Apple’s Courage Needs to be Redirected

iPhone Dongle - Headphone Jack + Lightning Port

It has been just over a year since Apple announced the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, in which the company officially ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack from its iPhone lineup.

At the time, Apple’s Phil Schiller said that it took courage for the company to know that it was time to move on from the port. Here’s what he said, while promoting new accessories:

“The reason to move on: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”

Unsurprisingly, Apple (I guess not so much Schiller, just because that’s how this works) was panned for the statement. “Courage” didn’t really feel like an apt way to describe what Apple was doing, and, as we’ve seen in the months since the removal of the port, there are still some folks who believe it is a user-hostile move. Not just from Apple anymore, of course, but from any company that has decided to drop the headphone jack from their smartphones.

I’ve been thinking about Apple’s courage for a little while now, because it feels like the company keeps doing things that maybe would take some real courage to do differently. And by that I mean Apple’s definition of courage, and not what we might think of a person running into a burning building to save a puppy. Over the last year or so, Apple’s decisions, and oftentimes public statements, have left me wanting more.

It goes back to the unveiling of the new MacBook Pro units, where Apple effectively dropped ports, charged more money, and then told all of us that they don’t charge for functionality, but charge for the experience. Basically, Apple was admitting that they could remove all sorts of functional things, like ports and what have you, and charge more for it, because there is an Apple logo on the case.

That didn’t sit well with me at all, and I feel like it’s emblematic of the situation Apple finds itself in right now. Not just with the battery situation, where Apple has admitted and apologized for slowing down older iPhones, but with the iPhone X’s notch design, and even a flagship retail store in Chicago where its rooftop design made it so pedestrians could be in danger from falling icicles.

I wrote up that I don’t necessarily think that Apple has lost its “design mojo,” because I don’t think Apple really had a firm grasp on one to begin with. The company has hits and misses, there’s no doubt about that, but this is also a company that strives to create things that stand out just by looking at them. I believe that’s why we have the notch design in the iPhone X, and why I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

iPhone X Notch on Home screen 2

But this is also Apple selling us on the “experience” more than functionality. Apple has apparently reached a point where it believes that its aesthetic, just the design of what it creates, actually trumps anything it might do. Yes, the new MacBook Pros are great hardware (unless you hate the keyboard), and yes the iPhone X is fun to use (unless you hate the notch), and yes the new flagship retail store in Chicago looks awesome (unless you hate the MacBook Air’s design), but in each of these cases Apple has essentially showcased that its design is the most important thing.

And then there’s the battery situation. I honestly can’t believe that Apple actually enacted a feature that fell right into the lap of conspiracy theorists. What I mean by that, is Apple has some great science working behind-the-scenes as it tries to limit the strain on the processor in phones with degraded batteries, all in an effort to stop random shutdowns. But it also slows down older iPhones, and that’s hard to reconcile with when the same company also wants you to buy their new iPhones right around the same time your old one starts to slow down. Apple’s never made it a secret that it would prefer you to buy a new iPhone over a new battery.

I also don’t think Apple is being disingenuous here, either. I understand where people are coming from that believe Apple has some nefarious goals here, but I just don’t think that’s the case. I do believe that Apple should have communicated this right out of the gate. Even if they couldn’t market it, it should have been something customers knew about right from the start.

If you play video games, or look at the news cycle in that space, then you have probably seen the issues that have cropped up around EA with loot boxes and Star Wars Battlefront II, and with Bungie/Activision over the design of Destiny 2, and baked-in microtransactions. In each of these cases, especially with the latter company, there has been this narrative of “Sorry, this [insert problem here] wasn’t supposed to be this way, we’ve heard your complaints, we’re fixing it.”

While I don’t think Apple was doing something as outright anti-consumer as those companies, it’s similar in response. “We did this thing, we got caught, we’re sorry.” Apple is doing the right thing, though, by offering cheaper battery replacements and planning an iOS update that will show users battery health, but they never should have found themselves in this position to begin with.

I believe Apple’s brand of courage needs a redirection. It needs to find its way to being as pro-consumer as possible, and that might start with a bit of transparency. I’m not saying that Apple needs to tell us everything about an unannounced device, because I still like that bit of surprise (even though I can’t really be surprised anymore). But when it comes to decisions that can be made by the consumer, like whether or not they want to limit their phone’s performance due to battery life, being open and honest is just the best way to go.

I’m still going to use Apple products because I prefer the company’s hardware and software over the competition’s, but I’ll be honest: When these things keep happening, I do find myself lingering on certain storefronts wondering if a switch might not be so difficult after all.