How the iPhone 7’s Controversial Design Shook Up the Phone Industry

Posted by TekRevue Contributor on December 22, 2018
iphone 7 table

When Apple announced the iPhone 7 in September 2016, it instantly became the phone that everyone was talking about. Apple phones usually get a ton of focus from mainstream and technology media as well as casual and hardcore phone fans, but this time it was different.

The big selling points of the iPhone 7 were its dust and water resistance, its 3D Touch (haptic technology) display, the immense quality of its rear and front-facing cameras and the power of the A10 Fusion chipset. The iPhone 7 Plus, the larger version of the iPhone 7, also boasted a 5.5” inch display ideal for media lovers.

The headline-making feature, though, was the decision to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack. This socket, that allowed you to plug in your wired headphones and jam out to music on the go, had been ditched. This one, seemingly small design change proved to be one of the most controversial moves that Apple has ever made.

Why Was the Removal of the Headphone Jack so Controversial?

iphone 7 rear

Photo via Dr. Alexandru Stavricâ / Unsplash

It’s difficult to remember a time when the 3.5mm headphone jack just didn’t exist. It was first introduced in the 1950s and made popular in the 1960s when Sony released a new radio and the 1970s with the introduction of the Walkman. These devices made wired headphones a necessity because these they didn’t have speakers.

The jack has become an industry standard since and it features on just about every device with audio playback capability. From your laptop to your television and from your games controller to your iPod; they all feature that socket to plug your headphones in. Wired headphones had existed for almost as long as portable music players and most people have owned these connected accessories instead of their wireless, Bluetooth-connected counterparts.

By dropping the 3.5mm jack from its flagship phone, Apple was going against the grain in a major way. Would-be iPhone 7 owners with wired headphones would have to use an adaptor which plugs into the charging socket of the phone. You would have to remember to carry this adaptor with you.

Or, you could invest in a pair of wireless headphones, which is something that Apple was banking on. Alongside the announcement of the iPhone 7, Apple also announced its line of AirPods. These headphones have Siri integration, allow you to answer phone calls and, most importantly of all, they are wireless and don’t require the use of an adaptor.

Did the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Still Manage to Be a Success?

At the time, many critics wondered whether Apple’s controversial design decision would damage the sales of the iPhone 7. Some critics argued that consumers, either upset by the adaptor system or unwilling to invest in a pair of wireless headphones, would just refrain from buying an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. Given all of the heated debate surrounding the change, these hypotheses weren’t entirely unfounded.

However, despite all of this, the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus managed to be a massive success. CNET noted the first quarter sales of the device at the time, reporting that Apple confirmed that its new flagship phones had, in fact, smashed a sales record for the company. Between September – December 2016, Apple sold 78.3 million iPhones around the world, outpacing analyst expectations of 78 million sales. This led to all-time revenue records for the company, Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

In fact, it wasn’t just sales of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus itself that looked quite healthy; the tech accessory industry was able to benefit too. TechRadar says that wireless headphone sales tripled as a direct result of Apple’s decision to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Data compiled by industry analytics firm GfK stated that wireless sales increased by 343% following the announcement. While general interest in Bluetooth headphones may have bumped that figure up a bit, undoubtedly, it was Apple’s reveal of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that had the biggest effect.

What is the Legacy of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus?

iphone 7 camera

Photo via Xavier Wendling / Unsplash

Since the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus first released, we’ve seen several new iPhone iterations released since then: the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, X, XS Max, XS, and XR. But still, the phones live on because of lower prices and the refurbished market. RefurbMe says that prices for the refurbished iPhone 7 Plus start at $357 for an unlocked version of the phone (32GB of storage). Even the 128GB storage version of the iPhone 7 Plus sells for just $398, which is almost $500 less than the original retail price. For those who were put off by the idea of spending a lot of money on the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus as well as a pair of Bluetooth headphones, the lower prices that are now offered for both new and refurbished devices mean that the price is no longer a limiting factor. This is turn allows sales of the iPhones to remain quite high.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have also influenced the designs of other, rival smartphones. While “includes a headphone jack” is still being touted as a selling point for many rival Android flagships, Gadget Hacks details several phones with no jack, including major competitors like the Google Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL, as well as the Xiaomi Mi 6. Apple has continued to push the lack of headphone jack with its newer iPhones as well – FeelGuide says that the main features of the iPhone XS Max include fast-charging, an improved selfie camera but Apple has made sure to preserve the lack of headphone jack too. We may well see more Apple rivals following suit.

Apple isn’t one to shy away from big design choices. Its other huge overhauls include the introduction of the Touch Bar on its MacBook line of computers as well as the “notch” edge-to-edge screen design on its newer handsets. It’s unlikely to stop making such design choices either and it will be interesting to see if any of its future choices are quite as controversial as the removal of the headphone jack.

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