 2009, Apple made a drastic move with its entry-level iPod Shuffle and removed nearly all the buttons. It was a move toward simplicity and a smaller design, with the idea being that you’d use dictate playback through VoiceOver or use the buttons on Apple’s earphones. On the downside, the button-free design hampered interoperability with third-party headphones, and was overall less intuitive.

Arguably, there are some parallels between the Shuffle and today’s iPhone headphone situation, and in the former case, Apple listened to feedback, bringing back the buttons in a newly designed (and still quite tiny) Shuffle. But this was also the last time Apple updated any aspect of the iPod Shuffle hardware besides color. The Shuffle didn’t so much change direction as it ceased to have one.

The hockey puck mouse

apple mice
Moparx on Flickr

Widely regarded as one of Apple’s biggest mistakes, the Apple USB Mouse was a failure of form over function. The two-tone translucent surface with matching trackball complimented the fanciful futurism of the 1998 iMac, but the circular shape was an ergonomic disaster. Within a couple years, Apple retreated to an oblong shape for its iMac mouses, showing how the company isn’t ignorant to criticism.


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